Three changes in Different times

Healthcare and pharma communications has changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, we share our Collective insight into three influences and innovations that we believe will stick.

Like all lockdown birthdays, this one is Different. Instead of inviting clients to help us blow out our third birthday candles on Zoom, we asked some of the leading experts in our Collective to share their insights into how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted three key areas.

Asking the big questions about our Collective experiences of client work in an unexpectedly Different world has given us new perspectives. We’re beginning to identify some changes that we feel will endure as we move on through the crisis, and the challenges and opportunities that our healthcare clients will want to get to grips with in a changed landscape.

We know the pandemic has been devastating and its impact on so many people will be felt for many years to come. Of course, there is no real silver lining here, but we’ve chosen to look for some of the positives and will explore those negative impacts in other posts, soon.

1. What’s changing in healthcare and pharma?

i) Trust and reputation


There are huge increases in trust in the healthcare industry right across the board. We need to sustain it and continue to demonstrate that we deserve public trust. The belief in science is roaring back into society.

 

HCPs and scientists are seen as trusted sources of online information for the truth around COVID-19. Pharmaceutical companies are also earning their place as reputable sources of information. Cynicism has largely been set aside, for the time being at least, as people look to them as part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

There’s real pride in the sector from our clients as well as a vastly increased public sense of trust and appreciation. These reflect the extent of our sector’s collective commitment to vaccines and treatments and the valuable role the UK life sciences industry has to play. It’s our job to help sustain and continue to grow this. 

Angie Wiles, Jo Williams, Stuart Mayell


ii) Hygiene literacy

There’s so much greater hygiene literacy among the general public now – a wider understanding of the way airborne viruses are transmitted.

People are far more aware of the cough that they used to forget to cover their mouths for. For vulnerable patients, this is hugely important: we live in hope that the public will maintain this hygiene awareness and standards to protect them after the pandemic as well.

 Healthcare organisations have really had to step up to the challenge of making health information, science and advice around COVID-19 understandable. Properly clear consumer communication must be a continuing priority in the sector.

Louise Watson, Michelle Healy-Thomas, Candida Halton


iii) Patient access

The pandemic is driving accessibility improvements, breaking down barriers, cutting through red tape and accelerating a transition to a more digital-first environment. New channels, platforms and technologies are making it easier for patients to access information and advice when they can’t visit their usual doctor or healthcare provider.

There’s been a focus on self-awareness and self-care, with healthcare companies quick to change how they do things and provide resources online so people have the information they need to make informed choices about behaviour and symptoms.

New ways to support patient consultations through different channels have emerged. There has been some exceptional innovation, delivered at speed. For example, a number of large consumer healthcare providers have stepped up rapidly to use secure digital media instead of face-to-face advice and diagnosis.

Jo Williams, Louise Watson, Candida Halton


2. What’s changing our communications landscape?

i) Authenticity

Internal communications from senior management has increased exponentially and those that have managed to humanise their engagement have connected well with their teams. Providing a true sense of empathy has been critical. Principles really matter – the value of corporate and issues advice is more recognised than ever.

 

The question “how are you?” is no longer a polite email or conversation opener which is quickly bypassed. It’s now a genuine question seeking to understand the challenges clients and staff are facing personally and professionally. Similarly, effective external campaigns are showing more humanity and empathy and less of an overtly promotional focus. They need to do this in a differentiated and specific way, moving beyond a facile “we’re here for you” message.

 

COVID-19 is a once-in-a-lifetime story: the public has demanded clarity and information from trusted media sources in a world awash with online fake news. Journalists have remained at the coal face, keeping the public informed, scrutinising and holding the Government and its decisions to account.

Alexandra Harrison, Liz Adams, Jo Willey


ii) Digital expertise

The sudden mass adoption of digital technologies has shown organisations in every sector that digital transformation is possible and opens up new possibilities for engagement in communications.   

The importance of digital is no longer up for debate – which it commonly has been up to now particularly in pharma. In healthcare, the pandemic is finally driving a transition to a lasting, digital-first environment. Genuine digital experience and expertise are now premium skills that healthcare agencies and comms specialists need. There was an initial rush to get digital resources out there: now they are, organisations want to ensure they achieve better quality, relevance and appropriateness. 

Some charities have succeeded in innovating fast, launching pioneering digital solutions to run their services and finding new ways to fundraise. 

Louise Watson, Wayne Page, Elspeth Massey


iii) Creativity

For many organisations and people in healthcare, the pandemic has either forced or inspired more creative and disruptive ways of thinking and strategising. It’s not been possible to rely on the old familiar ways of doing things, so blue sky thinking has been given a boost.

Individuals are reaching for new forms of expression. You can’t promote your personal brand through showy purchases. What you think and how you feel must be expressed in other ways. For example, there seems to be a flowering of personal craft and creation which can only have a beneficial impact on ideas in professional contexts. 

