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Joined-up thinking

A guide to effective integrated communications

A head with cogs and gears turning insideThe European healthcare stakeholder network grows more interconnected by the day. The old approach of allocating silos to healthcare professionals (HCPs), patients and others and tweaking a core (usually channel-centric) campaign for each is flawed on two basic levels: it assumes these groups don't interact – they do; and it proposes communications to be a one-way process – they aren't. As a result, the clients' overall goal of brand growth remains singular. Healthcare consultancies offering an integrated communications model are well-placed to deliver return on investment for clients who must reconcile their business needs with the diverse demands of their audiences.

A restless marketplace
Life is more complicated for healthcare operators today. The age of the press release is over. Patients are empowered by new media channels. Physicians need more than a sales call to warrant their faith in a brand. Payers today can decide the fate of a decades-in-development therapy with a quick calculation.

Industry has begun to accept the balance of power has shifted, but should not despair for its authority, as its supplier role in the healthcare chain remains as unchallenged and invaluable as ever. It's about value now. The challenge is to match each compelling product with communications 'packaging' that will take different shapes across stakeholder groups, but resonate equally well.

The communications sector's response to date has been to match these diverse stakeholders to their own communications disciplines. We have seen the birth and development of medical education, market access, digital/interactive and more within our marketplace, complementing traditional PR with new direct-to-source marketing approaches.

This leaves our clients, theoretically, spoilt for choice. But establishing and maintaining multiple communications streams is only the beginning; the real challenge is to identify where these streams merge and interact, and to capitalise on these opportunities seamlessly and intelligently.

Jack of all trades?
We don't have to think back too far to remember when agencies would assemble identical pitch teams whether the brief was disease awareness or clinical trial recruitment, the only difference being the logos on the business cards they handed out.

This approach simply does not convince now that these newer disciplines have become proven entities, worth taking seriously. Clients  and audiences know what to expect from these new avenues, and the demands are extensive. In other words, genuine specialism has become essential.

Rebecca Fisher-Pollard, Global Communications Director, CVM, Novartis, warns: "Those who still maintain they can be the Jack of all trades in healthcare communications should be treated with caution, on the grounds that their knowledge cannot run deep enough to do each discipline justice."

Yet independent specialism can also have limitations. A digital agency without insight into its client's traditional media presence is of limited use. HCP relationship campaigns that don't directly connect to policy opportunities are missing half the story. It is at this point that the integrated communications business model comes into its own.

Integration – all in the family
Under the integrated model, dedicated specialist units from PR to med ed and market access work much like a family – each is unique, all are relevant and all share one roof. The primary emphasis is on staff being experts in their field, but regular cross-disciplinary collaboration ensures each team understands enough about the others' expertise to develop campaigns that can fit into the 'bigger picture' with ease.

Clients are thereby afforded the benefits of diverse specialism with the practical and professional benefits of a team that is united strategically (one vision), geographically (one location) and financially (one P&L). Clients get the diversity they need coupled with the reassurance that a single strategy is driving their brand forward.

Tailored campaigns
The greatest advantage of the integrated model is how easy it becomes to fit the right solution to any given marketing challenge. Clients can partner with an integrated consultancy to custom-build every communications programme, picking and choosing the right marketing mix on a case-by-case basis, and evolving the programme over time alongside the market.

Whether it's a programme that establishes a cutting-edge digital platform to present medical innovation to physicians, or a late-lifecycle PR push for an established brand which underlines proven value to payers, the challenge can be dissected, analysed and responded to without recourse to extended timelines, unnecessary duplication or additional suppliers.

Five steps to integration
Clients first:
To truly embody the integrated business model, consultancies must place their clients' needs at the heart of everything they do. Looking constantly to the future through clients' eyes can identify the approaches today that will be indispensible tomorrow. At Chandler Chicco Companies (CCC) all 10 of the specialist units originated in response to client feedback – CCC asked its clients where it needed to be communicating in the future and moved into these marketing spaces unprompted.

Blaze the trail:
Dealing with – and developing – new communications disciplines requires consultancies to take the lead, guiding clients from an industry that can be conservative on innovation. Social media is the latest example. Most pharma companies are now recognising the potential, but a notable few early adopters are already seeing the benefit. Helping clients become the 'early bird' is the kind of value that integrated consultancies are best placed to provide.

Know yourselves:
Ongoing internal discussions and synergy-searches are key to maintaining an integrated consultancy that executes aligned, multi-disciplinary communications in practice as well as theory. Everyone across the consultancy should be living and breathing their own discipline, and also learning about the disciplines across the business.

Be vigilant:
The healthcare communications marketplace will never stop evolving, and neither can we. Never imagine that what works best for the client now will still apply in a year. Always keep an eye on trends, and be thinking about what can be harnessed for the benefit of your clients.

Stay flexible:
Not everyone in our industry is an innovator, and much trust remains for the tried-and-tested approaches. Some clients will have immediate confidence in the integrated model to overcome challenges quickly and smartly, while others will want to invest in communications components individually for some time. Building trust is a better way of changing perception than a hard sell. If your offering is compelling and visible, it will eventually be explored.

Keep the bottom line simple:
Diverse expertise shouldn't mean fragmented finances. As consultancies, it's our responsibility to ensure we don't build barriers for ourselves. A single P&L ensures you can quickly focus on new challenges no matter where the solution sits, building the right teams without unnecessary baggage.

The benefits of integration are many, but the principle is simple. An integrated approach to healthcare communication allows us to be as diverse and as adaptable as the marketplace we seek to make a difference in.

Clients still want strategic partners at their 'right hand' across their comms, who they can trust not only for day-to-day support but also executive-level counsel that encompasses all of their work streams. The integrated model is how to preserve those valued relationships within an innovative, full-service environment, and secure long-term success on both sides of the partnership.

The Author
Fiona Hall is MD of Chandler Chicco Companies (Europe). She can be contacted at
Tim Gomersall is MD of 'nition (Europe), CCC's creative unit. He can be contacted at

To comment on this article, email

8th July 2010


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