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Creative solutions

How does one communicate creatively in Europe's ever-evolving regulatory environment?

missing image fileEurope's increasingly regulated environment and an unprecedented level of industry scrutiny means companies have tended to err on the side of caution. This, all too often, translates into tried-and-tested tactics for PR, public affairs programmes and medical education.

For those of us working for pharmaceutical clients, the number one priority should, of course, be to safeguard the credibility of the industry, but we also have a responsibility to build innovative, dynamic and successful programmes that operate effectively in a pan-European and local market's legal and regulatory restrictions.

The challenge in Europe is real; a diverse cultural environment, multiple languages, variant healthcare systems and an increasingly important yet often inconsistent set of national guidelines.

Historically, the solution has been to create independent European strategies that drive distribution of pre-packaged tactics or elementary 'how to' toolkits down to national pharma brand teams. The intensity of national regulatory codes, however, is now demanding a different approach. National brand teams are savvier than ever before, more accomplished, exposed to ever-present scrutiny and calling for flexible communications concepts that can be shaped to genuinely meet their local market needs.

Collaboration and communication
Truly successful pan-European communications programmes have left behind the cascade approach to promoting medicines and disease awareness, and are grounded instead in collaboration and two-way communication. This encourages grass-root leadership from local markets and offers creative, integrated and adaptable strategies that are informed and evolved by a real awareness of national market conditions.

What does this look like in reality? A communications platform that has the potential to transform the nature of doctor-patient relationships within a particular disease area. The format is a flexible long-term programme that commences with a pan-European KOL advisory meeting. It has a logistical framework which recognises that: in France, the Conseil National de l'Ordre des Medecins calls for submission of materials for approval; in the UK (according to ABPI rules) the market will only be allowed to finance conomy air travel for attendees and in Italy, the client team will need to secure sign-off from its KOL's place of work.

It will also be a programme that is able to take an original concept and support a patient group roadshow in Spain (one of the most regionalised countries in Europe, with 17 autonomous communities) but recognises that tightening regulations in Germany are making it difficult to do any form of promotion outside the strictly medical community.

Relationship building
For such flexibility to be successful however, companies need both healthcare policy expertise and strong working relationships between central European and local market brand teams. And it is here that specialist communication agencies with true pan-European reach and on-the-ground knowledge of local market nuances can provide vital assistance.

Those agencies leading the way in Europe recognise the value that inter-office, as well as multidisciplinary teams, innovative knowledge management tools and staff secondments can provide to clients. They put the brand at the heart of their decisions, including those on team composition and location, and they are willing to step out of the box in order to gain greater environmental awareness and ultimately greater communication results.

Within this cultural melting pot of diverse policy, PR and medical education skills, a new type of creativity is emerging - one that is driven by local insight and that is supported and sustained by a knowledgeable network of professionals who deliver communication strategies via adaptable vocabularies, frameworks and tactical options.

Rewards
For companies willing to embrace this new approach, the rewards are immense and include not only transferable brand identities, but also hands-on protection and development of those identities at a local market level. The approach includes developing multiple stakeholder relationships, effective local market access activities and tailored media outreach where it matters most. It is always driven by a pan-European team speaking with one clear voice and with one clear strategy in mind.

Those partnerships formed within the process of building an effective pan-European agency network can also help to support and build central European brand team relations with local markets. They can provide vital assistance in optimising and streamlining client operations, in mentoring local teams, in helping to improve motivation and even in encouraging speedier approval of materials at a national level.

The European Commission has recognised the need for coordination if Europe is to continue to be a key player in health on the global stage. The new European Health Strategy for Europe sets out a vision for greater collaboration between member states and the healthcare market is, without doubt, set to evolve at a considerable pace.

This provides both a challenge and an opportunity for healthcare communication professionals to demonstrate a thorough understanding of what it means to communicate in Europe and to maintain creativity within the restrictions of ever-evolving regulatory environments.

The Author
Kelly Teasdale, Chandler Chicco Agency

5th September 2007

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