Analysis: Dog radio points to pharma's growing appetite for creative content

A radio station for dog owners highlights the growing use of content in campaigns as companies explore more varied channels of communication, healthcare comms figures claim.

Innovation Debate: a content-driven campaign by Astellas
Innovation Debate: a content-driven campaign by Astellas

Hound Waves Radio is a nice headline-grabber for Bayer Animal Health’s Be Lungworm Aware campaign, which warns dog owners of the risks of the lungworm parasite. 

While the FM radio station is only a one-day flash in the pan, the fact that its specially produced content will live on online as podcasts illustrates how the sector is making greater use of digital. 

"Bayer Animal Health is using more and more media to get health awareness messages across," explains Bayer Animal Health group product manager Caroline Braidwood. "We are always looking for innovative ways to reach our audience."

Other drug companies are also innovating despite challenges presented by regulations around the promotion of drugs.

Astellas Pharma Europe is using a content-led strategy for a campaign highlighting research into ageing, says its comms director Mindy Dooa.

Under the banner the Astellas Innovation Debate, the company is funding a series of annual events exploring the role of innovation in modern society, with well-known scientific figures such as Lord Robert Winston on the panel. 

The debates can be watched and followed at the dedicated Innovation Debate website.

"We are always looking at different platforms – from traditional to digital media – to reach a wider audience," says Dooa. "Some of these platforms obviously require more rich and compelling content to engage audiences."

Regulations restricting the promotion of prescription drugs mean campaigns tend to focus on general awareness of issues.

"As an industry, we operate within the code of practice set out by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry," says Dooa. "Therefore, when communicating to the general public, we focus on disease awareness and wider societal issues."

For example, Allergan corporate affairs and public relations manager Julia Kendrick explains that the company could not do a branded campaign to promote Botox because it is a prescription-only product.

With the Hound Waves campaign, which involved healthcare comms agency Pegasus, Bayer is very gently raising awareness of its Advocate medication for dogs infected with the lungworm parasite. 

While Pegasus has invested in its own content creation team due to client demand, in this case the content was created by broadcast PR specialist Markettiers4dc and digital agency Zone Design, so clients’ thirst for content will not always result in work for healthcare agencies. 

However, Pegasus’ team of animators, developers and editors did create content for Danish pharma company Novo Nordisk around its sponsorship of a pro-cycling team composed of diabetic riders.

"More and more clients are coming to us saying, ‘This is the budget we have and these are our objectives – what is the best way of spending it?’," says Pegasus creative director Stuart Hehir. 

Another healthcare agency that has boosted its digital capabilities is Tonic Life. Its CEO Scott Clark says healthcare agencies in general are trying to create a "potpourri" of skillsets. 

While he admits examples are as yet limited he claims pharma companies are increasingly looking for agencies that can create content.

"Pharmaceutical companies are looking at all channels now and thinking more creatively," he maintains. "You’ve got to get the balance right between creating something that sits within the guidelines and something that is interesting and compelling."

Regulation may be here to stay for the pharma industry, but it is likely to be less and less of a barrier to an appetite for engaging and creative content.

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