10th anniversary: healthcare roundtable

Jaimy Lee held a virtual roundtable in September where she discussed with various healthcare experts the trends affecting the industry

Nancy Bacher Long, president of public relations, Dorland Global

Shannon Troughton, VP of public relations, WellPoint

Bill Martin, president of global health, Cohn & Wolfe

Susan Goldstein, managing director of the global healthcare practice, Ruder Finn

Laurie Hurley, managing director of the New York office, Resolute Communications

Farnaz Khadem, director of corporate communications, Invitrogen

Chris Loder, director of worldwide communications, Pfizer

Lisa Davis, VP of corporate communications, AstraZeneca


Jaimy Lee (PRWeek): On a general level, what do you think will be the biggest driver of change for healthcare and its communications tactics over the next few years?

Nancy Bacher Long (Dorland): In general, cost constraints, not to mention the elections in the US.


Shannon Troughton (WellPoint): Obviously, for health insurers, it will be the elections and whether the country wants private or government-run healthcare, or a mix of both. That said, healthcare seems to be on the backburner for the candidates given the economy.

Lee (PRWeek): What about pharma? What will drive the change for traditional Big Pharma companies?


Bacher Long (Dorland): I think that beyond the socio-political spectrum, companies and agencies could drive change, if they are willing.


Bill Martin (Cohn & Wolfe), president of global health, Cohn & Wolfe: I agree completely with Nancy that cost constraints are numero uno. But I think that pharma is also shifting its resources into different categories


Bacher Long (Dorland): There is pressure, internal and external.


Susan Goldstein (Ruder Finn), managing director of the global healthcare practice, Ruder Finn: PR can evolve its ways to innovate, given increasing restrictions, including cost-cutting, direct-to-consumer (DTC), regulatory.


Lee (PRWeek): Can you give a few examples of categories?


Laurie Hurley (Resolute Communications), managing director of the New York office, Resolute Communications: Fewer blockbusters, consolidation....


Martin (Cohn & Wolfe): Direct sales and DTC have reached a point of diminishing returns so they are shifting promotional spends to managed care, direct-to-patient and physician, and digital communications.


Bacher Long (Dorland): I think that companies need to move beyond the obvious, like DTC. Agencies need to think in a truly integrated fashion.

Lee (PRWeek): So, will there be a growing emphasis on PR?


Bacher Long (Dorland): We hope so, but not just media relations, in other relationships, too.


Hurley (Resolute Communications): There will be a move from DTC to direct from consumers and a shift to relationship-building with other influencers.


Martin (Cohn & Wolfe): There is a battle right now for those [DTC] dollars.


Goldstein (Ruder Finn): PR is especially key, as the other levers are shrinking and being restricted.


Martin (Cohn & Wolfe): PR agencies may not necessarily win out in the budgeting process.


Farnaz Khadem (Invitrogen), director of corporate communications, Invitrogen: Another driver - I think technology will change rapidly in the next few years. If, for example, DNA sequencing gets to the point where everyone can have their genome sequenced for less than a $1,000 and it becomes a routine part of healthcare, that will have a big impact on a number of things like insurance, privacy, etc.


Martin (Cohn & Wolfe): If we can demonstrate that we can tackle managed care and digital, as well as direct-to-patient communications, then maybe we will.


Lisa Davis (AstraZeneca): Demographics that are driving healthcare policy changes, pricing issues, and human passion and ethics are key drivers for upcoming healthcare and pharma issues. Also, innovation in the sector, like making new medicines, and addressing medical needs of diverse populations are key.


Martin (Cohn & Wolfe): But PR agencies are competing with many other types of companies for the spends.


Chris Loder (Pfizer), director of worldwide communications, Pfizer: Pharmaceutical companies can no longer look just inside its own walls for research. Companies like Pfizer and Merck need to complement their own internal R&D efforts with the best external science to help deliver the pipeline.


Hurley (Resolute Communications): There is a need for closer alignment, not only across brand marketing, but also alignment of brand and corporate, and global and regional.


Bacher Long (Dorland): I agree completely on the alignment comment.


Troughton (WellPoint): There is also a need to educate people about healthcare because it is so complex and expensive.


Bacher Long (Dorland): How do we effectively tap into passions and motivators? We need to reach consumers directly, but then again, insurers are a big gatekeeper.


Troughton (WellPoint): Insurers are more than money managers – we live in the center of the healthcare system. We touch all of the spokes that make up our nation's healthcare system and we connect customers, companies, hospitals, and healthcare providers to important healthcare services and information.


Davis (AstraZeneca): Medicine has always been an issue of passion and emotion for people while healthcare companies like to treat it and respond to it as just factual or science-based. It has led to misunderstanding and mistrust. Communications and company actions will need to fix that.