Creative design skills are now more valued to create cut-through and to explain concepts and information simply. One piece of work may have many functions – to communicate exploration, innovation, safety, efficacy, confidence and reassurance on both the technical and emotional level.

Karen Lipworth, Stuart Mayell, Michelle Healy-Thomas

i3. What's changing how we work?


i) Virtual Working

Departments and organisations have come together with urgency and purpose to tackle very specific and immediate challenges related to COVID-19. This is virtual collaboration like we’ve never seen before. We are seeing a dichotomy in the workforce. Some people are longing to get back to the office, others have discovered they prefer working from home. Organisations have had to enable truly diverse and blended teams to get the best from everyone, keeping people connected without forcing it.
The reset effect of lockdown has made many workers keen to embrace a more measured approach to work, collaboration and planning. We recognised this unmet need three years ago and designed and launched The Difference Collective with remote working practice inbuilt. The pandemic has hugely increased mainstream adoption of the approach – we’ve been able to offer ourselves as a reassuring exemplar that it really can work and does deliver results.
Rod Cartwright, Sarah Hodson, Karen Lipworth


ii) Community power

Local products and services, local businesses and communities have earned trust and goodwill from consumers in a time of global challenge. People are looking to their neighbours, showing and valuing care, kindness and resourcefulness.

Community power has become a strong resource for charities, a vital way to help them navigate the pandemic. 

Confined to their homes in lockdown, for some a necessity if they have a particular vulnerability, patients have formed and sought out their own online groups. Although there’s caution because of heavy regulation, more healthcare companies are open to using social media to talk directly to patients as a community.

Louise Watson, Elspeth Massey, Jo Williams


iii) Collaboration

Challenging times call for challenging and disruptive ways of thinking. This is particularly the case when it comes to building collaborative communities that bring together diverse and complementary disciplines to help tackle very specific challenges. Within organisations as well, functions such as human resources, legal, risk, strategy and communication are collaborating as never before, given the all-consuming impact of COVID-19 on many organisations.

Because organisations need to muster skills fast, there’s been a demand for rapid access to specialist expertise to respond to unprecedented needs and to complete the capability of precisely focused teams. Agility and responsiveness are key, as well as knowing where to find the skills you need. Successfully and repeatedly finding the right short-term skills on demand will change the way some organisations resource in the long term.

The way in which work is being produced now requires a level of collaboration and integration which is totally new. Before, a team too often described a bunch of people in the same building, going to the same project meetings. Right now, working on a major brief can involve dozens of staff as well as user-generated content, then stitching it all together coherently. And no-one is sat within the same postcode. That’s genuine teamwork.

Rod Cartwright, Liz Adams, Stuart Mayell

 

In true Collective style, our consultants jumped at the chance to share their thoughts – so thank you to all who contributed to the insights above. And thank you to every one of our 105 Difference Collective members for making such a positive impact on healthcare communications for our clients.

As we mark three successful years of The Difference Collective, I also want to thank all our clients for believing in us and joining us on our journey. Our skills, expertise and agility are needed more than ever in these challenging times.

From Angie and everyone at The Difference Collective

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.

Or say hello to us on social media…

Louise Watson

Consumer & Wellbeing Brand Marketing

I have 25 years of consumer and corporate brand-building experience gained working in global network agencies. I am a creative strategist at heart and my client experience across wellbeing, nutrition-marketing and health includes leading award-winning work for Bayer Consumer Health, Kellogg’s, P&G and Unilever. My most recent experience includes 3 years as Chair of Consumer Marketing EMEA at Weber Shandwick where I led the regional client service community and a 12-month contract with Ogilvy leading integrated campaigns.

An impassioned problem-solver, Louise enjoys bringing an audience-centric approach to client issues in order to solve business challenges through strategic communications.

I also lead communication for TEDx Kingston, one of the UK’s largest and most preferred events of its kind.

Elspeth Massey

Charity & Patient Groups

I started my career as a journalist working on the newsdesk of ITV Meridian where I honed by skills as a storyteller. Since then I’ve spent the last ten years leading comms teams in three national health charities, including The Stroke Association, Samaritans and Beating Bowel Cancer. I’ve developed and delivered cut-through campaigns that have driven the profile of organisations, achieved wide-spread media relations coverage and subsequent policy change. I’ve loved getting important causes the attention they deserve.

Alex Harrison

Corporate Communications

I am a healthcare communications specialist with 20 years’ experience working both in-house and for a leading agency and experience developing and delivering successful communication, corporate responsibility and employee engagement strategies. I have a proven track record of providing external and internal communications strategic advice to all levels including CEOs of major corporations and patient groups. I previously worked at GSK in the communications function in various global roles initially as the Financial and Corporate Media Director, and latterly as the Director of Activation for the GSK Save the Children partnership. During this role I was responsible for the internal and external communications strategy and employee engagement campaign for the company’s global partnership.  

