Stefi Rucci, Say Communications: The true agents of change

The evolving healthcare environment calls for a new breed of communications agencies.

On 19 January, one of the most radical reforms in the history of the NHS was presented to Parliament, giving patients, GPs and private healthcare companies unprecedented power over the way care is chosen and funded. With sweeping changes to the commissioning process, the Government is sending a clear message: healthcare is not just about the NHS anymore. Patient power will shape the balance of the NHS and private service provision for years to come.

For the changing NHS, there remain big challenges, and many unanswered questions. But necessity is the mother of invention, and the situation is a catalyst for new alliances and novel ways of looking at care.

New rules of engagement between the pharma industry and the NHS have been evolving for some time, with values such as honesty, trust and transparency central to a new, shared language. But a novel set of market propositions that focus on value and measurable outcomes is likely to emerge from these changes.

The reforms represent an opportunity for pharma to explore and push boundaries in a directed and meaningful way. Companies that can help their customers navigate through the turbulence of change with a commitment to improve patient care and maximise health outcomes, while saving money, stand to gain most. But they need the right comms agency.

Agencies have long fulfilled the role of mediator, helping pharma better engage with customers. However, as the nature of the healthcare market evolves, pharma will seek support from agencies as nimble-footed agents of change - super-facilitators.

Value-based pricing, which will replace the pharmaceutical price regulation system by 2014, will demand that new products show value over and above existing drugs to secure a premium price. This is likely to be in at least one of three areas: the burden of the illness it treats, the level of therapeutic innovation and its wider social benefits. These criteria will shape everything from drug trial design and the development of a brand's value proposition to the entire marketing and comms approach.

How will value be defined in a language that all stakeholders will understand? The super-facilitator agency understands this, and will help clients align their offerings with the changing needs of the NHS and develop meaningful value propositions. As time goes on, agencies will be measured on their ability to nurture trust and transparency in stakeholder relationships, look for common ground and identify win-win propositions.

By 2014, GP consortia will be responsible for most commissioning decisions in the NHS. Forward-thinking agencies will combine the strategic thinking needed to understand the nature of new relationships with a good grasp of the challenges and tactical implications these reforms bring.

The pharma industry will need more detailed regional intelligence to boost its ability to collaborate. It is this local collaboration imperative that will shape marketing and comms, and test agency capabilities.

In this brave new healthcare world, the successful pharma companies will be those that adapt best to working with GP consortia, engaging with patients and collaborating with NHS and private healthcare partners. Those agencies with the expertise to actively facilitate this process, while communicating the brand's value proposition within a climate of trust and transparency, will be the true agents of change in the coming healthcare reforms.

Views in brief

- What is the most innovative public health campaign of the past year?

'Game On', a viral video campaign for the Leicestershire Teenage Pregnancy Partnership, promoted safe sex using a parody of old video games. I thought it was really fun and easy to get, but sent out a strong message too. The video has racked up half a million hits on YouTube in one month.

- How will proposed changes to the NHS affect pharma marketing?

The main challenge is the need to focus on building evidence of health outcomes, to inform and shape new value propositions. Localisation and fragmentation will also force a new approach to stakeholder engagement.

Stefi Rucci is a director at Say Communications

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in