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The role of digital

Effective use of digital communication will help agencies best represent their clients in times of reform

We all know that the UK National Health Service (NHS) is going through a period of major reform. The outcomes may not yet be fully understood, but the implications for advertising agencies and the pharmaceutical industry will be radical. Those who win the race to adapt will be best placed to exploit new opportunities. The likely winners will be those who understand the new challenges and engage effectively with the NHS at the appropriate level, but what role will digital communications play in this evolving engagement process? 

Changes across the UK healthcare industry are being driven by an NHS savings profile of £20bn in the next three years. The theme of 'better care, better value' is now the battle cry of the newly formed GP consortia. As the emphasis on cost efficiency filters down, the pharmaceutical industry must reconsider how its services are packaged together, and advertisers must quickly establish how best to present their clients' brands to GP consortia.

As the structure of the NHS changes, new partnership arrangements between the NHS and pharmaceutical companies will be essential. It is here that relationship management can begin. Advertising agencies can add value and assist pharmaceutical companies to build relationships by first understanding the commissioning process, care pathway management and clinical delivery within the existing primary care trust (PCT) teams. This knowledge will be vital when engaging with the local contacts, teams and services which will emerge from the reforms.

Meaningful engagement now takes place across a number of channels. Full-service, mixed-media agencies must display an increasingly wide range of expertise to meet the needs of their clients. Understanding the channels and selecting the most appropriate blend will be a key differentiator between advertising agencies. It may be that agencies will increasingly work in collaboration to combine expert knowledge.     

The effective use of new digital devices, such as iPad2, provides a useful example of a new communication channel. Could these innovations spell the end of printed 'detail aids'? I believe they could. Information needs to be up to date and easily updated. Advertising agencies must evolve with the available technology and I predict the use of digital presentation either online, on the pad or in the cloud will significantly increase. This will partly be through necessity, but also because customers will increasingly expect digital communication.

Customers will also expect the information they receive to be highly relevant to their needs. This means the best advertising agencies will be in tune with the GP consortia and proactively building relationships across the stakeholder groups.

The new NHS structure will identify stakeholders and decision makers within local communities. Reaching these individuals will be challenging. Digital communication can help us to overcome this by offering tools for gathering, storing and analysing market data.

Digital may be the fastest growing advertising medium, but it is not yet the panacea. There is absolutely still a place for a 'good old' traditional press advert within the marketing mix. What advertising agencies need to determine is the correct balance of digital and traditional communication for their clients' brands. Agencies must formulate highly coordinated, mixed-media communication strategies, which utilise the most relevant media to maximise return on investment.

Advertisers must remember that successful advertising campaigns are still underpinned by strong messages, not just the delivery mechanism.

The Author
Alistair Cox is strategic planning manager at b more creative

30th June 2011

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