Enhancing reputations in pharma through consumer engagement

The mission statements of pharma companies often focus on using medicines to transform lives, looking to a brighter future with better healthcare where disease is a thing of the past. And when we consider who’s at this centre of this, it’s patients. By that, we mean real people. Often people who are living with debilitating conditions facing a lifetime of medication and care. 

Therefore, when it comes to developing a pharma PR strategy, building in this human element is a key part of engaging consumers and critical to influencing public opinion. 

But it’s not quite as simple as marketing a drug and telling the stories of those who have benefitted. There’s a myriad of regulatory compliance, side-effect reporting guidelines and risk disclosures to contend with. Despite this, organisations can still get creative with their healthcare communications and plan a carefully devised PR strategy with people at its heart. 

Advancing healthcare outcomes alongside the third sector  

The world of pharmaceuticals is huge, but often companies have specific focuses on vital disease areas, from research at the clinical trial stage, all the way through to drug development. Not forgetting medical devices and products to help people manage their conditions at home. 

Having a therapeutic focus opens up opportunities for pharma organisations to support third sector organisations in the healthcare space, whose beneficiaries might be using their treatments and products. 

For pharma, collaborating with the third sector presents an opportunity to improve public sentiment. After all, charities have one of the most trusted status’ in society. However, this must be meaningful and purpose-driven, supporting the charity to deliver on its mission.  

Shifting the dial on awareness and understanding is often a key part of a charity’s strategy. As theory of change dictates, this can lead to improved lives for those affected. So, by building third sector relationships and supporting a charity to get their message out there, this can result in tangible real-world impact, and ultimately benefit those for whom the drugs are for. 

New ways of thinking  

One of the foremost challenges facing healthcare and pharma organisations is driving consistent engagement from consumers and potential product end-users. For the majority of the general public, pharma organisations in particular can be perceived as opaque behemoths and their interactions with these businesses are limited to intermittent OTC purchases or GP prescribed medication. 

In recent years consumer audiences have been forced to engage with healthcare organisations in ways unimaginable previously, there’s a huge opportunity for these organisations to adopt new strategies, think creatively and maximise engagement. 

One method firms should consider to do this is to look beyond just press office activity and consider bold, creative campaigns. We’ve seen pharma organisations innovate with powerful photoshoots, impactful design and emotive storytelling to raise awareness of the issues faced by patients. And when this is pitched right to earned media, this could mean a jaw-dropping picture story, or content that commands attention. ‘Stunts’ or activations like these can help not only drive awareness from consumers but also brand affinity. Giving people something engaging to remember you by can help motivate brand loyalty and enhance your reputation.  

One creative campaign with purpose, in which we see the third sector and pharma come together in harmony, is Crohn’s & Colitis UK and Janssen-Cilag Limited’s ‘Are you IN?’. Aiming to make workplaces better for people with Crohn’s, Colitis and other invisible conditions, the campaign is calling on companies to pledge their commitment to inclusivity. With over 70,000 emails sent to employers, the campaign brings together a simple, but impactful call to action which could make a real difference to thousands of people’s lives. This is where effective communication in healthcare can be critical.  

Considering a range of audience groups 

Charity partnerships and creative campaigns are one piece of the healthcare PR puzzle, but let’s not forget awareness raising amongst clinicians specifically.  

As an example, if someone comes to their GP presenting with symptoms, but awareness of a certain health condition is low, this could be a significant barrier to getting a prompt diagnosis. And earlier diagnosis = better outcomes.  

If pharmaceutical organisations and PR agencies play their part in awareness raising with HCP audiences, engaging with these trusted and important players, this could transform the direction of a patient journey.  

Whilst healthcare PR agencies can deploy creative tactics to engage HCPs (after all, they are people who engage with mainstream media too), it’s vital to consider audience splits, with a tailored approach to make sure the message lands.  

An integrated, strategic campaign can lead to discussion across professional and trade agendas, raising critical awareness within this HCP group. 

The golden thread 

A golden thread which runs through a successful healthcare campaign is education. Whether it’s highlighting a specific cause to the public through effective messaging, or inspiring behavioural change through communications, education is fundamentally important to improving outcomes for people living with health conditions. 

With healthcare pressures in the news daily, we’re forced to put a mirror up to our own health, meaning consumers are more informed than ever. On the flip side, scaremongering and the very real threat of delayed diagnoses and missed treatment is having an impact on health decisions? With this minefield of information to contend with, there are challenges. But there are also opportunities to use the power of communications to connect with consumers.  

However, it’s important not to alienate people through complicated, medical language. The average reading age of the UK population is 9 years old. So, keep it accessible and jargon-free. 

Making a difference  

There is a real opportunity for pharmaceutical organisations to harness the current appetite for communications with purpose. That said, this can come with a sprinkle of cynicism about firms ‘doing good’. By nailing the messaging, developing an integrated, creative PR strategy which speaks to a variety of key audiences, and putting people at the centre, there can be a real opportunity for communications professionals and healthcare organisations to work together to make a meaningful difference. 

To download our latest eBook ‘The growing importance of healthcare communications’ click here.

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