Digital offerings are expected to become increasingly important in 2009, while agencies could also have greater scope to influence the way pharma firms communicate with the public.
Pharma PR specialists have previously been seen by some as lacking clout in the digital arena, but agencies including Pegasus PR are now looking to recruit online and social media experts to advise clients.
Fleishman-Hillard associate director of digital healthcare Marc Southern predicted: '2009 will be the year of healthcare professional networks, as a number of high-profile players move into the online UK healthcare space.'
He added: 'Despite an increasingly sophisticated approach to digital comms, with outdated regulations, pharma will need to find innovative ways of talking to customers online.'
Red Door Communications MD Catherine Warne advised agencies to respond the European Commission's decision last month to change the way pharma firms communicate with the public.
She said: 'By relaxing the rules on the way pharma companies can provide information to patients, the commission is offering an opportunity for companies to extend their channels of communication.'
Axon Communications managing partner Ralph Sutton said the industry faced challenges around drug discovery, patent expiration and sales force effectiveness.
'Pharmaceutical companies need to ensure that their products are well-positioned, differentiated and top-of-mind among prescribers,' said Sutton. 'The communications environment is increasingly complex and clients need to talk to multiple stakeholders.'
Meanwhile, Chandler Chicco Agency EU director of operations Fiona Hall predicted that agencies who have 'entrepreneurial spirit, fast decision-making and flexibility' would be well-placed to weather 2009.