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Why big pharma needs to be braver

The last few years have seen the pharmaceutical industry undergo a rapid metamorphosis in the face of unprecedented change, but communications are one area that still needs an injection of bravery. The pharmaceutical industry can no longer be about presenting information in uninspiring ways. Their communication must effectively weave imagination, creativity, and science into the foundation of what they do if they truly are to capture and maintain HCPs hearts and minds.

Why big pharma needs to be braver

Over the decades, the pharmaceutical industry has settled. The old adage, “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” has seemingly become a motto of the industry when it communicates with healthcare professionals (HCPs). But the safe and dull doesn’t inspire, it does not engage, and it does not evoke reactions. However, adopting a creative communication style can help overcome this hurdle.

There has never been more stimulus vying for the attention than there is today, especially for overwhelmed and distracted HCPs, scientists, and medical liaisons. To demand their attention is precisely the reason why the pharmaceutical industry needs to make sure it is crafting its communications with a focus on ensuring the message is filled with imagination, science and empathy.

Communication that demands attention

Black text on a white page might sound uninspiring but there’s a reason why Stephen King became the juggernaut he is today; he carefully crafted stories that excite millions of people globally whilst other authors ended up in bargain baskets. Black text on a white page is still single handily one of the most effective communication methods, but unlike the maestro King, the way the pharmaceutical industry’s stories are told are often just not evocative enough to attract the audience into wanting to know more.

The pharmaceutical sector tends to adopt an understandably conservative approach, broadcasting bulk amounts of facts and statistics and whilst it’s vital information that needs sharing, sterile text is not going to cut through all the other generic communication for a time-poor HCP. But, black text on white paper isn’t dull if the story told with them, is electric.

To quote another great storyteller Kurt Vonnegut, writers should "use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted."

The story is key, but communication also needs to be sensitive to an audience’s preconceived ideas and long-held perceptions. Imagine challenging or attempting to change a belief that someone has held for years, their brain might instinctively try and disregard it. This is due to confirmation bias, which works to confirm what you already know and ignore what doesn’t fit within that. This means that when you do challenge those strongly held beliefs, you need to do so in a way that stops the person long enough to allow the message to be received. You’d need to do it in a way that has maximum impact. So how is that done?

By using empathy. An empathetic approach when talking to your audience is essential if the message is to resonate with the hearts and minds of the audience. HCPs, for example, may know the science of what their patients are going through, but not fully grasp the true reality of living with something day to day. For the pharmaceutical industry to elevate its communication and give a level of insight to their HCPs, providing an empathetic, human snapshot into the world of a patient, will not only deepen their HCPs understanding and knowledge, but also encourage effective use of treatment for the right patients. Committing to brave, empathetic and insightful scientific storytelling isn’t a thing of wistful fancy, it can quite literally be a matter of life or death. The pharmaceutical industry needs to understand the real story that needs to be told, and think not just of what they want to say or they are mandated to say through legislation, but of what that story will mean to the reader and ultimately how that reader (the HCP) engages and interprets the story and translates it into patient care.

It’s also good practice to remember that a picture paints a thousand words, so the pharmaceutical industry needs to make sure they are coupling a compelling scientific story with imagery that strikes the eye and invites someone into what is being conveyed. So often we spend our life on autopilot, so we need to visually stimulate people into paying attention.

Healthcare start-ups that are disruptive by nature are entering the industry knowing that they need to be bold and brash when it comes to creativity, language, and imagery to communicate their message. They want to stand out, be seen and be heard in a way that is agile and adaptive to the industry.

The last few years have seen the pharmaceutical industry undergo a rapid metamorphosis in the face of unprecedented change, but communications are one area that still needs an injection of the start-up vibe. The pharmaceutical industry can no longer be about presenting information in uninspiring ways. Their communication must effectively weave imagination, creativity, and science into the foundation of what they do if they truly are to capture and maintain HCPs hearts and minds.

Whilst they’re currently little fish, big pharmaceutical might want to pay attention to the start-up space and their approach to communications, before they start taking over more of the pond.

20th May 2022

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Page & Page and Partners

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