We asked the winning companies from the 2017 Communications Team of the Year competition what pharma’s comms priorities should be

Pharma is always changing, and at the forefront of those changes are the communications teams that keep companies’ messages on-point – an increasingly important role as it gets harder to keep up with the rapid transformation of the industry.

“In the past year we’ve had a series of national policy announcements or directives which have been hotly anticipated, but often haven’t had a direct impact on a client’s commercial drivers,” says Jenny Ousbey, director and head of health at WA Communications, winners of the NHS Challenge at PharmaTimes’ Communication Team of the Year 2017 competition. “Our job as communications experts is to keep companies focused on what really matters – when it’s ok to be distracted by ‘big ticket’ developments, and when it’s ok to take them with a pinch of salt.”

Ousbey says that Brexit and the Industrial Strategy are examples of major changes that are affecting how pharma communications is positioned in a transitory environment. “This is why focusing on alignment and telling an impactful story is more important than ever.”

This is especially true when it comes to the NHS, which is facing its own set of challenges that pharma simply can’t ignore.
“The NHS is facing increasing budget pressures and it needs to do more with less,” says Ann Hughes, PR business unit director at Publicis Resolute, who won the International Challenge at the Communication Team of the Year competition. “In this environment, companies are changing the way they sell – as a result it has never been so important for us to ensure we communicate the value of pharma’s offering.

“We need to think holistically about patient care. It’s not just about talking about products anymore – pharma needs to think creatively about how they can use their skills and expertise to add value to the healthcare system, for example developing disease management apps to support patients on their treatment journey.”

“It’s not news to say that the medicines bill is under more scrutiny that ever, and that pharma and the NHS’ relationship is often more transactional than collaborative,” adds Ousbey. “Therefore our job is to join up the dots through communications campaigns so each bit of the healthcare system sees value, innovation and success through their own lens.

“This could include bringing together all the HCPs involved in a patient’s journey for one particular disease area in a room for an interactive workshop – where they design an optimal pathway which highlights where pharma and the NHS can collaborate most effectively.”

Hughes says that such co-creation, developing campaigns in partnership with patients or patient groups, will be a key trend in pharma comms over the next few years.

“Patient advocacy groups (PAGs) play a key role here – we would typically work closely with these groups and other key stakeholders to form a committee that discusses and identifies areas of unmet need. Once we know where the focus should be, we work together with the committee to develop tools that will address the unmet need.

“We recently worked with a multidisciplinary team of PAGs and key opinion leaders to gather opinions and explore diagnosis and management of psoriatic arthritis. Using the online platform Huddle, we were able to build an online community and stimulate ongoing discussion amongst our experts over a period of six months. It resulted in a co-created research article which was published in the medical journal JEADV. Following on from this we worked closely with the PAGs to develop real-world patient tools, such as an infographic highlighting the signs of psoriatic arthritis so that patients know what to look out for.”

She adds that patient-centric activities and messages like this still need to be a top priority for pharma companies and their comms teams.

“That is where pharma’s integrity lies. Patients are where the powerful stories come from, and harnessing their voices is how change can be realised by pharma.”