Healthcare and pharma PR: Predictions for 2016

Healthcare and pharmaceutical PR professionals agree that the NHS' financial problems and further digital innovation will shape their sector this year. But will there also be space for more content creation, and further agencies expanding into the sector?

Siân Boisseau, executive director, Golin Health London

We expect to see companies continuing to bring greater transparency and personality to their corporate comms, with more companies gaining confidence in social media and joining the few that are doing it well by generating interesting, relevant, visually appealing content. We’re seeing a desire for external comms to truly reflect companies’ ethos and character, moving away from pure data-driven and investor relations comms and familiar language that has failed to differentiate one pharma company from another for many years.

Hopefully 2016 will be the year when patient centricity is really lived and breathed by pharma, showing it is more than skin deep. Getting closer to real people to gain true insights and showing external audiences the profound impact that pharma has on people’s lives has much comms potential to improve understanding and the industry’s reputation. Apps and other technologies need to be tailored to individuals and delivered alongside advice and insight from healthcare professionals to truly effect behaviour change.

Catherine Devaney, managing director, Red Door Unlimited

One key trend for 2016 is the increasing importance of data: patient and population-level data is driving treatment decisions; pharma and product-related data (e.g. real world outcomes) is driving value and access decisions. From an agency perspective, data and analytics are driving procurement decisions.

A second trend is that the influence of mobile and digital health will continue to grow. Healthcare management and diagnostics will start to shift away from the surgery to online. Daily assessment of health stats via our mobiles, from services like Apple Health, will become routine. As a result of this and social media, of course, patients are increasingly educated and engaged in decisions about their own health, which provides an opportunity for clients to appropriately engage and support this audience.

Finally, again from an agency point of view, we will experience a change in our client base, with innumerable new entrants into the healthcare space.

Simon Hackett, deputy managing director, Pegasus

As health increasingly becomes central to the conversation in a range of sectors – technology and food to name a couple – bigger agency groups will want to invest more in beefing up their healthcare capability, whether through acquisition or creating new teams. The biggest challenge will be to truly integrate corporate, consumer and prescription capability considering the complex stakeholder environment. Reacting to this, existing health agencies will both hyperspecialise to strengthen their capability in specific sub-sectors and aim to broaden the relevance of their healthcare experience and translate it to appeal to the ears of FMCG marketing and comms managers.

Health agencies will also broaden skillsets further into integrated comms and change their models to suit including hiring planners and learning from other marketing disciplines. The old marketing silos and rules no longer apply – but how long will it take client buying patterns to adapt?

Andrew Harrison, director of global healthcare, Hanover

UK healthcare comms in 2016 will be dominated by the financial problems of its biggest payer, the NHS. Pharmaceutical marketing spend has fallen in recent years as UK market access and uptake worsens. This will continue as the NHS struggles to make unprecedented efficiency savings and curtails spend on medical technology and medicines, commoditising and restricting, and often declaring new medicines too expensive altogether. This coincides with a time when launch pipelines are resurgent with breakthrough technologies.

The NHS is (once again) a system in flux, some say in chaos, making it more complex to deliver effective launch and access programmes. Agencies will need to think smarter as shrinking marketing budgets mean market challenges must be overcome using lower fees. In this environment, the need to integrate and align prescriber comms and payer agendas is essential to get cut-through.

Rikki Jones, director, GCI Health

Content strategy has undeniably already earned its place in health comms, but 2016 is likely to be a year of real transformation with the emergence of content creation as a more prominent speciality.

Taking lessons from elsewhere in the marketing mix and other industries, FMCG as one example, health communicators are positioned to play a more central storytelling role for products and brands. For content marketers and communicators, the distribution vehicles sometimes vary but the results are the same – good stories that engage our audiences. There is still untapped opportunity to translate our strategic oversight of brand comms into new creative engagement opportunities – broader channel consideration, additional interactivity and a move towards episodic content, just to name some of the predicted health content trends.

I think we can all be excited about capitalising on a bigger and better spectrum of engagement; we just need to keep demonstrating the value of comms playing an increasing lead content role.

Bill Morgan, founding partner, Incisive Health

The big health stories of 2016 will undoubtedly concern the NHS’ response to its money problem, the consequences of which are only just beginning to burst into the open. There is now potential to see stories that haven’t graced our front pages for years: increases in cancelled operations; people on waiting lists for months; and multiple hospital service closures. It will also pinch creative agencies as resources available for public health campaigns decline.

As the screw tightens, the NHS’ leaders may try to find more money by tackling restrictive practices and outmoded workforce contracts, raising the prospect of another almighty dust–up with NHS staff. All of these big stories will crowd out the efforts of healthcare companies to get noticed. They’ll have to think smarter than ever to cut through the noise, inserting themselves into stories by demonstrating compelling solutions to the NHS’s problems without sounding trite.


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