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Critical connections

Choose a PR agency with a broad, but localised, network across diverse European markets for a far-reaching and successful campaign

Futurustic globe with electrical connections across its surfaceOne constant in the European pharmaceutical marketplace is that almost nothing about it is constant. It is a massive, ever-changing, extremely dynamic entity that tries to meet the needs of more than seven hundred million people in 50 countries.

With the accompanying diversity in healthcare and regulatory systems, economics, language, media and a myriad of other critical elements, how is it possible to deliver a strategic communications programme across such an unwieldy geography? How can even a single pharmaceutical product or disease awareness message possibly navigate the European map and reach its target audience in a consistent and timely fashion? Well, nothing is impossible particularly with a well-networked public relations resource.

The network approach
Realistically, reaching a target audience in all 50 European countries will seldom be the goal of pharmaceutical marketing and communications teams. However, reaching that audience in a dozen or two dozen countries is often the goal, particularly with recent growth in emerging markets. The diversity is still a massive challenge that is best tackled with a public relations network that can serve the central marketing and communications team and extend agreed strategy, service and support to the local, in-market teams. Working with a network with proven excellence across many key individual European markets helps ensure that the wondrous diversity in the countries doesn't become a roadblock to successful communications.

In selecting a potential public relations resource for a pan-European communications programme, it is important to look for three straightforward components which are critical to success.

First, the network core senior team must be experienced and possess the capability across the healthcare landscape to deliver the appropriate strategic counsel and, by extension, the actual strategy for the overall programme. The core team should be made up of senior public relations counsellors from the primary or lead agency in the network, supplemented with select senior counsellors from other network agencies representing key markets and/or therapeutic experience depending on the assignment.

For a pan-European assignment the network should create the most experienced core team possible (avoiding conflicts, of course) and plan some 'investment' during the initial discussions to guarantee a strong, integrated start up. That core senior team also must be committed to staying directly involved as appropriate and necessary during the life of the programme – no show of force during the pitch and then a disappearing act shortly after the win.

Next, the network must have strong partners within key European markets that have built their individual healthcare reputations on solid local and/or pan-European work. Too often networks are based on partners acquired for one speciality or another and not necessarily healthcare. To be successful in the dynamic European healthcare marketplace, public relations companies need to have real, first-hand experience in dealing with the challenges, whether they stem from regulations, market access, the media, or patient and HCP groups.

It is up to the individual market-by-market network partners to agree the strategy with the core team and then ensure that the tactical rollout is fit-for-purpose in each respective market. The patient-care pathway, for example, for rheumatoid arthritis, COPD or overactive bladder in one European market will differ greatly from other European markets. Such a situation requires a careful tactical review and rollout before any successful implementation can be achieved. Local knowledge, experience, contacts, and coordination will best guarantee success.

Third, while no network will have strong agency partners across all 50 European countries, it is important that the network has as broad coverage as possible. That coverage must certainly go beyond the G5 and a handful of other major European countries. It must provide local insight to the market-by-market differences; use key messages effectively and modify as necessary; and template tactical materials for maximum impact in local, particularly, emerging markets. While the world's largest healthcare market, the US, grew last year at less than four per cent, countries like Russia at 20 per cent and Turkey at 17 per cent are growing much faster and are emerging as major healthcare markets. In the future, having resources in the emerging European countries will be more and more important to pharmaceutical marketers as they expand their communications efforts.


Screening PR agencies and networks for pan-European work

1. Are the agencies / networks established as healthcare specialists
(both core agency and key partners)?
2. Are the agencies / networks proven strategic and tactical partners with case studies / awards across significant European geography?
3. Do the agencies / networks have the breadth and depth to deliver across significant European geography (eg, healthcare staff numbers and experience in multiple, key markets)?
4. Do the agencies / networks have the infrastructure (eg, website, finance and accounting practices) to deliver a 'joined-up' strategic and tactical programme across significant European geography on a continuous basis?
5. Will the agencies / networks 'invest' time during the start-up phase
of the programme or campaign to build an appropriate agency-client team relationship?
6. Are the agencies / networks willing to build in SMART objectives not only on the core programme but for the execution in all identified, key markets?
7. Are the agencies / networks excited about the challenges put to them and ready to start immediately across all defined geography?
8. Do you initially and instinctively trust the agencies / networks and what they say?


A strong network option
As the public relations discipline continues to adapt to the dynamic pharmaceutical environment across Europe and around the world, the strength of a well-developed and managed network may become the better option for many companies and their public relations programmes. Without strong partners on-the-ground across Europe, it is difficult for any communications company to keep up with all of the various regulatory laws and guidelines governing pharmaceutical communications at the EU and national levels.

Likewise, it is equally difficult for any communications company to know the key trade, medical and consumer healthcare media at national levels, let alone to develop any kind of relationship with them. This is where the experienced, healthcare network is the right option.

An effective communications network is built on strong, proven healthcare partners who come together to make the network far greater for its clients then the sum of its parts. An effective network builds a solid foundation of working protocols, financial platforms, and communication infrastructure combined with mutual trust and admiration. An effective network chooses the best possible communications partner options across Europe (and the world), vets them thoroughly with current partners before inviting them to join, and secures their commitment to the overall approach and deliverables the network guarantees its clients.

Overall the network is a disciplined, global entity that on a practical level provides its clients with the very best strategic counsel from a multi-national, experienced senior team supported by seasoned, knowledgeable healthcare professionals familiar with the rules, systems and audiences in each country to be targeted. This networked approach results in a truly integrated public relations programme across whatever segment of European geography a client targets. The best networks also come complete with links to other markets including the US and Japan to make sure best practice is always reviewed and considered.

The Author
Phil Sheldon is director, International at Red Door Communications, a founding partner in The Health Collective Network
He can be reached at

To comment on this article, email

11th January 2010


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The Porterhouse Medical Group provides powerful, insight-driven, healthcare communication services to the pharmaceutical industry across the globe, with a focus...

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