Crafting appropriate communications still requires the fundamentals to be done brilliantly, but increasingly a smarter integrated approach is key, says Claire Gillis
The rate of change within pharma inevitably has a knock-on effect for those in the service sector, which is currently tasked with looking at things through a different lens, according to Claire Gillis.
Earlier this year she returned from a three-year spell in the US to take up the newly-created role of executive managing director, Europe for greyhealth group (ghg) as part of a major reorganisation of the WPP company's operations on this side of the pond.
Having previously co-founded and led ghg's UK-based market access consultancy The WG Group, Claire is now based in London and leading a ghg's executive team that operates across Europe.
That work encompasses advertising, medical education and strategy, in addition to market access, and is part of ghg's plan to create a 'differentiated brand in the global marketplace'.
What is the focus for you in your new role?
The role is about giving direction and encouragement from the side-lines - you can't just take a group that was working well together and demand they do things differently for the sake of it.
And it's really exciting being in Europe. My European clients seem a lot more open to us coming in, there are less regulations than there are in the US. There, commercial and medical can rarely talk, whereas here everyone is a lot less constrained.
Healthcare communications continues to be a relationship-built business, so it's still really important to find out what keeps our clients awake at night.
What does exercise pharma?
The challenges that our clients are facing depend very much on their particular brand and the disease area in which they operate. We have some very interesting mega-brands that are coming through and will have line extensions and different dosages that will require a 'big-brain' platform to be able to look at all of the different levers involved in the process. That's the same on both sides of the ocean.
In the US we're looking very much to the models in the EU about how market access is working, because US payers increasingly have to make their numbers add up; in Europe we've been making our numbers add up for years.
Some things transcend any national boundaries - good creative process is one of them and it will always translate
How do you respond to that need?
It's about understanding the customer, and the customer's customer. For example, physicians often cannot cope with the digital onslaught and what works in one country won't work in another. For example, if you look at electronic health records - in the US we're working in quite a sophisticated way with EHRs to try to help physicians and change behaviours, whereas in the UK and Europe it's embryonic and quite fragmented with many different players.
One of the benefits of working in the US is that you see the new innovations, but you have to be careful not to foist a 'shiny new penny' on the client if their market is not ready or right for it.
How have communications disciplines evolved?
Everyone says they're looking at this from an integrated point of view, but - with my background - I really do have to come at it from that standpoint. We call it 'the value background', which is not about health economics per se, it's about driving out the value for the brand right across the spectrum.
Because I wasn't trained in a particular discipline it makes it easier for me to come at this situation in a slightly different way. For me, it's as though I've got a jigsaw and have to put all the pieces together, and that's really how we're differentiating ourselves.
How localised are these themes?
Some things transcend national boundaries - good creative process is one of them and it will always translate. So you can take the methodologies from the US and apply them here, even though the outputs would be slightly different.
We're lucky working in Europe, because people here are used to operating in different countries, so they understand that each will have their nuances. In the US that's less often the case, unless people work in a global team.
Where next for yourself and ghg?
For me personally it's about getting to grips with working in a different culture again, which sounds odd, given that I'm British, but it's a different way of working after three years away. And I'm only as good as my team, so I have to make sure they're happy.
As for the group in which ghg sits, we are now WPP Health and Wellness, which brings into play not just drugs, it's how the individual has responsibility for keeping themselves healthy and then looking at what other variables can be brought into play, such as wearables, the amount of sugar eaten, exercise or smart water - there are all sorts of areas that emerge that make you see that the bigger picture in healthcare will not just be about drugs. We're about the entire business that sits around keeping us healthy.
Our core business is still pharmaceuticals, but by extension we also have to look out for the whole healthcare ecosystem.