NEWS ANALYSIS: Will HCA get a clean bill of health from sector? - The Healthcare Communications Association, comprising both agencies and clients, met for the first time last week...

Chaired by Red Door MD Catherine Warne, the HCA includes Cohn &

Wolfe executive director Angie Wiles, Shire Hall Communications MD Sarah

Matthew, and Munro and Forster director Sarah Hart among its executive

committee of ten.



Perhaps the most eye-catching aspect of the HCA is the role of leading

in-house figures in its upper echelons, adding instant kudos to the

fledgling body. The executive committee boasts Stephen Whitehead, Eli

Lilly & Company director of international corporate affairs, Peter

McCarthy, Schering Plough GP business unit director, Duncan McKechnie,

Novartis marketing director, and Roy Sutherwood, Pharmacia corporate

communications director.



GlaxoSmithKline director of corporate affairs Kate James - another

in-house figure enticed to join the committee - envisages the HCA

becoming mutually beneficial for both parties: 'How I think it will

develop is that it will build real awareness at a commercial level of

what communications can deliver to the pharmaceutical industry and help

people get more out of their marketing.'



She agrees that the main issues the healthcare communications trade

faces are 'the real absence of high quality training for staff

development and evaluation'.



The roots of the association can be found in the now defunct healthcare

division of the PRCA's best practice group. According to Warne, a

meeting of the group precipitated change when members were informed by

their clients that 'the PRCA didn't mean anything to them, and they

wanted to get more involved in the body.'



Warne claims the group had little option but to break away: 'It was made

very clear to us that the PRCA at this point felt that the two groups

would go in different directions.



The PRCA remains focused on best practice within consultancies. What we

are looking at is training and evaluation in the healthcare

communications industry as a whole, which is an exceptionally

specialised area.'



The concern about training and evaluation is recognised by Wiles:

'Clients fear that when they send their staff to get trained in

communications by one agency they will be trying to influence them. With

evaluation there's the IPR Toolkit but measures have to be different in

healthcare as its regulated in a different way.' She added that

difficulties attracting staff to healthcare communications would also be

addressed.



The HCA is in the process of organising sub-groups to handle areas of

training and evaluation. The body will split its training strategy into

sectors catering for in-house and agency staff. The former will be

educated on the effectiveness of PR and how best to use it, as well as

how to go about obtaining help.



Agency staff are to be taught how pharmaceutical products come to

market, the lifecycle of the product and the importance of codes of

conduct governing marketing in this sector. The training will be

administered by a mixture of in-house, agency, and independent

tutors.



In terms of evaluation, Warne claims the group will not look to

'reinvent the wheel', instead tailoring existing practices to the

sector. Research conducted for the HCA highlighted the need for more

work on advisory groups, 'key influencer activities, and opinion leader

development.' The body will seek to become a voice for the entire

pharmaceutical PR sector in talks on future legislation in the

field.



PRCA director-general Chris McDowall is opposed to the split. The

creation of the HCA comes at a time when the IPR and PRCA have been

working closely in an effort to speak with one voice for the industry.

The risk of fragmenting the industry is a concern claims McDowall:

'Trade associations should represent an industry, not a sub, subset.

That's why we have best practice and healthcare divisions at the

PRCA.'



When Warne left GCI to set up Red Door in autumn last year, she was

unable to continue to chair the PRCA group as her new firm was

ineligible for membership until it was three years old. McDowall says

Warne was unhappy with his offer of an observer role on the committee,

and concludes that this was one motivation for launching the HCA.



Wiles, who was key to the inception of the HCA, says the inflexibility

of the PRCA on lowering membership fees to healthcare agencies was one

cause of the split, since many PRCA services do not apply to her

sector.



Warne believes other sectors may find the urge to form associations

catering for their specific sectors too tempting to resist: 'I'm not

sufficiently close to what the PRCA offers in other areas, but they

don't offer much for healthcare.' She cites IT PR as another specialised

area that she believes could also seek a specialist trade body.



McDowall believes that further division of the PR industry is 'a

danger'.



He says: 'People must do these things not looking strategically at the

bigger picture.'



Wiles concludes that there is a threat to the PRCA's vision of industry

unity. And yet there has not yet been a major challenge to the trade

body's supremacy. It remains to be seen whether the HCA represents a

genuine threat to the PRCA or simply a step in the right direction for

the healthcare sector.



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