The healthcare sector has changed beyond recognition over the past few years, with many traditional assumptions now being questioned. We have no choice but to embrace the change, managing the process strategically and leveraging the many opportunities it brings.
Agencies need to develop new skills and be more proactive in assessing opportunities and threats for clients. At Say. Health, we see our role as that of 'super-facilitator' - helping clients to navigate change, building bridges and connections where none existed, and identifying common ground on which to build new conversations.
A range of factors feeds into and defines this new environment:
- Ageing populations mean more illness for longer. This, combined with a shrinking health budget, calls for 'sustainable' solutions.
- The medicalisation of all aspects of life, coupled with the rise of self- diagnosis and 'Google healthcare', makes accuracy and an ethical approach from healthcare communicators more important than ever.
- Patient advocacy and choice makes it less clear who drives the health agenda - traditional message cascading can no longer be relied on.
- The paradox of 'more information and less-informed choice' makes it vital to deliver clear, relevant and personalised information through the right channels.
- The desire to shrink complex messages into bite-size intensifies the danger of over-simplification and misunderstanding.
- Brands are becoming increasingly important and it is vital to build emotional, as well as functional, values into all comms.
- Changing pharma business models and NHS restructuring demand a back-to-basics approach to comms.
- Commercialisation of healthcare and an ever-increasing emphasis on value for money means that it is no longer enough to talk about 'outcomes' - we need to deliver them.
- The push to primary care and the focus on local is adding to fragmentation, making it important to keep an eye on the bigger picture.
- The food industry is the new pharma and needs support in navigating the constraints that surround engaging with healthcare professionals.
Our approach to this new landscape is based on a return to core values. The starting point, particularly for pharma clients, is stripping away old assumptions and taking a critical look at stakeholders. Many of these are changing, and they may be seeking new ways to engage and build sustainable services.
We often act as the advance party, testing the waters, reconnecting and exploring new propositions that help align stakeholders' agendas. We also ensure comms are integrated, and that the brand speaks with one voice across fragmented channels.
While the client is focused on commercial imperatives, we help them to contextualise priorities and find mutually beneficial solutions with key stakeholders. In most cases, this common ground is meeting patient needs and improving clinical outcomes.
There are no 'typical' briefs for us, no off-the-shelf solutions. As super-facilitators, we often help to write our own. We always check the soundness of the assumptions and readiness of the environment; aim to get under the target audience and stakeholders' skin; identify high leverage points and outcome drivers; find out how we can occupy the channels used by the target audience; capitalise on shared values; and roll out meaningful initiatives in partnership with key stakeholders. Evaluation is the final part of the picture.
VIEWS IN BRIEF
Which film title best sums up the spirit of your agency?
I think The Incredibles (a family of undercover superheroes, who are forced into action to save the world while trying to live the quiet suburban life) reflects the way we work (fantastic at what we do, but low key).
Specialist journalists make the best specialist PROs. True or false?
False, as PR (and I would prefer comms here) is more than just a scoop.
What is the most impressive piece of launch PR of the past year?
It has been interesting watching the more daring companies dip their toes in the social media water. I particularly liked Janssen's Psoriasis 360 campaign.