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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

A happier new year?

Communicators need to remind us all why the pharmaceutical sector is so important

Many of us will plan in quarters, predicting the year ahead in terms of income, barriers and drivers for success.

However, the last four quarters will have been everything but what was predicted at the end of 2019. Q1 started off as usual, but by the time it finished we were in a world that we had never experienced before. In Q2 we were in lockdown, with daily exercise being one of our only freedoms as we learnt how to work totally virtually and spent too much on Amazon.

In Q3 we came out of our homes, blinking in the sunlight, meeting select groups of friends, enjoying trips to restaurants and pubs again, taking holidays and naively starting to plan a return to the office, before finding ourselves back in a new form of lockdown in Q4. What a year!

We work in an amazing sector

Still, for healthcare communicators, within industry and agency at least, we should actually be very grateful that we work in this amazing sector, as on balance we have survived 2020 comparatively unscathed.

Now, before some of you start shouting at your screen or magazine, I am not suggesting in any way that we have not gone through a major upheaval, or that our lives have not been turned upside down, or that some individuals and agencies have suffered more; but compared to sectors such as retail, hospitality and travel, the majority of us can be grateful we still have jobs and have been able to maintain viable businesses.

Indeed, as we ended the year, many of us were busier than ever and looking forward to some much needed R&R over the Christmas break. It is also important to recognise that, sadly, some readers spent Christmas 2020 without a loved one due to COVID-19, and my thoughts are very much with you and your families.

Unlike healthcare communications, our colleagues in the medical charity sector have not fared as well. Estimates suggest that medical research charities’ income dropped by up to £174 million in the first half of the year.

Charities have had to place a significant number of their staff on furlough, and unfortunately there have been, and will probably continue to be, redundancies, with many charities planning to operate on a far more streamlined basis this year and beyond.

Research income has taken a major hit which risks having a long-term impact on the development of medical advances. It has been encouraging to see the industry responding to these challenges. Agencies have been giving ideas and resource to charities to help them meet the challenges they face.

The pharmaceutical industry has been working through the Charities Aid Foundation to provide funding to help fill the large hole that has been created. And perhaps all our New Year’s resolutions should be to consider how we can help, whether by making an extra donation or volunteering our time, and using our communication skills to encourage others to do the same.

A better year

Traditionally, a January column would review the old year and also look forward, predicting the year ahead with positivity and excitement. Even after the year we have had, there is still a lot to be positive and excited about, not least the rollout of COVID vaccination programmes.

The fact that vaccines have been developed and approved within such short timescales is close to miraculous and demonstrates the incredible knowledge, skill and ability the healthcare industry can bring to bear. Communicators need to remind anybody and everybody why the pharmaceutical sector is such an important and worthy sector.

We need to recommunicate how drugs are developed and explain that prices are not all about profit, but are also about maintaining viable businesses that can invest in research and development, not just for the few candidates that actually progress all the way, but also so the technology and capability is there when it is needed.

We also have a responsibility to champion the importance of the vaccination programmes and to help drown out the dangerous fake news that is still circulating.

An essential discipline for 2021

Throughout 2020 we have seen many examples, both good and bad, of how information about the pandemic has been communicated. Without straying into politics, it has surely reminded us that simple, clear and consistent messaging is key for success, as is the need to be able to communicate multilayered scenarios and heavy science and facts so they are engaging and easy to understand.

Telling a story is always more engaging than sharing the facts, and data can be beautiful if presented in the right way. As communicators this is what we do, this is our raison d’être and this is why we need to be involved from the start and at the highest levels.

Let’s hope that one significant positive from 2020 is that more organisations realise this and that we see the role of the communicator further embedded at the very top level of strategic planning, right the way through to the final message delivery.

The impact of the pandemic will be with us for a significant time and we know that this year’s Q1 and Q2 will remain challenging for us all. However, with effective vaccination programmes, perhaps we can dare plan for a much better second half of the year, at least until we start to factor in the impact of Brexit. But let’s end positively and leave that debate for another day...

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

26th January 2021

From: Marketing

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