An intriguing feature of the Marketing PR league tables a year ago
was that the lists of fastest-growing agencies were dominated by IT and
healthcare specialists. Judging by the latest figures, however, it looks
as though the techies were still in growth mode in 1998, but the medics
had a relapse. None of the out-and-out medical specialists exceeded the
industry average on growth, and a number turned in flat
There was ’a bit of an hiatus’ in 1998, says Sarah Harwood, managing
director of Shire Hall Communications, one of the top specialists. Now
the sector talk is of boom again.
Steve Carroll, chief operating officer of the CPR Worldwide group,
claims to have been involved in six pitches for business in the past six
Others agree that a slowdown in business that was evident particularly
in the final quarter of last year has now gone into reverse.
Such blips do occur, and there are several theories about what
Harwood points out that the really intensive PR activity relating to
pharmaceuticals is concentrated ahead of the launch of new products.
Although she has done no research into the question, she suspects
there’s an underlying cycle of new launches.
There have also been a number of restructurings within the
pharmaceutical industry, and mergers, such as the coming together of
Astra and Zeneca. In any industry, such deals lead to budgets being put
on hold while activities are reviewed.
Also, the National Health Service is going through major changes. These
include the planned abolition of fundholding GP practices, and the
introduction, from April, of Primary Care Groups in the regions.
’It means our target audiences have changed somewhat. We have to be
aware who is making the important decisions, so we can target them,’
explains Gayle Sawyer, an account director at Grayling. ’A lot of my own
work has become targeted at nurses, because they are becoming more
influential, and are being given more responsibility for
Perhaps it’s not surprising,therefore, that one healthcare PR firm noted
that work programmes for 1999 have only recently been cleared. Normally,
they would have been signed off late last year.
Putting this glitch aside, it’s hard to disagree with the practitioners’
view that healthcare PR will continue to expand rapidly. One reason for
this is the pressure on drugs companies to get their new products into
the market as quickly as possible, to maximise sales before the patents
run out. ’A flying start can make a difference of millions of dollars
over the life of a product,’ says Stephen Bullock, chief executive of
Medical Action Communications (MAC).
PR is a vital tool, he explains. A product can’t be advertised until it
is ready for launch, but PR can ensure that the target medical audience
is primed ahead of the launch.
The same considerations explain why healthcare PR is becoming more
international; the faster a new product can be rolled out across the
major markets, the bigger the return to the manufacturer.
’Everyone has talked about the globalisation of our business,’ he
’The evidence for it has been slow to emerge, but is increasing now.
Clients have got over the hump of worrying about different languages,
cultures and regulations.’
The international dimension is important. London-based CPR Worldwide now
has a US office. According to Carroll, half of its international clients
have their headquarters in the US but complain that their local agencies
are too US-centred.
Meanwhile, its competitor Fusion surrendered its independence during the
year to become Lowe Fusion Healthcare. The deal was billed as both the
Lowe Group’s first PR acquisition this decade, and the first European
acquisition of the US-based Lowe Healthcare network, which includes
advertising and PR.
’We’ve had many offers over the years, and always said we were never
going to sell,’ says Fusion managing director Julia Cook. ’But this
approach seemed to be at the right time, from the right people.
’From the US, London is seen as a good base for Europe, so the deal was
in line with our own aim of European expansion. We have found that the
amount of European work we are doing is accelerating. That includes
securing three major international accounts which are just starting
Interestingly, MAC chose to go in a different direction, teaming up with
a US group specialising in pharmaceutical industry services, such as
field trials and sales, rather than with one of the communications
There is, of course, a rivalry between dedicated specialists and major
PR networks, many of which have substantial medical divisions. When
Ketchum (now part of Omnicom) first moved into the UK, one of its
strategies was to build up its healthcare business. It has succeeded to
the point where this specialism accounted for about a third of the
agency’s income, before last year’s merger with consumer agency
In the US, Ketchum has just been voted healthcare PR agency of the
London healthcare managing director Paul Blackburn claims to see a shift
in the market, with international clients accepting that the big,
established PR networks can be highly specialised, too.
That’s the view of his opposite number at Hill & Knowlton, Karen
The H&K healthcare practice is a 24-strong team. Already accounting for
more than pounds 3m in income, it has a 24% growth target this year.
Half its business is already based on international assignments, and the
proportion is expected to grow.
But there is another growth area attracting attention, as Moyse points
out. This is direct-to-consumer PR, or DTC. Expectations are already
widespread that a US initiative to allow ethical (prescription) drugs to
be advertised to the public will be followed in Europe. That’s a big
issue for tomorrow, but there’s already a need for more sophisticated
consumer communications via PR, she adds.
’We are introducing our clients to consumer planning, which creates more
knowledge about the market, and about different types of consumers and
their attitudes,’ she says. ’Currently the pharmaceutical industry
doesn’t have communications planners such as you would find in classic
consumer marketing. We think this will enable our clients to ’jump the
curve’, and even take their skills ahead of the FMCG sector.’
HEALTHCARE, TOP 25
Rank Agency Total income 1998 Healthcare
(pounds) 1998 (pounds)
1 Medical Action Communications 7,520,000 7,520,000
2 The Shire Hall Group 4,222,000 4,222,000[
3 Hill & Knowlton (UK) 23,295,000 3,028,000
4 Shandwick International 25,843,000 2,584,000
5 Ketchum (incl. Life) 9,608,000 2,498,000
6 CPR Worldwide 2,079,000 2,079,000
7 Holmes & Marchant Group 3,783,000 2,005,000
8 Grayling Group 8,091,000 1,780,000
9 Cohn & Wolfe 5,399,000 1,566,000
10 Lowe Fusion Healthcare 1,478,000 1,478,000
11 Munro & Foster Communications 2,299,000 1,264,000
12 Countrywide Porter Novelli 17,913,000 1,164,000
13 GCI/APCO (incl. Focus Communications) 7,422,000 1,113,000
14 Government Policy Consultants 6,402,000 1,088,000
15 Edelman Public Relations Worldwide 8,934,000 983,000
16 Biss Lancaster 7,244,000 797,000
17 Charles Barker/ BSMG Worldwide 9,627,000 674,000
18 Manning Selvage & Lee 3,570,000 500,000
19 Beattie Media 4,120,000 412,000
20 EMC Euro PR 1,009,000 404,000
21 BMA Communications 1,614,000 323,000
22 The Public Relations Business 2,128,000 319,000
23 Lyons Waddell 1,038,000 311,000
24 Nexus Choat 3,724,000 298,000
25 Harrison Cowley 4,849,000 242,000
This article was first published on Marketing