Pharma needs to reinvest in comms so it's not overlooked

Pfizer's bid for AstraZeneca has put science under the media microscope but pharma also needs to use comms to greater effect.

Scott Clark: group CEO of Tonic Life Communications
Scott Clark: group CEO of Tonic Life Communications

All of a sudden, it seems science is sexy. Boffins are beautiful. During the recent attempt by Pfizer to cajole AstraZeneca into a mega-merger, there was a bright spotlight placed on all things research and development (R&D) related and the importance of the scientific workforce in the UK and elsewhere.

With a mix of national pride and job security at stake, a £69bn price tag and cancer patients missing out on pipeline drugs, the Pfizer/AstraZeneca story quickly became front-page news and the lead story on the BBC. At the core of the story was science.

The debate ignited passionate pleas from politicians, business pundits and academics about the risk of jobs and the significant expertise that could be lost through streamlining or relocating health-related R&D. There is a now a tug-of-war under way for previously overlooked research jobs.

They say you don’t truly appreciate something until it is gone or, in this case, something that was almost lost. Why does it take the risk of losing jobs for politicians to recognise the value of R&D?

Science and R&D matter. It’s something the world of healthcare PR has known for years. But what about the role comms plays in elevating the importance of science – not just around these inflection points, but on an ongoing basis? 

We leverage effective comms to deliver a narrative about the value of science. The problem is that big pharma itself has been pulling back on comms budgets. External rules and regulations have also limited the amount of communication that can be conducted around science and its positive impact. It is little wonder that people overlook the value that healthcare research brings to the world. If the sector itself is not investing in highlighting its advances, then who is?

People need to appreciate the contribution of research to the economy and society. This is where PR can make a major impact in helping to frame these benefits to stakeholders.

On a more fundamental basis, PR is essential in explaining clearly how science works so that there is an understanding and receptivity for the advances following all of the years of hard work by researchers.

Scientists can work for a decade to make a breakthrough, but sometimes an advance falls flat due to a lack of understanding of the product. PR is the bridge that can bring scientific advance into societal acceptance.

Not all science is created equal and not all research adds jobs and value. So comms can also help differentiate between evidence-based and ‘pseudoscience’, the latter of which seems to fill the news on a daily basis and tends to devalue the work of legitimate researchers. Most people and politicians don’t understand the scientific process and the importance of risk-taking. That’s why scientific literacy is where comms can make a major contribution, but is often overlooked.

The sad fact is that science is under-appreciated until times of crisis – and perhaps so too is PR.
Scott Clark is group CEO of Tonic Life Communications

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