Specialist Essays: Carole North, 90TEN Healthcare - A long-term perspective

Successful initiatives depend on finding, engaging and mobilising the right people.

Would you take a Ferrari to a high street garage for an engine overhaul? It is unlikely that we would entrust the stewardship of a priceless car to someone without the specialist knowledge and tools required to maximise its performance and ensure no damage is done. In healthcare comms, a pharmaceutical brand's reputation is that complex, and companies require specialist comms support to help them respond to the challenges.

The pharmaceutical industry is perhaps unique in that the company responsible for developing and marketing a product is not able to promote it directly to the end user - the patient. Therefore, multi-channel comms are needed to educate prescribing doctors, inform policy-makers who hold the purse strings, and equip patients with the information they need to talk to their doctor about their condition and treatment options. This integrated approach should include medical education, public relations and patient engagement techniques, to truly change behaviours.

While we operate within a strict regulatory code from the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), even the most creative healthcare comms specialists sometimes feel hand-tied. A common challenge is to achieve national coverage of product news, and here, creativity is key. The media team at 90TEN recently secured extensive national coverage of a smart injection device in the treatment of growth hormone deficiency. Despite how few people are affected, and the lack of clinical breakthroughs in recent years, we developed an engaging story that mobilised our audience to think differently about the way in which the condition is treated. We achieved this though the Design 4 Health Awards, which invited youngsters to design their 'ideal' injection device. Supported by the Royal College of Art, media doctors Christian Jessen and Pixie McKenna, and patients via the Child Growth Foundation, the campaign appealed to children, parents, healthcare teams and the media.

Sometimes, though, traditional media go unnoticed by the target audience, especially if they are young teenagers and the topic is unwanted pregnancy. Social media offer a more direct approach, and Facebook and Twitter are effective in engaging hard-to-reach audiences. Unmediated communication is part of the appeal of social media, but it also presents new challenges for healthcare communicators navigating ABPI guidelines.

Despite years of investment to reduce teenage pregnancy, conception rates in East Sussex were still high.

90TEN facilitated a public health campaign that was developed for the target audience, by the target audience.

Everything from the slogans to the campaign materials and the delivery media were decided by young people.

A core component in helping drive engagement with the campaign is a Facebook group that has facilitated discussion among teenagers. For the first time, health information is being delivered directly through channels that already engage teenagers. This platform provides fertile ground for stimulation of genuine behaviour change and, ultimately, the reduction of teenage pregnancy rates.

'Off-the-shelf' comms solutions don't work; we must continue to challenge ourselves to develop cut-through techniques that motivate stakeholders and change behaviours. Successful initiatives in the healthcare environment depend on finding, engaging and mobilising the right people. Our approach at 90TEN enables us to inspire long-term behavioural change for a healthier outlook.

VIEWS IN BRIEF

- Which film title best sums up the spirit of your agency?

In an industry clogged with jargon, it's easy to forget that a carefully designed healthcare initiative can quite literally transform a person's life.

So, maintaining that literal sense, it has to be Transformers.

- How do you find spokespeople to whom your market responds positively?

People often ask what 90TEN means. It's about reaching the ten per cent of a population that will respond to a tailored message and effect a change. Whether we're communicating with teenagers, healthcare professionals or the media, the starting point for finding spokespeople is always painstaking research.

Carole North is a director at 90TEN Healthcare.

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