Chaired by Red Door MD Catherine Warne, the HCA includes Cohn &
Wolfe executive director Angie Wiles, Shire Hall Communications MD Sarah
Matthew, and Munro and Forster director Sarah Hart among its executive
committee of ten.
Perhaps the most eye-catching aspect of the HCA is the role of leading
in-house figures in its upper echelons, adding instant kudos to the
fledgling body. The executive committee boasts Stephen Whitehead, Eli
Lilly & Company director of international corporate affairs, Peter
McCarthy, Schering Plough GP business unit director, Duncan McKechnie,
Novartis marketing director, and Roy Sutherwood, Pharmacia corporate
GlaxoSmithKline director of corporate affairs Kate James - another
in-house figure enticed to join the committee - envisages the HCA
becoming mutually beneficial for both parties: 'How I think it will
develop is that it will build real awareness at a commercial level of
what communications can deliver to the pharmaceutical industry and help
people get more out of their marketing.'
She agrees that the main issues the healthcare communications trade
faces are 'the real absence of high quality training for staff
development and evaluation'.
The roots of the association can be found in the now defunct healthcare
division of the PRCA's best practice group. According to Warne, a
meeting of the group precipitated change when members were informed by
their clients that 'the PRCA didn't mean anything to them, and they
wanted to get more involved in the body.'
Warne claims the group had little option but to break away: 'It was made
very clear to us that the PRCA at this point felt that the two groups
would go in different directions.
The PRCA remains focused on best practice within consultancies. What we
are looking at is training and evaluation in the healthcare
communications industry as a whole, which is an exceptionally
The concern about training and evaluation is recognised by Wiles:
'Clients fear that when they send their staff to get trained in
communications by one agency they will be trying to influence them. With
evaluation there's the IPR Toolkit but measures have to be different in
healthcare as its regulated in a different way.' She added that
difficulties attracting staff to healthcare communications would also be
The HCA is in the process of organising sub-groups to handle areas of
training and evaluation. The body will split its training strategy into
sectors catering for in-house and agency staff. The former will be
educated on the effectiveness of PR and how best to use it, as well as
how to go about obtaining help.
Agency staff are to be taught how pharmaceutical products come to
market, the lifecycle of the product and the importance of codes of
conduct governing marketing in this sector. The training will be
administered by a mixture of in-house, agency, and independent
In terms of evaluation, Warne claims the group will not look to
'reinvent the wheel', instead tailoring existing practices to the
sector. Research conducted for the HCA highlighted the need for more
work on advisory groups, 'key influencer activities, and opinion leader
development.' The body will seek to become a voice for the entire
pharmaceutical PR sector in talks on future legislation in the
PRCA director-general Chris McDowall is opposed to the split. The
creation of the HCA comes at a time when the IPR and PRCA have been
working closely in an effort to speak with one voice for the industry.
The risk of fragmenting the industry is a concern claims McDowall:
'Trade associations should represent an industry, not a sub, subset.
That's why we have best practice and healthcare divisions at the
When Warne left GCI to set up Red Door in autumn last year, she was
unable to continue to chair the PRCA group as her new firm was
ineligible for membership until it was three years old. McDowall says
Warne was unhappy with his offer of an observer role on the committee,
and concludes that this was one motivation for launching the HCA.
Wiles, who was key to the inception of the HCA, says the inflexibility
of the PRCA on lowering membership fees to healthcare agencies was one
cause of the split, since many PRCA services do not apply to her
Warne believes other sectors may find the urge to form associations
catering for their specific sectors too tempting to resist: 'I'm not
sufficiently close to what the PRCA offers in other areas, but they
don't offer much for healthcare.' She cites IT PR as another specialised
area that she believes could also seek a specialist trade body.
McDowall believes that further division of the PR industry is 'a
He says: 'People must do these things not looking strategically at the
Wiles concludes that there is a threat to the PRCA's vision of industry
unity. And yet there has not yet been a major challenge to the trade
body's supremacy. It remains to be seen whether the HCA represents a
genuine threat to the PRCA or simply a step in the right direction for
the healthcare sector.