PR topics: tops and flops – what works best in your market?
The old adage ‘content is king’ has never been truer than in the UK healthcare arena. It’s tough to get uptake on a story unless it’s linked to the changing healthcare agenda, or a significant scientific breakthrough. There was once a time when you could get coverage for a new medicine launch. Provide some interesting spokespeople – a leading doctor and a patient – and some background on the disease area. Even a minor disease might expect some solid coverage if your execution was good.
However today, journalists want to know the medicine will be approved for use by the National Health Service (NHS). They need to be convinced that it isn’t a ‘me-too’ treatment, and represents a significant step forward. To put it bluntly, its extremely tough getting column inches.
I hate to say it, but it’s partly our own fault. As a PR industry we have inflated the value of our health stories. Many of the medicines we promoted have failed to meet expectations. Topics that have recently resonated well include a pill-sized scanner which when swallowed sends images of the gut, how identifying the smell of different lung bacteria could help identify disease and analysis of stroke treatment following a well known journalist being struck down at an early age. If you have something interesting top say, or can align yourself with an issue, there are still media openings. You just have to work hard for it.
Industry expertise is essential. The consultancy model has changed over the years. During the pharmaceutical blockbuster days, the team was pyramid shaped, with lots of junior staff running around at big medical conferences and vast media sell-ins. These days it’s flatter. Clients want more ‘grey hair’ in the room, the approach is more targeted and based on in-depth knowledge of the sector. On top of that, all communicators need to be ABPI trained. Healthcare PR in the UK is rightly a specialist sector.
Are integrated international PR programs beneficial for your work?
There’s a huge variety of healthcare PR run from the UK. London is a global hub, and often an English language ‘bridge’ between the US and rest of Europe. The big networks often run their Pan-European business from London. To date, most of our international public relations work has been hub based, although we have been asked from time to time to recommend agencies for local working.
There is also a great deal of interest in UK health institutions. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) often guides pricing and medicines access in other countries. The British Medical Journal influences the international health agenda. What this means is that even local programmes can have an international element. So, cross-border work is very much a theme of our work and close cooperation with partner agencies in other countries is something we want to cultivate. Whether this is possible depends on the projects we have underway, and our clients’ views on how they would like a programme implemented.