HEALTHCARE PR: A day in healthcare PR

Alastair Ray looks at how a brand comms PRO at AstraZeneca sets next year's strategy

Dominic Wake is brand communications manager for Europe's second largest drug maker AstraZeneca. He is one of 2,000 employees in the UK operation and has direct responsibility for managing the story behind the firm's new anti-thrombotic drug Exanta. His working day has recently changed radically thanks to a re-organisation of his role and work environment.

While spending about 50 per cent of his time on government affairs he now also works alongside marketers dedicated to an individual product, rather than operating from a specialist communications department.

Today, Wake is to hand over responsibility for prostate cancer treatment Casodex to a fellow brand communications manager and have a first meeting with his new colleagues on the Exanta team.

8.30am Wake has been in the office for an hour catching the quietest part of the day to prepare for a busy schedule of meetings. He has been preparing for this afternoon's meeting with his new colleagues from the marketing side of the organisation.

The brand communications manager's role and work environment is about to change radically, thanks to a re-organisation of the team.

The change will really sink in from mid-November when he moves to the same floor as the rest of the team. But today will be the first time that they have all got together.

At AstraZeneca's Luton office, Wake is mulling over his new brief for developing links with politicians and government. It's a new role for him although he did attend the party conferences this year.

'There's a certain amount of interpreting changing government policy and Department of Health activity, and informing the businesses of what these are and what they need to do to respond to them,' he says.

8.45am He reviews today's press. AstraZeneca has featured in the day's coverage with articles about the developments in Exanta - an anti-blood clotting treatment which is Wake's new specialist area. Coverage on the business pages follows a press release. The story focuses on the potential $1bn market the product could help create if it clears regulatory hurdles.

9.15am Back to the office where he is joined by AstraZeneca brand communication manager Rachael Wood, and Kinetic Consumer Communications MD Karen Moyse.

The subject is prostate cancer and the aim is to discuss ways in which awareness of the problem can be highlighted in 2003.

AstraZeneca has a key stake in this market thanks to Casodex, a hormonal therapy which the company says avoids the side effects of some surgical-based treatments.

Wake is handing over the brief to Wood although his public affairs role means he has a continuing interest in this area. 'There's an awful lot of relationships to hand over and also a lot of experience to hand over,' he says.

The plan for 2003 is to create a consumer-facing campaign to boost awareness of the problem. Hormonal treatments are more potent depending on how early it is diagnosed.

Wake and Wood outline the success of a series of roadshows carried out in the second quarter of 2002. The Coalition Against Prostate Cancer visited six major shopping centres in a bid to encourage patients to get tested.

Based on the insight that men take better care of their cars than they do their health, the stand featured a Jaguar E-type. Briefings for GPs and consultants were organised and news articles and radio interviews helped build awareness. The four-day tour attracted more than 4,500 consumer visits with more than one in four men saying they would ask their GP for a prostate test.

'We want to drive sales by increasing the market for early (diagnosed) prostate cancer,' says Wake. 'Communication should empower men to make an informed choice.'

The wide-ranging discussion about 2003 asks: Should it aim for the diagnosed community - a group estimated at 22,000 - or should it focus primarily on the undiagnosed, a much bigger job, encouraging them to get a test?

'The objective for the undiagnosed is to get them to act,' says Wood.

Wake says messages for the diagnosed could focus on the fact that Casodex doesn't affect sexual drive or risk osteoporosis in later life.

Moyse suggests a range of research that could be used to discover any emotional barriers that are stopping men from seeking treatment. This can be very important as research in South Africa on HIV/Aids has found men were reluctant to wear condoms because they felt that doing so portrayed them as unfaithful and promiscuous, she says. Another proposal is the creation of ambassador patients, trying to get people currently taking the treatment to spread the word.

Moyse is struck by the success of the GP briefing programme, which accompanied the consumer roadshows - there was a 20 per cent increase in referrals into secondary care after the talks.

Two clear objectives come out of the discussion: The need to turn consumer health awareness into requests for a prostate test, and to raise awareness among diagnosed patients about the benefits of hormonal therapy.

