Simon Hackett, Pegasus - Manifesto for healthcare PR

The changing healthcare environment in the UK calls for a different kind of PR practitioner.

Gone are the days of the distinct ethical or consumer healthcare campaign. PR practitioners can no longer succeed by hiding away in silos of specialist knowledge and communicating only with specific audiences.

New political environments, the internet and the needs of an ageing, evolving and demanding population are encouraging us to think carefully about the way we operate.

We must combine ethical and consumer health approaches to deliver the most effective marketing programmes. Our role is no longer just about 'healthcare', but about wellness, healthy living and self-care - and we need to know how to interpret a robust evidence base and apply a degree of creativity that motivates consumers to change their behaviour and evangelise among their peers. This must form the basis of our new healthcare manifesto.

As healthcare provision in the UK evolves, a new wave of empowered healthcare professionals (HCPs) will move to the front line. Pharmacists will both prescribe and manage health in the community, and prescribing nurses and community health practitioners will play a more important role in information provision.

Consumers are the new key opinion leaders. The internet, and increased access to a wealth of health information, has given consumers a greater understanding and responsibility for their health and wellbeing, empowering them to the extent that they can request specific prescription brands.

This presents opportunities, but also challenges. PR practitioners must identify and understand the importance of the new wave of HCPs, integrating them into brand communications and health education campaigns, and motivating them to inspire consumers. Conversely, the industry must also carefully manage reputation and communicate the benefits of treatments to new consumer opinion leaders while navigating a maze of regulations.

Engaging with this wider audience set inevitably involves identifying the opinion leaders in the consumer community, targeting evangelist or influencer groups, choosing the correct communications channels and developing meaningful two-way discussion - increasingly, we realise that social media strategies are most effective for this dialogue-driven approach.

At Pegasus, we have established a patientand insight-driven approach that involves creating a 'blueprint' that maps the consumer journey - who they are, how they live, who they listen to and what they are looking for.

These are used to identify stakeholder interactions throughout the consumer journey, as well as the key touchpoints that will motivate change. Then they can inform a strong and unified brand direction. In our award-winning campaign for Hedrin, we consistently communicated the 'Once a week, take a peek' message to consumers, pharmacists, school nurses and GPs - positioning the brand as a leader in educating stakeholders about the identification and treatment of head lice.

We have the capacity to steer people towards better, more informed health decisions without removing their incontrovertible right to make the odd mistake, if they so wish.

Consumer-driven insight is the key to overcoming these new challenges.

As practitioners, we must interpret evidence and apply it in a consumer context. We need to be psychologists to fully comprehend the new 'choice architecture' with which we are dealing.

Above all, we need to understand how to build brands that provide advice, education and support in ways that will empower consumers to better understand their healthcare choices.

VIEWS IN BRIEF

- Which pharma company has improved its profile most in the past year?

GSK, thanks to the global success of its launch of Alli and the focus on its vaccine expertise - two events that brought the corporate brand out from behind the product. The pharmaceutical industry as a whole had a good year thanks to the unprecedented amount of airtime it received during the swine flu outbreak. At times the safety of the nation seemed to rely on Tamiflu.

- What did you learn from the swine flu episode?

That the 24-hour media are as virulent as the disease. Control of the message and strong leadership in communications is vital in such scenarios.

- Simon Hackett is deputy managing director at Pegasus.

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