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Smart Thinking blog

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Perfect partners

What are the key components for a successful partnership and how can that be achieved?

Christmas is nearly upon us; a festival of joy and hope, something we certainly need in abundance this year.

So, with that air of positivity, let’s talk about something we have seen significantly more of in 2020 that the HCA has recently been discussing and dissecting – partnerships.

In response to COVID-19 the pharmaceutical sector, and indeed the whole healthcare system, has seen a proliferation of partnerships, many of which we would never have thought possible at the end of 2019.

But they have happened and many have delivered some amazing outcomes, not least the realistic prospective of starting 2021 with a viable vaccine.

The general consensus is that the appetite for partnerships has increased and will now continue to do so, irrespective of COVID-19. To capitalise on this increased appetite, what are the key components for a successful partnership and how can that be achieved?

Why become partners?

What we are really looking to achieve with a partnership is synergy. Whatever our goal or purpose, a partnership would hope to achieve more than could be achieved by any one person, and hopefully more than if each worked alone.

A partner may provide additional skills, knowledge or access, add resource or just create a greater voice. In identifying a partner, it is therefore important not just to consider those organisations that are like-minded. If you agree on the common purpose, diverse thinking can itself be a benefit of partnership.

Every partnership will be based on different needs and it is important to be clear and transparent on what those needs are before identifying potential partners.

Start right

How the partnership is started and set up is fundamental to its eventual success. Setting good governance from the outset ensures all parties are clear on their roles, responsibilities and how everybody will work with each other.

In the inevitable rush to get started, the importance of documenting and agreeing on the detail of the process should not be sacrificed.

Trust is essential in a partnership, so honesty and transparency from the start is essential. The risks and challenges also need to be outlined and discussed so all parties are clear on what these are and how they are avoided or managed.

In pharma, we have codes of practice that help clearly outline how partnerships should be set up, but we should consider these as the minimum requirements and also consider what else we need to incorporate to help ensure success.

The goal remains the focus

If you are aligned with the overall purpose, the best mindset when entering a partnership is not to think about what you are going to get out of it, but rather to focus on what you can offer to help achieve that goal.

One of the challenges that can occur in a partnership is when it is felt one party is inappropriately ‘taking the glory’, perhaps in the media, which can cause animosity.

Once again, establishing upfront how the partnership is always presented, who undertakes the external communications, and when and how they happen, will all help to eliminate this or provide a point of reference if slippage occurs.

Fundamentally, the best premise is to ensure that whoever or however the work of the partnership is communicated, the goal remains the sole focus, not the sponsors.

Managing perception

In healthcare in particular, concerns about perception, often with respect to inappropriate influence, are common. These can sometimes derail what might be potentially incredibly fruitful partnerships. Partnerships should be transparent, and the role of each partner should stand up to scrutiny.

Lack of transparency only opens up the chance for claims of ‘conspiracy’ whether it exists or not, as we have seen recently with government contracts. If there are perception concerns about, for example, a pharma company working with a charity, don’t avoid or hide the partnership.

Explain it, how it is set up and how the partnership is not inappropriately influencing opinion, but actually adding value to help improve patient health or well-being.

The results can be amazing

We don’t have to look far to see the amazing things partnerships achieve. Everything from developing vaccines in months rather than years, CEOs’ partnering in open letters reaffirming safety before speed, 20 biopharmaceutical companies creating the AMR Action Fund to bring new antibiotics to patients, industry working with health commissioners to reach hard to engage communities with health messages, or the many corporates from across different sectors partnering with charities to provide food for families who can’t afford it at Christmas.

As we end this challenging year, let’s consider how partnerships could help support our success in 2021. Happy Christmas!

Mike Dixon is CEO of the Healthcare Communications Association and a communications consultant

24th December 2020

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