The success of the roadshows means they are likely to be back on the agenda in 2003. Advertising using mainstream media such as radio or more radical solutions is also discussed, although the cost of media space is an issue.

Moyse highlights the ambitious nature of the plan: 'I'm a little worried we are spreading ourselves a bit thin to really have an impact across all these groups.'

The meeting concludes with agreement that Moyse will speak to influential experts in the field such as patient groups and consultants. She will also get costs for focus groups. A further meeting is agreed for the end of November.

11.45am A meeting to discuss plans to work with patient groups on prostate cancer is delayed until the next day.

12pm Wake follows up a check call from the Pharmaceutical Journal, which is looking to run an article about the Exanta research. While the corporate centre sent the results to the business press, Wake compiled a trade press release for 20 journalists as part of his trade and consumer brief.

He has read through the research himself and picked out what he thinks is the figure that the journalist needs, but is uncomfortable and wants to check it. A quick visit to an in-house specialist confirms that the figure is correct. He breaks for lunch at 12.30pm.

1.15pm In a meeting room, brand leader Ian Walker, brand manager Mark Byrom and senior brand manager Steve Gray from the Exanta team are gathered.

The first part of the meeting is taken up with the consequences of the re-organisation. Team members have to put together skills records in up to 18 'capability' areas so that personal development needs can be assessed.

Walker suggests that each member of the team work on one area. Diary dates are also discussed to ensure that people keep enough time free to work through these skill sets.

2pm The operational planning marketing team (OPMT) has recently reviewed their plans for Exanta and told them to make significant cuts in both promotional plans and sales resources that will be given to get the drug into doctors' prescribing kits.

Exanta is being launched initially into the orthopedic surgery market in the second half of next year and the plan is to hit the atrial fibrillation (a heart condition that can lead to a stroke) market at the end of 2004.

The OPMT believes they are targeting atrial fibrillation too early and has suggested they use the team selling injectable anti-bacteria treatment Meronem to launch the initial push.

It is decided that some stakeholder management will be key to preparing the team that will review their new proposals at a crunch meeting in a week's time. Walker and the team agree a series of slides to send to the review body before they sit down to hear the new plan in full.

A long discussion among the marketers ensues as to whether the Meronem team actually hits the right people. It may visit the right departments but there is concern that it is seeing the wrong specialists. Also, there is concern that tough sales targets for Meronem will mean the new drug will lack the attention it deserves.

3pm Brand manager Katie Archer and professional relationship manager Walker join the meeting by phone. With the exception of the brand intelligence and forecasting manager, who has yet to be appointed, everyone from the new team is now present. Archer is also joining online so she can see Walker's Powerpoint slides.

While this is fixed up, everyone grabs another coffee and Wake follows up a further check from Pharmaceutical Journal. A story is set to appear in Saturday's paper.

The OPMT wants to reduce spending levels by a third, principally by reducing the early focus on atrial fibrillation and cutting back on the 38 planned regional advisory boards.

The meeting ends at 4.45pm and Wake is relieved that although he has lost a portion of his budget it is not as bad as he thought it might be.

'I thought Ian would challenge much harder on market development activity,' he says. By moving some of his activity into 2004 and agreeing not to take journalists to all the meetings he had planned, he has restricted his losses to around £200,000.

The day was dominated by two major meetings, so a lot of Wake's everyday jobs simply didn't happen. That includes his public affairs brief.

'There's quite a lot of stuff that needs to be done in terms of day-to-day management of agencies, which wasn't done today,' he says, adding that handling a journalistic query is quite a rare event given that research results aren't released every day.

5.45pm The day ends. Wake has had a long day. He admits structural changes have added some extra work and the inevitable 12-hour days.

The rest of the week will be about developing the Exanta strategy, with the team expecting to present two options to the OPMT, one cutting the budget and another seeking more resources. The groundwork this afternoon will decide which option is decided by management, and ultimately whether or not Wake can consider the day a success.

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