Julia Holt, Huntsworth: Health PR - a creative science

Agencies need both creativity and scientific know-how to offer clients the best chance of success

'Imagination is more important than knowledge.’ This observation was made, surprisingly, by Albert Einstein, arguably the greatest scientist the world has ever seen. Locked into the rational world of observation, hypothesis, experiment and conclusion, scientists are generally not believed to inhabit the same imaginative space as creative artists, writers and painters. The arts and sciences are often seen as competing or offering irreconcilably different approaches to understanding the world.

However, if we peruse the history books, we can see that artists and scientists have a lot in common, and that without the co-existence of both creativity and scientific understanding, some of our key advances would not have been possible. Leonardo da Vinci, surely the world’s most prolific inventor, is perhaps the most obvious example of someone whose achievements in the arts and sciences are of equal merit. Another example is Goethe, the German Romantic poet, playwright, philosopher and statesman, who was first and foremost a scientist, recognised for research in plant biology and optics.

Great leaps forward in scientific knowledge, with the associated developments in new concepts and inventions, cannot take place without an initial spark of creativity.

Great mathematicians and theoretical physicians such as Carl Friedrich Gauss and Hermann von Helmholtz described how they reached entire solutions with ‘sudden spontaneity’. Einstein himself, after years of fruitless calculations, suddenly had the solution to the general theory of relativity revealed in a dream. However, creativity in science cannot sit on its own – imagination and vision are needed for the initial idea, but an understanding of science is needed to execute it.

The same philosophy applies to healthcare PR. Whether communicaing the launch of a new product, groundbreaking clinical trial results or a disease awareness campaign, the ability to communicate complex medical and scientific messages in a creative way will both maximise reach of coverage and ensure understanding of the key messages contained within it.

Flair and creativity are required to engage consumers and complex science messages need to be translated into something understandable, believable and convincing without being patronising. However, it is sometimes perceived that creativity can be hampered in the world of pharmaceutical communication. Finding tactical ideas that fulfil our clients’ need for innovation, yet will not fall foul of strict codes of practice, is a challenging task. This calls for even greater creativity in order to find an approach that satisfies both the regulatory bodies and journalists’ need for attention-grabbing headlines.

There is also sometimes a perception that creativity is applied to programmes of activity after the strategy has been agreed, but when it is done well, creativity can drive innovation at a strategic level to make a campaign stand out.

The shift in emphasis towards creativity in healthcare PR is illustrated by many healthcare awards, which previously evaluated campaigns against set objectives, but now value innovation and creativity as the key attributes.

However, in order for a healthcare PR campaign to be truly successful, creativity and science need to co-exist. Creativity is key to developing the initial concept, but scientific understanding will ensure the execution and messages are accurate, appropriate for the target audience and easily understood.

Whereas agencies in the past would often sell themselves on being ‘creative’ or ‘scientific’, today agencies need to combine both qualities to offer their clients the greatest chance of success.

Views in brief

Tell us about an unsung hero in healthcare
Britain’s six million unpaid carers. They put their lives, jobs and aspirations on
hold to stay at home and care for loved ones, saving the NHS £87bn a year.

What did you learn from the most challenging healthcare comms task in
which you have been involved?

Achieving coverage for the condition rosacea, which causes facial redness. A
brainstorm session led to Red Nose Day being identified as a topical hook that
resulted in national media coverage. The key learning was the importance of
harnessing creativity to find new angles for ongoing projects.

Julia Holt is client services director at Huntsworth Health

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