Ali Perkins

Leadership Communications

I am is an experienced business and communications leader with over 25 years’ experience in large corporate, small and start up organisations. Key roles have included Global Head of R&D communications for Astra Zeneca, as well as over eight years at Microsoft heading up the UK communications team and as Director of Privacy and Social Media Strategy. 

I have extensive experience of strategic communications, brand and reputation, business planning and restructuring, change management, employee engagement and crisis / issues management. I am comfortable working with and advising the most senior business leaders, often on complex and sensitive issues.

Angie Wiles

Founder & Head of Collectivity

I’ve been passionate about healthcare communications and the ‘difference’ we can make to patients’ lives for over 30 years now. I thrive on collaborative creative working and believe the freedom to choose to work in a way that best suits a person’s lifestyle produces the absolute best results in terms of productivity and creativity. The Difference Collective brings together the best independent senior talented consultants in the business who want to work differently but still benefit from the support and camaraderie of an agency community that has been purpose built to work virtually.

Anna Gray

Prescription PR

I’m a trusted senior PR professional with over 20 years’ experience of healthcare communications. I’ve held senior positions in agencies for over 13 years and have extensive experience of leading brand and therapy area communications, internal and change communications, issues management, patient advocacy and awareness campaigning, patient involvement, content development, stakeholder mapping and development and media relations (traditional and social). My strengths lie in seeing the bigger picture while keeping an eye on the detail and strong relationship skills. I have a real interest in learning and maintaining health and wellness and am currently studying for a post-graduate diploma in Nutritional Therapy with the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in London.

Becky Jones

Medical Education UK/EU

I am a medical communications expert with extensive knowledge and over 25 years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry. I am innovative and skilled at translating scientific and technical language into clear and simple messages for specific healthcare professional audiences and understand the need to incorporate strategic focus and deliver relevant and compelling stories. Delivering projects for the UK Market as well as Europe, Australia and Canada, Becky has worked with healthcare agencies and companies such as Bayer, Eli Lilly, Napp, Gilead, Mundipharma and Novo Nordisk, I have worked across many therapeutic areas, but is passionate about diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. And as an advocate of expert to expert communications, I am adept at building and establishing trusted partnerships and collaborations and have a strong network of high-profile thought leaders.

Candida Halton

Behavioural Psychology

I am a healthcare communications specialist with 20 years’ experience working both in-house and for a leading agency and experience developing and delivering successful communication, corporate responsibility and employee engagement strategies. I have a proven track record of providing external and internal communications strategic advice to all levels including CEOs of major corporations and patient groups. I previously worked at GSK in the communications function in various global roles initially as the Financial and Corporate Media Director, and latterly as the Director of Activation for the GSK Save the Children partnership. During this role I was responsible for the internal and external communications strategy and employee engagement campaign for the company’s global partnership.  

Charlie Hobson

Copywriting

I’m a marketing professional turned content writer who’s worked with clients in a range of industries including healthcare over the last 20 years. I’m commercial in approach so working on projects with clear outcomes and KPIs really appeals to me. In The Difference Collective, I’m energised by working with different clients and team members who are real experts in their fields, so we spark off each other creatively. I like that projects get moving fast – we’re hands-on quickly, without the pitches and politics.

Charlotte Messer

Consumer Health PR

I have worked in PR for over 25 years, a career that has been varied and exciting.  Having worked in a variety of sectors, healthcare is the area that I am most passionate about and where I feel most proud and pleased to be making a real difference. After working for agencies and in-house I decided that I wanted to have more control over the way I worked. For me, this meant working in an agile way with talented freelancers so I could ensure clients got to work with the very best people, with teams tailored to each project. I was invited to join The Difference Collective this year, which brings exceptional PR professionals together who all share the same ‘brilliance’ ethos. I am proud to be part of such a great team.

Clare Evans

Global Communications

I’ve worked in the biopharmaceutical industry for over 20 years, both in-house and in agencies including leading UK, EU, Global and regional communications teams at Novartis (Switzerland), Roche (Switzerland) and AstraZeneca (UK and U.S.) in areas such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, manufacturing, supply and quality assurance, neuroscience, and infectious disease. My focus areas are executive and leadership communications, issues and crisis communications, change management, strategy development, and scientific/product data and launch communications. My experience includes leading the Global communications for the 2009 H1N1 pandemic for Roche HQ in Switzerland and managing issues related to the Japan earthquake and tsunami in 2011, from an employee, governmental, manufacturing and product perspective. I am also a qualified pharmacy technician and previously worked in hospital pharmacies in London and Kent ranging from dispensing OTC and prescription medicines to making chemotherapy for patients

Hugh Gosling

Pharma Content & Insight

Having completed a pharmacology degree and journalism post-grad, I have spent 20+ years writing, editing and managing content and editorial projects in healthcare/pharma. I have worked at independent media organizations (notably as Editor of several industry-leading publications), in-house at global pharmaceutical companies, and within creative agencies. I now bring this broad experience to shape content of all types and formats.

