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Diversify and evolve

The traditional, PR-based approach must now be enhanced with new skills

showcase At the start of 2009, it was apparent that the world had entered a new era of economic uncertainty which is impacting all industries, including the traditionally strong healthcare sector. As well as economic turbulence, the healthcare industry has been faced with additional pressures such as cost containment, increased regulation and the need to access and communicate with more diverse and greater numbers of stakeholders.

Healthcare communication consultancies that want to survive and succeed, with all of these pressures on the industry, will need to adapt their services to meet and effectively support the modern challenges that pharmaceutical companies are facing. What must change to accomplish this? First, it is important for consultancies to develop their skills and expertise to support their clients at this difficult time.

Smart solutions
In the coming months and beyond, consultancies need to take responsibility and deliver smart solutions to this rapidly evolving situation. In particular, they need to help clients understand, empower and partner with increasingly diverse stakeholders across the healthcare spectrum.This can be achieved by focusing on core principles and flexible solutions which can be developed to guide clients and provide maximum return on investment.

With all the pressures that the industry is currently feeling, one way to help clients navigate through these difficult times is to ensure that they are communicating the right message to the right stakeholders at the right time. Only by doing this will healthcare companies be able to convince diverse stakeholders that their products have value.

In order to achieve this, there are three main steps that communication consultancies need to take:

Step one – understand needs
As the challenges for clients continue to grow and change, consultancies providing strategic guidance must also keep one step ahead to effectively match the needs of the diverse stakeholders with which pharmaceutical companies must engage.

The days when the success of a communications campaign was based solely on the amount of column inches that it received in newspapers have long gone. Journalists are now just one of the many audiences to consider. Traditional media coverage is still an important deliverable, but the modern healthcare environment now requires communication and relationship development to cross multiple influencers. These stakeholders range across a broad spectrum at local, national and international levels and include healthcare professionals, local and national government, politicians, patient group organisations, funders and payers.

Understanding who these stakeholder groups are is the first part of the challenge; the next is to identify the types of, and depth of, information that they require. For example, nurses may need content presented in a way that is easy for them to communicate to patients, which is something that traditional PR consultancies can do well. This is in contrast to the information a funder or payer may require on the cost-benefit of a client's product. Another challenge may be achieving effective dialogue with an international patient group about whether a particular product can be accessed in any number of countries.

Once stakeholder groups have been identified, along with the level and type of information they need, consultancies must decide on the most effective way to communicate and guide their clients.

Step two – communication channels
The next step is to ensure that stakeholders are communicated to in a way which suits them best – ideally through multiple channels on multiple occasions. There is a plethora of communication channels. With emails, post, telephone, webcasts, newsletters, press releases, briefings, podcasts, viral marketing, YouTube, SMS and so on, it is essential to understand what are the most suitable forms of communication for each individual group, and adopt them. In addition, just because a consultancy has the ability to undertake a particular communication method, like a webcast or podcast to communicate to key opinion leaders, it does not necessarily mean that it is appropriate if a telephone call would be their preferred method of contact. Therefore, a smart and effective consultancy should identify which stakeholder groups can be best reached via which channels at the right times.

Step three – diversify
Traditional public relations still plays a vital role in ensuring that client messages are disseminated and relayed in key media outlets. However, as the healthcare industry now needs to understand and build relationships with such a wide range of stakeholders, broadening service provision is critical to the future of any modern European healthcare consultancy.

A purely PR-focused approach no longer meets the modern challenges faced by industry. Healthcare clients are now seeking consultancies that can help to provide a clear understanding of stakeholders within the brand proposition, including:

• How organisations can develop new treatments and services to undertake corporate and investor relations
• How scientific information can be translated into something that patients and consumers will understand and find interesting
• How to gauge whether it is possible to secure medical stakeholder advocacy for consumer brands
• How to guide clients and their brands from the initial stages of traditional product PR through to the modern challenges of securing market access
• When to use medical education as a communication channel
• How to create enduring alliances with consumer and healthcare brands

These are just some of the challenges faced and, as a result, consultancies need to approach each with a fresh outlook, building an evidence-based solution and the correct skills to continue delivering results to clients.

By following these three steps of understanding stakeholder audiences, delivering the right messages at the right times to the right audiences, and diversifying and evolving to effectively support client challenges, consultancies must ensure that internally they have the right skills in place to meet this need.

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Specialist recruitment
The Healthcare communications field is now so wide that it is not possible to expect traditional PR professionals to get into the minds of such wide-ranging audiences. Having consultancies offering a 'jack of all trades' approach does not provide clients with the required skills to deliver the results that they need. Therefore, consultancies need to identify and recruit experienced individuals from outside the traditional PR disciplines to cover all areas of a brand's life cycle, including policy, public affairs, medical education, commericalisation strategies and clinical trial enrolment.

It is then the responsibility of an effective consultancy to match and align the best mix of specialist and traditional skills to provide the optimum communications solution to help clients maximise return on investment.

Once specialists have been recruited and developed by the consultancy, it must ensure that they work as a symphony and not a cacophony. Programmes should achieve their strategic goals by harmonising all the audience messages, delivery timings and media channels to deliver a coherent message that truly represents the value of a product and resonates with each and every stakeholder.

Integrate, integrate, integrate
Seamless delivery of strategic programmes is essential. Diverse communications using a mixture of disciplines are only as good as the weakest link. Therefore, it is essential that, when undertaking complex assignments for clients, not only a creative mix of targeted services is developed but that its delivery is smooth and aligned. This can only be achieved by putting client objectives and needs at the centre of all activity. Instead of 'shoehorning' a team and strategy into client needs, identify the brand's strategic objectives, build teams and services around it to form strong support that will guide and deliver results and avoid a silo mentality.

No 'bolting-on'
Integration is not only needed within a consultancy, but also with its affiliate network. Keeping an affiliate at the centre of a European or global programme is essential.Simply 'bolting-on' an affiliate to an existing campaign increases the risk that key elements may falter.

Changes in the economy and healthcare industry have had a huge impact on how clients need to communicate and what information they must impart to many different audiences. The necessity of reaching and capturing diverse stakeholder groups presents challenges that can only be achieved by taking skills from areas outside those traditionally found in healthcare consultancies. Chandler Chicco Companies was recently awarded the accolade of The Holmes Report European Healthcare Consultancy of 2008, in recognition of its evolution and diversity strategy, demonstrating that understanding client challenges and redefining what healthcare communications provides are the ways to support and succeed in healthcare's ever-changing environment.

The Author
Fiona Hall is EU Director of Operations for Chandler Chicco Companies
To comment on this article, email pme@pmlive.com

20th April 2009

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