Healthcare: Agencies optimistic for 2012 despite cuts

Healthcare agency bosses are upbeat for their prospects in 2012, despite expectations of continued budget cuts and major changes to the NHS.

The consensus comes as the Healthcare Communications Association declared in its 2010-11 Benchmarking Programme that 'times have never been tougher' for pharmaceutical comms teams.

Former Red Consultancy MD Pat Pearson, who recently set up a health practice at corporate PR consultancy Firstlight, warned that the comms industry needed to move away from the 'blockbuster' drug era and adopt a 'responsive' approach to its business.

'The industry is caught in a perfect storm of innovation pipelines that are running dry and cost containment pressures from health providers,' said Pearson. 'We are expecting client budgets to be tight this year, but we are also expecting people to invest in PR when it makes sense to do so.'

90Ten director Carole North said that budget cuts within the pharma industry, alongside the restructuring of the NHS, could lead to a new pool of clients for agencies: 'We're going to see quite a change in the type of clients we work with and the type of audiences these clients are trying to reach.'

Journalista founder Holly Sutton argued that social care would be a key focus for healthcare communicators during 2012, following a White Paper on social care due in the spring. She said: 'These changes will completely alter the comms landscape of social care.

'Providers from care homes to wheelchair manufacturers will also have to up their public relations game, switching from business-to-business to consumer-facing campaigns, to compete in an open market for service users' budgets.'

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