New administration spawns shift in healthcare skills

Public policy fights have made healthcare a political buzzword, resonating with the millions of Americans who want better and more affordable medical coverage.

Public policy fights have made healthcare a political buzzword, resonating with the millions of Americans who want better and more affordable medical coverage.

Agency healthcare practices have therefore tailored their strategies to fit this political reality, mandating overlap with public affairs groups, and making hires with skills in both areas. That convergence necessitates the education of public affairs communicators about diseases and potential cures, and health instruction for the politically versed, says Chris Fillip, EVP for health policy at Ogilvy, which focuses on both health and public policy issues.

“We have been interacting with [the public affairs practice] more often for the past four to five years, since Ogilvy created the health policy group. We saw the synergies of working together because clients often need advocacy groups to help educate them about the particular diseases,” she explains.

Bill Martin, president of global health at Cohn & Wolfe, agrees that this convergence has been developing, and that the two practices have increasingly collaborated on client work at his firm. They will likely do so more often this year, as both the executive and legislative branches turn to health issues, he said.

“We have seen an increased need and attempt to integrate, or at least to collaborate, in those disciplines,” he says. “The Obama administration has not created a stampede in that direction; [it's been] a slow evolution of them working together.”

President Barack Obama didn't create this consumer focus on healthcare, but his interest in healthcare policy will fuel media interest in the industry. After listening to Democrats promise increased healthcare coverage, clients are preparing for “a shift in decision-making,” according to Diane Weiser, WeissComm president and COO.

WeissComm has stressed to clients that the presidential transition could result in a new approach to drug approval and marketing, as well as a different regulation of the healthcare industry, she adds.

“Clients need to get in front of the new administration, and [there are] folks on the various committees that [clients] need to know and establish relationships with, if they don't have them,” Weiser says. “It's an interesting time for us. The change in administrations is happening simultaneously with our expansion of our public affairs offerings.”

The overlap means that healthcare practices are increasingly looking for employees who have a combination of healthcare communications skills and political affairs knowledge. Even the president's proposed economic stimulus package included “a decent number of opportunities that present themselves immediately” for healthcare companies, says Torod Neptune, SVP and global public affairs practice leader at Waggener Edstrom.

“We have standing practices, both of which are very strong,” he says. “But with the policy discussion in DC, we are tightly integrated in terms of the work we do in the policy space and in terms of how we look at skills that co-mingle healthcare and public-affairs policy.”

Key points:

Obama administration could bring a fresh look at national healthcare policy, a topic on which PA clients may need to be educated

Many firms are looking for employees with skills in healthcare policy and PA

Clients want firms to tap ties with legislators on crucial healthcare matters

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