During recent years, people have increasingly taken responsibility for their own healthcare, particularly for minor ailments such as coughs, colds, headaches, gastrointestinal upsets and skin conditions, as well as paying attention to healthy eating or lifestyle choices.
The drive for self-care has for many years underpinned changes in the over-the-counter medicine industry. An emphasis on self-care is also being supported in the NHS Health and Social Care Bill, which makes a case for greater self-care education.
Pharmacists continue to be seen as key 'health portals', visited daily by 1.8 million people and used as a key source of advice and education by the general public when a minor ailment arises. As products are reclassified from prescription-only to pharmacy-only medicines and then to general sales licensed medicines, an increasingly broad range of treatments and technologies are available.
With the pharmacists' healthcare role and the self-care agenda both expanding, a shift in comms strategy to borrowing from other disciplines is required to steer the changes. Creating and delivering the right communication campaigns behind over-the-counter medicines for pharmacy and grocery retail is imperative, as is honouring the sector regulations.
Comms campaigns need to be underpinned with authority and credibility, as well as accuracy and relevance for patients or consumers. Engaging experts and core stakeholders in the field is key. Complex science needs to be communicated accurately and legally in an accessible, straightforward, consumer (or journalist) friendly manner.
Engaging with experts as part of a marketing programme offers significant potential in delivering support for an emerging or existing health sector or a brand/ingredient area. In many cases, expert positioning leads to mass communication, requiring experts to present a consistent 'voice' in opinion pieces, published reviews and scientific articles, alongside digital and social media outlets. The gatekeeper role fits perfectly into a world where good, credible stories are retold by those that soak up and digest useful and generously shared information, relevantly placed and pitched.
Social media are becoming ever more important to the success of specific campaigns, engaging with an increasingly interactive customer, in a more personalised environment. Ensuring accurate timely content is important, especially as firms come under pressure to meet all 'vigilance' needs.
Good storytelling and connecting with the target patient or consumer is fundamental. Nothing engages the journalist or consumer as much as good news narrative but the narrative must fit the campaign and be legally compliant.
The success of the story will depend on understanding the scope and influences on customers' decision making, choice and satisfaction. Plus building a customer profile including behavioural understanding to create a meaningful 'story' for customers, while securing strategic advantage for the comms and marketing teams. Separate competitor and sector analysis is also critical.
Communication needs to be consistent at all touch points, ensuring unique selling points are communicated clearly to distinguish from competitors.
Quality, in-depth research and insight are the foundation here, as such insights shape the 'end brand' or sector approach as well as creating audience connections that really count.
Every action creates a reaction, and our role is to ensure that in a world where ripples of influence spread, the start point is shaped, placed, influenced and timed in exactly the right direction.
Views in brief
What must you consider when devising a strategy to communicate risk?
The strategy must take public health and safety very seriously. The perspectives of all stakeholders is also imperative, but the public health concern should take priority.
On which healthcare comms project are you most proud of working?
It has to be OXY. We were asked to develop a campaign for the spot cream with media and retailer 'punch'. We decided to focus on the new ingredient - seaweed. Research, experts, in-store retail and consumer education initiatives kicked off the campaign, leading to many Boots stores selling out of OXY.