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Creating a culture where innovation thrives

It starts with us

Cannes or Canned?

This is the first in a series of five articles that takes a closer look at the recommendations from the Cannes or Canned? initiative to increase innovation in healthcare and scientific communications.

We start by looking at shaping company culture to embrace creativity. Pharmaceutical companies are fuelled by innovation. They leave no stone unturned in their quest to invent and discover new and better ways to treat and cure diseases.

To do this they explore and experiment with the latest technologies, build collaborations that span the globe and reimagine the future of medicine.

They are creative, driven and visionary in their pursuit of therapies that will change and even save lives. In our experience, this spirit of innovation – combined with the opportunity to make a real difference to people’s lives – is one of the reasons why so many creative and forward-thinking people are drawn to healthcare and scientific communications.

Why, then, we asked ourselves back in 2018 when the news came in that pharmaceutical communications had yet again missed out on a major award at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, was healthcare not leading the way in innovative communications?

Is it time to admit we have an innovation problem?

Surely, with the talent we have in our industry combined with the fact that our subject matter – cutting-edge science saving lives – is so compelling, we should be leading the wider communications industry in terms of creativity and innovation.

Discussions with industry colleagues revealed two worrying things: first, there was a general feeling that healthcare communications – with some notable exceptions – was stuck in a rut when it came to creativity. Second, while there was a strong appetite for change, no one was sure how to tackle the challenge.

Unless we innovate, we risk losing our voice

Does it matter if our communications aren’t as cutting edge or creative as they could be? Is there anything wrong with sticking to tried and tested methods if they get the job done? These are both good questions and we argue that the answer to each is a resounding yes. Yes, it matters because the healthcare landscape is changing, the way we communicate is changing, the way we consume media is changing.

Our tried and tested methods may work today, but who knows about tomorrow? If we fail to change as the world changes around us, our relevance will ebb away. Ultimately, we could lose our voice. Given that our job is to help to put the pharmaceutical industry’s life-changing discoveries into the hands of the patients who need them, that is a risk we cannot afford to take.

There is something else to consider: in spite of the work it does to improve people’s lives by preventing, treating and curing diseases, the pharmaceutical industry’s reputation continues to suffer.

In a recent Gallup poll carried out in the US, Big Pharma Sinks to the Bottom of US Industry Rankings, people were more than twice as likely to view the pharmaceutical industry negatively than positively, and it was the least positively viewed of all 25 industries included in the poll.

We believe that bringing our industry’s work – the innovative, awe-inspiring, life- changing work we see every day – to life through communications could play a part in building a more positive reputation.

Plotting a path to greater innovation

This is why the Healthcare Communications Association, in partnership with 90TEN, launched the Cannes or Canned? initiative and it is something we are both very proud to be involved in. Cannes or Canned? brought together a working group of senior communicators from seven pharmaceutical companies with the aim of opening up innovation in healthcare and scientific innovations.

Following two workshops and drawing on insights from across the pharmaceutical industry as well as from innovators in the fields of fashion retail, toy marketing, artificial intelligence and banking, the group has published its first report and recommendations. In it we identify four key obstacles to innovation and creativity:

  1. We don’t understand what our stakeholders and audiences really want
  2. We have become risk-averse and fear failure
  3. We are not supporting brave people with the right skills
  4. We are overcomplicating everything.

We then make five recommendations for overcoming these obstacles, the first of which focuses on creating a culture that embraces innovation and creativity. We believe that there are two essential ingredients for the kind of culture in which new ideas and new ways of working can thrive: a passionate belief in the value of innovation, and a mindset that values experimentation.

While wholescale transformation of a company’s culture must start from the top, with the CEO, by focusing on these two ingredients each of us can start to nudge ourselves, our teams and our colleagues in the right direction to sow the seeds of the changes we want to see.

Building belief in the power of creativity

To create an environment where creativity and innovation flourish, we need to build belief both in the need for innovation and in its potential to deliver communications that are better for everyone. That means better for our companies, our target audiences and, most importantly of all, for patients.

As communicators, we have the knowledge and skills we need to build this belief and instil this passion in our colleagues. We can become vocal, visible cheer leaders for what innovation can achieve.

Sharing inspiring examples of innovative campaigns that have delivered real results – from within and beyond the pharma industry – is one of the most powerful tools we have for doing this. We can all keep an eye out for work that takes a different approach, makes us look twice, makes us think and catches us by surprise, and we can all share that work.

The best campaigns are always the result of teamwork, so it’s vital that we get everyone onboard with what being open to innovation can do for our organisations. Let’s show our brand directors, our marketing leads and our medical, legal and regulatory colleagues what we can all achieve together if we commit to letting innovation into our communications.

Compliance teams are critical to any campaign’s success and key decision-makers when it comes to developing new communications approaches. By engaging them with what we’re trying to achieve by doing things differently – and why it matters – we can empower them to become part of the process of finding solutions to our communications challenges. By doing this we can give new ideas the best chance of being put into action.

Creating space for experimentation

The other powerful ingredient for a culture that lets innovation thrive is a mindset that values experimentation. The possibility that something might not go right the first time is not one that is widely entertained in healthcare communications.

We tend to look at outcomes only in terms of success and failure and not to value what we might discover in the process of trying something new, even if it doesn’t work out the way we might have hoped. This means we are always more inclined to stick to tried and tested methods and to err on the side of caution and do what we know works.

Yes, we may wrap that media survey up in a bow with a nice slogan and a pretty logo, but it’s still a media survey just like the one we did before. If we recognise that there is value, beyond success or failure, in trying out new ways to connect with our audiences, we make room for experimentation.

It starts with us (and you)

Cultures change from the CEO down but we can all play a part in getting the ball rolling. We think we can all share our reasons for believing passionately in the need for innovation in healthcare communications.

We believe we can all work towards adopting a mindset that values creativity, welcomes experimentation and views failure as a stepping stone on the way to progress. Do you agree?

Edel McCaffrey is an independent communications consultant and a member of the HCA Executive Committee; Peter Impey is Managing Director of 90TEN Communications

29th January 2020

Edel McCaffrey is an independent communications consultant and a member of the HCA Executive Committee; Peter Impey is Managing Director of 90TEN Communications

29th January 2020

From: Marketing



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