Troughton (WellPoint): We don't want to be seen as gatekeepers.

Bacher Long (Dorland)
: Yes, more effective partnerships with insurers and pharma are key.


Lee (PRWeek): What about social media?


Goldstein (Ruder Finn): Focus on digital influence is growing, and the rules and boundaries are being established as we evolve.


Martin (Cohn & Wolfe): Social media is absolutely the way of the present and future.


Goldstein (Ruder Finn): There was an interesting article in The Pink Sheet last week about social media in pharma and how rules are being "re-made" for pharma.


Martin (Cohn & Wolfe): Healthcare organizations like pharma and biotech may be slower to use it due to regulatory constraints, but they are savvy marketers and they know where their customer base is migrating.


Martin (Cohn & Wolfe): They are beginning to engage.


Bacher Long (Dorland): Some are. Johnson & Johnson is a good example with JNJ BTW.


Hurley (Resolute Communications): We at Resolute Communications helped Centocor launch its corporate blog; it was interesting to work closely with J&J to gain insights into the FDA regulations and how to balance.


Davis (AstraZeneca): Social media is still a tool for engaging people and for rapid-fire communications around which views are more quickly cemented. The pharma industry needs to keep up better. There are restrictions, though, due to the field being so heavily regulated.


Goldstein (Ruder Finn): Novartis Vaccines has also been on the cutting edge with social media


Martin (Cohn & Wolfe): As soon as they see that they can apply FDA regulatory policies to the Web 2.0 space just as they have in PR and other mediums, they will relax a little.


Martin (Cohn & Wolfe): First moves also help other companies see what's possible.


Lee (PRWeek): If options like Google Health and HealthVault start to really take off, how will that affect healthcare PR?


Goldstein (Ruder Finn): Applications like Google Health and HealthVault are being leveraged across disciplines, so PR is also achieving objectives in areas like market access.


Bacher Long (Dorland): We have to accept that is it more immediate and even less controlled that mainstream media.


Troughton (WellPoint): We are engaging people to shape their “healthcare footprint” - the impact their healthcare choices have on themselves, the healthcare system, and their communities.


Troughton (WellPoint): Healthcare has to be local.


Bacher Long (Dorland): Yes, healthcare is local, but the credible info to drive an interaction with a physician can come from anywhere.


Lee (PRWeek): There's been a lot of talk about companies generating their own content as more and more consumers go online. What are your thoughts?


Bacher Long (Dorland): Without question. You can affect millions with one blogger interaction.


Davis (AstraZeneca): Companies have to generate their own content and have it be credible so that third-party authorities or blogger voices can support it.


Hurley (Resolute Communications): This all translates into one fact: it's too much information, both personal and general, for any one person to digest. Helping them translate the onslaught will be important.


Troughton (WellPoint): But people want to interact with their physician, which is no different than asking a neighbor where they get his or her hair cut. Only now, it's online.


Loder (Pfizer): Company-driven content is fine so long as the information is credible and verifiable, and readers don't feel like they're reading promotional material.


Martin (Cohn & Wolfe): I think companies have to play at all levels of content creation - company created, independent support, collaborative creation.


Lee (PRWeek): What about the media landscape? Where do you think it will be in five years?


Bacher Long (Dorland): Media will be online, with much less paper, but customized and segmented.


Davis (AstraZeneca): Traditional media will be alive and well. There will just be more voices competing for share of voice.


Bacher Long (Dorland): There will be "personalized" media (and medicine).


Goldstein (Ruder Finn): Broadcast will still play a major role, but online will grow and also become more fragmented, given current trends.


Lee (PRWeek): Do you think there will be more opportunity for health coverage?


Khadem (Invitrogen): Yes, more opportunities for health coverage, and it will be more specific to the consumer.


Davis (AstraZeneca): There will be the opportunity for health coverage. It's good for people and business.


Bacher Long (Dorland): There will probably be more quantity of healthcare information. Quality? I'm not so sure.


Loder (Pfizer): Companies have to do a better job of engaging with the media with their own medical professionals.


Bacher Long (Dorland): But how do we get the media to see them as unbiased? That's often a hurdle.


Loder (Pfizer): The media wants our perspective. They know where we are coming from.


Troughton (WellPoint): Everyone has a bias for or against something, including reporters. Right now we are all a business story.


Lee (PRWeek): So, quality is a concern. Or, will be a concern.


Khadem (Invitrogen): Yes, particularly since every person can be an "expert" online.


Bacher Long (Dorland): Yes, the "good housekeeping seal.” Who is ensuring accuracy?


Hurley (Resolute Communications): And, there will be more health coverage about the changes in the industry beyond pharma and diseases. What about health technology, genetics, device/diagnostics?


Davis (AstraZeneca): Define quality. It changes according to country and culture.


