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Pharma perspectives: communications creativity (part 1)

AstraZeneca business unit director Samuel Hollis on what healthcare communications creativity means to him

AstraZeneca AZ Samuel HollisPMLiVE: What are the hallmarks of good creative work in healthcare communications?
Samuel Hollis: For me good creative must be differentiating, create stopping power, communicate effectively and quickly, be memorable, be campaignable, be direct in inspiring customers to take an action. Good creative must never lose sight of the overall brand strategy, business objectives, brand values, personality and positioning for the brand. When you have all of these hallmarks right then you have good creative. Easier said than done of course.

When it comes to healthcare communications creativity, what matters most to you?
SH: Delivering the business objectives. It is always nice to be part of an 'award winning campaign' with beautiful photography and clever subtle headlines. But this is a 'nice to have' and no more nowadays. No business unit director or country lead will ever challenge a brand team on why they have not produced an award winning campaign, but you can be sure you will hear from them if the said campaign has not helped deliver the business objectives.

There is also a growing trend for effective, simple communications around the world. We live and work in a global healthcare industry, and a brand needs to be identifiable wherever our customers may travel. This means the place for humour and subtle messaging may work in some countries, but may not work in others and we need to be prepared for that.

When was the last time you were really impressed by healthcare creative work?
SH: Often I have been impressed at the agency pitch stage, I guess that is the point. I can think of two examples from agency pitches that stick with me over the years of working with agencies in New York, Zurich and London. In one pitch the agency showed me a story of the creative using no slides, no visuals – just a creative/art director, a pen and a flip chart. It was an innovative and bold pitch with an impressive and memorable big idea. I have also seen jaw dropping stopping power creative that has really impressed me, but sometimes these are not always the right ones to help deliver the business objectives (see earlier). Like most members of brand teams, I feel I have worked on impressive campaigns in the past, but I choose to now judge them more on how they have helped the teams deliver the numbers versus winning industry awards or serving as pretty decorations in my office. This leads me to another point, it really doesn't matter if I like or am 'impressed' by a creative, or even if the agency like it, and bordering on blasphemy, I don't really care if the customer 'likes' it! What truly matters is if the creative can lead the customer to think and act differently around the brand (without causing offence, of course) and contribute to achieve the business objectives.

Is pharma marketing less creative than its consumer sector?
SH: I would say 'no', because I think we need to reconsider our definition of creative. If being 'creative' in pharma marketing is thought of as simply producing the most beautiful artwork/photography then 'yes' we are possibly less creative as we have more restrictions and quite rightly required to have a more serious tone for serious diseases. But if we instead think of 'being creative' as utilising the best channels, strongest messaging and impactful visuals to drive actions in our customers through the small number of engagement opportunities we have, then I feel other industries have a lot to learn from pharma around our efficiencies. That's 'being creative' from my perspective.

How valuable is a good creative concept/execution to a pharmaceutical company?
SH: I still believe it is incredibly important, but for maybe different reasons than it was ten years ago. A good creative should serve as the anchor point for the brand, both internally and externally. The beauty of the photography or the subtlety of the message may no longer be the mark of creative concept success versus being able to build a recognisable, memorable, campaignable creative aligned to the brands personality and values. But that does not mean the quality of the visual and photography is no longer important, as trust me I really hope the days of smiling patients walking along on the beach with their trusted Labrador are long gone...

Does there need to be a stronger case built for creativity in communications?
SH: Yes from me, we do need to still build a stronger case for increased creativity in our communications, but this should be focused on how we can be creative through the 'new' channels we have to our disposal. I really hope to never again see a presentation that states 'we are moving into the digital age', as we are well and truly there, similarly I do not want to hear brand teams being asked 'what is your digital strategy?', if anyone in this age does not have digital as a channel within their 'strategy' (note: 'strategy' not digital strategy') then they have been under a rock for the past decade. So yes, we can be more creative with how we speak and communicate with our customers and try to utilise every appropriate channel in doing this. That's creativity. 

Samuel Hollis is a business unit director as AstraZeneca. 

In the PME/PMLiVE series Pharma Perspectives with the HCC senior industry and agency figures give their thoughts on today's key marketing challenges. If you have a topic you'd like the series to explore please send it to 
The Health Communications' Council (HCC) is a specialist division of the European Association of Communications Agencies (EACA). For more information visit: 

3rd September 2015

From: Marketing



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