EDITORIAL: Battle over top healthcare talent will intensify as smaller consumer shops expand offerings

Our feature this week highlights how many traditional PR teams have readjusted to incorporate a consumer focus, responding to clients' needs. The formalization of Marina Maher Communications' healthcare practice - announced a couple of weeks ago - points to another important theme.

Our feature this week highlights how many traditional PR teams have readjusted to incorporate a consumer focus, responding to clients' needs. The formalization of Marina Maher Communications' healthcare practice - announced a couple of weeks ago - points to another important theme.

The agency has long been known as a marketing communications shop with a particular specialty in marketing to women, working with clients like Procter & Gamble. But its clients also include GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, and Schering-Plough.

The firm poached Megan Svensen from Ogilvy to head its newly formalized healthcare group. "I'm very excited about joining an agency with such impressive and extensive experience in consumer branding," Svensen said in the release. "Pharmaceutical companies are looking for PR firms that know how to apply this expertise to healthcare products."

Clearly pharma clients are also looking for the healthcare expertise to bolster that consumer knowledge. The market for experienced healthcare PR pros - in-house and agency alike - is incredibly tight, and it's clearly about to get even more competitive. With firms like Marina Maher attracting talent from larger agencies, it is no longer the specialty healthcare shops that big firms need to battle for smart, trained people.

The prospect of joining a small, consumer-focused shop could be enticing. Certainly, when healthcare expert Phil Sheldon joined Lippe Taylor in 2002 after a career at major PR firms and pharma companies, he relished the new opportunity. Fluidity between different disciplines might seem easier under one roof. Turf battles over account relationships may appear less likely in a smaller shop. Finally, smaller firms can be perceived as better incubators of creativity, a belief that could lure execs away from larger firms.

Bigger firms have strong selling points too, including, and importantly, long track records of high-level healthcare engagements. The point isn't to compare, but rather to remind the industry that this is a sector that grows richer and more complex all the time - even as the talent pool servicing it is still dangerously tight.

Eskew to headline upcoming PRWeek Forum

Two short weeks after the election, the PRWeek Forum will take place in Naples, FL (November 15-17). Barring any 2000-esque chad-related hysterics, the results of one of the most contentious presidential campaigns in memory will be known.

Forum attendees will have an opportunity to hear from Tucker Eskew, advisor to the Bush/Cheney campaign and former director of the White House's first Office of Global Communications. Eskew has been popping up all over the place in the run-up to November, reinforcing the Republican message.

But with the forum's focus on reputation-management issues, Eskew's perspectives on the launch of the global communications office in response to the deepening image problems the US suffers around the world will be particularly poignant. Restoring America's image is counted as one of the most critical reputation issues of the day. Eskew will be a compelling contributor to this program because he can view the issue of reputation from the most resonant possible angles.

Corporate PR and marketing executives can apply for a free delegate place at the PRWeek Forum by sending an e-mail to jennifer.burke@prweek.com.

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