Troughton (WellPoint): People want to understand how the news impacts them, their families. They will search for the information they want.


Martin (Cohn & Wolfe): There are some efforts aimed at ensuring accuracy, but the scope of information providers is just too broad.


Khadem (Invitrogen): They will need a physician to sort through the mountains of data they have dug up online.


Troughton (WellPoint): The new generation of doctors understands - they use email.


Hurley (Resolute Communications): Physician and advocacy thought leaders will have a broader voice. Even today, investors go beyond the investor relations contact and circle back to KOLs.


Bacher Long (Dorland): I am anxious to see physicians get online for question and answer sessions, in addition to visits.


Troughton (WellPoint): Consumers can now rate their own docs.


Lee (PRWeek): Where will PR budgets be in five years? Will you have more or less to work with?


Troughton (WellPoint): It depends on the economy and leaderships' value placement.


Bacher Long (Dorland): I fear that overall budgets will be declining with cost-containment pressures. I hope that PR will have a larger piece of a smaller pie.


Davis (AstraZeneca): Healthcare is so complex that finding simpler and better ways to communicate will stay in vogue for awhile. PR budgets will expand and contract but communicators will need to be more efficient and creative in use of strategy and the dollars.


Khadem (Invitrogen): I think the sheer amount of information will drive the need for more PR and greater budgets. Companies will need it to break through the "noise.”


Troughton (WellPoint): Marketing is definitely a low priority in this economy. Earned media is everything.


Hurley (Resolute Communications): The future will have project-based budgets with a focus on return to marketing objectives.


Lee (PRWeek): Let's say that DTC advertising regulation changes. What will that mean for PR?


Bacher Long (Dorland): It will free up budgets. Currently, only online ad spend is on the upswing. DTC is down.


Davis (AstraZeneca): It will take time and actions to rebuild whatever trust and credibility is needed. Proving your way in is still the most effective way to cement long-standing trust and eliminate bias.


Hurley (Resolute Communications): There will be a focus on shifting dollars and strategies to engage the influencers to consumers.


Bacher Long (Dorland): PR will need to educate to get that smaller piece of the pie, starting with PR education in business school and MBAs.


Hurley (Resolute Communications): That's it exactly about the business school. I've spoken at business schools, having earned an MBA from Kellogg, in classes that target importance of corporate reputation and communications.


Goldstein (Ruder Finn): PR really must fill the gap and we will evolve new ways to measure effectiveness in the online area.


Hurley (Resolute Communications): It will be much like the model in the EU which leverages PR for not only media, but more on KOL relationship management, advocacy development and closer ties to medical education-type programs.


Troughton (WellPoint): PR also needs a direct line to the CEO and executive team.


Loder (Pfizer): Agree with Shannon T.


Bacher Long (Dorland): It's not always with the CEO. Sometimes for marketing and PR, it is with the brand team first.


Troughton (WellPoint): And if my execs hear the word impressions one more time, someone will be fired. It's about reach and quality.

Lee (PRWeek): Lisa, do you think the next few years will have to focus on rebuilding of that trust/credibility?


Davis (AstraZeneca): PR is an increasingly stronger tool in the arsenal as people become more skeptical of ads. It won't be a one-for-one switch, though. PR strategy and tactics will need to meet consumer needs and prove to be useful to them, too.


Lee (PRWeek): Again, there is a need for relationship-building, yes?


Davis (AstraZeneca): Building trust and credibility with key stakeholders is always the job. The minute you lose that it doesn't matter how creative and snappy your tactics are. They'll be met with skepticism instead of the positive behavior change will all seek.


Hurley (Resolute Communications): Communicators need to speak the language of both marketers and business executives.


Troughton (WellPoint): Absolutely. It's more than a mention; it's about message pull-through, target audiences hit, ad equivalency.


Davis (AstraZeneca): Agreed. I'd add one: Communicators also need to speak the language and understand the consumers and audiences we need to reach.


Hurley (Resolute Communications): Absolutely, Lisa, and the medical community. We as health communicators need to speak the language of marketing and molecules.


Martin (Cohn & Wolfe): I would like to see us get much better at measuring the impact PR has beyond media.


Lee (PRWeek): Farnaz, how do you life sciences companies look at transparency issues? Is there a different approach? Jaimy Or less of a need to focus on relationship building likes pharma?


Khadem (Invitrogen): No, it's the same for us. It's about building a brand that people trust, about establishing those connections, and being accurate and transparent, particularly because we also deal in areas of interest and controversy like stem cells.


Troughton (WellPoint): The Holy Grail: linking PR to sales. Why can't anyone truly do it?


Lee (PRWeek): Is that the future of PR?


Troughton (WellPoint): Surely there's a six-sigma project in there somewhere.


