Thoughts from founder Angie Wiles on the two year anniversary of launching an untried virtual healthcare agency model

“We are on a mission to prove that work is an activity not a place and that while people might make different choices about where and how they work, they in no way compromise the quality of their work and productivity – in fact the total opposite!”

 I wholeheartedly believe this, and as I wrote it for a recent press release, I reflected on what The Difference Collective has achieved in just two short years. In year one, we set out to encourage the industry to embrace flexible working as a means to deliver value to clients. Now, in year two, we’ve begun to see that change of mindset put into practice.

Here’s what we’re working on

In the last 12 months we’ve worked on substantial, mainstream projects for bigger companies. Respected organisations and brands including Allergan, AstraZeneca, Boehringer, Roche, Santen, HRA Pharma (Compeed), Perrigo (Solpadeine, NiQuitin, Nytol, Beconase, Bio-Oil). They have all recognised the commercial sense of our model and given us the chance to demonstrate not just that it works, but how well it works. And it does. Because of the exceptional results we’ve achieved for these and many other clients, we’ve had a slew of repeat business this year. We’ve really started to cement our place in the pharma and healthcare communications industry.

That makes me incredibly proud of our now 80-strong Collective community. We’ve worked hard this year to prove that our approach delivers excellence and reaped the rewards, with more high-quality work opportunities for our team and headline campaign coverage. We’ve attracted new members who are excited about the potential for challenging, absorbing work with Difference colleagues who share their drive, experience and expertise.

Here’s what we know

The wealth of knowledge and senior expertise within our group has enabled us to set up specialist working groups to focus on key areas of client need. These are Internal Engagement, Charity, Media, Consumer, Content and Editorial, Biotech and Start-ups, Social and Digital. We’ve also launched training packages across many of these areas in response to market demand. Our work for more than 40 clients this year has ranged from corporate repositioning, brand and product communications to HR support and change management, corporate announcements, newsletters and internal communications and early stage biotech foundational support.

We felt the fear… and did it anyway!

I believe strongly in our way of working, but there’s always an element of fear and self-doubt in launching an untried service model like ours, however good the planning team and their collective sector knowledge and experience. But this year has conclusively proved to us that this way of working has been as attractive as we thought – both to the independent healthcare consultants who make up The Collective and to our clients. Our people may be flexible in how they manage the hours they work, but never the quality of what they do.  People who work ‘differently’ don’t achieve less, they achieve more.

I don’t think all agencies can and should work the way we do. But two years in, I am certain we have identified a niche between big network agencies and specialist boutiques, and we’ve made the most of the opportunity. We’re harnessing talent that can’t or won’t work through those established channels, for a variety of reasons. And we’re meeting client need for expert resources that they can turn off and on when needed.

I once feared the concept was a tough one to sell. After all, change is hard and the unknown can feel like a step too far for some. But our client base is strong and continuing to grow. When you combine this with the repeat business we continue to get, that is all the proof we need that a significant proportion of the healthcare comms market does understand this new working model’s real value and benefit. And now, our track record of successes after two years of shaking up the market will give more traditional clients the confidence to try us for size when they find that their usual channels don’t fit a particular project or skills requirement.

We’ve demonstrated that it works to the people who matter most – our clients

It’s not just us. We’re now part of the PRCA’s Virtual PR Agency Group, alongside like-minded teams from other industries. We’ve pledged to work together to continue educating our industries and markets, to build virtual networks into the familiar landscape for everyone. We have already become a landmark in that landscape for healthcare and pharma and we want to help others achieve the same in their sectors.

The ongoing challenge is to keep showing how the model works. Communicating and educating is one part of that. We champion virtual working at every opportunity – across our editorial and social media content, by supporting like-minded businesses and using our blog to showcase how it works and what it achieves. It’s exciting to see the amount of engagement and interest there is from clients and influencers in our industry.

But most of all, we’ll keep proving the model works by delivering great results and attracting more clients who see what we can do and want a piece of it.

About the author

Angie, Founder, has worked in healthcare communications for nearly 30 years, ultimately building one of the most successful UK healthcare consultancies. Throughout her career, she has constantly looked to do things differently and make a difference to the healthcare communications industry.

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