Bacher Long (Dorland): P&G has been groundbreaking on measurement and moving beyond impressions, and into driving action and measurable ROI.

Martin (Cohn & Wolfe): I don't think making that link is as difficult as most think.


Khadem (Invitrogen): I agree.


Davis (AstraZeneca): One way is to link PR to behaviors directly tied to sales.


Troughton (WellPoint): How?


Bacher Long (Dorland): It is easy. You just need to invest in it. Most companies do not.


Martin (Cohn & Wolfe): My marketing friends create elaborate models that project ROI based on many, many loosely held assumptions … The models exist for tying message delivery to sales in marketing teams. We need to adapt and use, though Nancy's right. Companies need to invest.


Hurley (Resolute Communications): Back to social and interactive media, that helps measure action at least.

Lee (PRWeek): If pharma continue to lay off their sales force, is that a gap for PR?


Bacher Long (Dorland): In what way?


Lee (PRWeek): Is that a space that PR tactics can be used to either increase awareness with consumers or educate physicians?


Davis (AstraZeneca): I don't believe PR can take the place of sales, especially when the product is highly technical, regulated, and involves numerous clinical studies and trials.


Goldstein (Ruder Finn): Evolving new ways to reach professionals, in a segmented way, is another frontier.


Lee (PRWeek): But, they need to work more closely together?


Martin (Cohn & Wolfe): I'm losing the thread a little, but if you're asking whether PR can help fill the share of voice gap left by declining sales reps, yes.


Bacher Long (Dorland): Sure, but we cannot replace the selling effort.


Hurley (Resolute Communications): And using online sales materials to reduce costs.


Troughton (WellPoint): And educating them on what to say in the field … They get a lot of questions about exec compensation they're not always ready to answer.


Martin (Cohn & Wolfe): One of the newer approaches being tossed around regarding physician communications is focused on communities of practice.


Troughton (WellPoint): And advisory boards and doctor-focus groups.


Martin (Cohn & Wolfe): Tapping into the naturally existing, usually locally based, communities of doctors who rely on each other for info and advice. It's sort of the top-down KOL approach flipped on its head, or at least sideways.


Davis (AstraZeneca): If you're talking about can social media or similar tools to reach and engage people can be used along side of or instead of sales reps, the answer is probably yes and it's beginning to happen. PR as a profession, though, being used for healthcare sales directly with physicians frightens me a little because it probably frightens doctors and healthcare professionals a lot.


Lee (PRWeek): Where will agencies, big and small, find themselves in five years? Will agencies, even healthcare specific, have to become more specialized? Take on fewer clients?


Bacher Long (Dorland): I think that we will all be global - or perish. We need to work to define and redefine value. We must work to not commoditize in the face of sourcing and procurement.


Davis (AstraZeneca): My guess is that they'll find themselves in the same boat as other businesses. There's a market but it requires continually reinventing themselves.


Troughton (WellPoint): Companies don't have the budgets right now for large AORs. Boutiques are flourishing.

Lee (PRWeek): What will healthcare companies require from agencies in the future? Global networks?

Bacher Long (Dorland): Expertise will always rule. Companies want trusted counsel.


Hurley (Resolute Communications): As an independent agency focused only on healthcare, we've seen a spike in business based on the shifts in agency consolidation and the economy. Perhaps clients see more flexibility and specialist focus.


Troughton (WellPoint): I want a firm good at pitching. I want a firm good at social media. I want a firm to help in a crisis … And I know enough to know that one agency can't do it all cheaply.


Davis (AstraZeneca): The requirement won't change, which is to help them advance their business goals.


Loder (Pfizer): Counsel, counsel, counsel.


Goldstein (Ruder Finn): The old agency, brick-and-mortar model, really doesn't exist any more, even for the big brick-and-mortar networks. Pharma clients still want heavy senior engagement and to compete for senior talent, we have to continue to find flexible situations for working parents and remote staffers.


Martin (Cohn & Wolfe): Increasingly, I think they want competent strategic counsel on a range of business issues.


Hurley (Resolute Communications): And, with offices in both the US and the EU to maximize cost benefits.


Davis (AstraZeneca): Crisis management skills will need to be honed for agencies, too.


Bacher Long (Dorland): A smaller firm can often provide senior level counsel, the flatter structure. Also, partnering and multiple agencies can handle specialized needs.


Lee (PRWeek): Can most agencies provide all of this? Or will there be some major changes ahead?


Martin (Cohn & Wolfe): I don't think most agencies can.


Troughton (WellPoint): Not in my experience and I've been on both sides, agency and corporate.


Davis (AstraZeneca): I've found that all agencies are good at key things, not everything.


Bacher Long (Dorland): I don't think agencies are a one-size-fits-all.

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