In recent months, I have worked on white papers, in-depth reports, patient-focused materials, corporate slide decks and position papers, blogs/articles, technical papers, sales leaflets and HCP training toolkits. I specialise in advising on and delivering high-quality content, with a particular interest in thought-leading content that delivers real value and insight.

Wayne Page

Digital Communications

I served as CEO of one of the most innovative and successful independent digital healthcare agencies in the UK (big pink) for 15 years, leading a team of experts in creating and implementing some of the most impactful global digital healthcare campaigns for some of the biggest brands in the pharmaceutical market. I played a pivotal role in establishing Pfizer’s first EUCAN (EU and Canadian) digital strategy and created and implemented an innovative ‘digital acceleration programme’ to drive rapid uptake of this new approach. For five years, across 22 markets, big pink under my guidance, led the development and execution of Seretide’s global brand strategy (and tactics) as Agency of Record.

Jo Willey

Media Strategy

I’m a storyteller and story creator, passionate about uncovering that killer “line” I know will be irresistible for journalists and their audiences. I have worked as a journalist on national newspapers for 20 years, latterly at the Daily Express where, as Health Editor, I led the newspaper’s health and science coverage which included three or four front pages a week. I have also written for – and continue to write for as a freelance – titles including the Daily Mail, The Times, The Sun, The Mail on Sunday and The Mirror. After leaving the Daily Express in 2014 I set up my successful consultancy Jo Willey Media, and am now a highly sought after communications specialist working with PR agencies, pharmaceutical companies, businesses and charities offering services including media strategy, storytelling and content development, media training and I am an expert facilitator of advisory boards, meetings and workshops.

Jo Williams

Social Media

I am a highly experienced healthcare marketing consultant who has worked in both client-side and agency roles for over 20 years. My knowledge and experience spans the breadth of the marketing discipline but has particular expertise in strategy development and multi-channel marketing. As well as helping to launch and build successful brands for many of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies, I have delivered numerous projects in the areas of corporate reputation, customer experience, insight development, and social media marketing. I worked as a Senior Client Director for one of the largest healthcare insights and consulting agencies, before going freelance in 2017. I am driven by curiosity, a passion for learning and a drive to keep on top of the latest trends in marketing.  

Julie Saunders

Internal Communications & Change Management

I’ve spent over 20 years working in communications functions of pharmaceutical companies and in global healthcare communications consultancies, which has given me a unique perspective on the intricacies of communication across the healthcare environment. Now, as an independent healthcare communications consultant, I focus on communication strategies, stakeholder mapping, leadership counsel, product and corporate communications and internal communication. I am particularly passionate about working with the pharmaceutical industry to make the concept of patient centricity meaningful, and not just a ‘buzzword’! Joining The Difference Collective has given me an amazing connection with a network of very talented and supportive peers, broadening my client offering through collective, efficient expertise.

Lisa Harper

Virtual Working

I’m a healthcare communications consultant with over 15 years of experience. I worked at two highly respected PR agencies for over nine years before taking the plunge and becoming a freelancer. I’ve worked with GSK, Roche, AstraZeneca and Pfizer. The Difference is empowering; it brings us together in a virtual space where we can focus on delivering top-quality work for clients with the support and resources of the wider Difference community. I love the pace and immediacy and enjoy getting up to speed on new therapy areas and assignments in record time.

Liz Adams

Media Relations

With nearly 20 years of healthcare communications and PR experience behind me, I provide detailed insights into the media landscape and client campaigns. I take pride in devising strategies that will breakdown the barriers to patient understanding and empower them to take action when needed. Health matters. Compelling campaigns allow patients to present quicker, access treatment faster, meaning families stay together for longer and lives can be lived. The Difference Collective is a dream team of talent that takes healthcare communications to another level.

Michelle Healy-Thomas

Design

I am passionate about typography and communicating clever ideas through inspired design. Over the last 10 years, I have successfully worked with a broad range of clients encompassing health and life sciences, beauty, energy, telecommunications and the financial sectors. My client experience includes Sony Ericsson, Great Ormond Street, Dresdner bank, Alliance Boots, Liverpool Victoria and Virgin Media. I have won ‘Design Effectiveness’ Awards for my work on Boots Laboratories and Vitol Energy and am a member of the Chartered Society of Designers, sitting on the judging panel for Corporate design. 

Rod Cartwright

Crisis & Issues Management

I am a strategic communication consultant working with agencies and in-house teams to deliver personal communication preparedness and organisation resilience. I bring a 25-year global PR agency pedigree working with market leaders including Ketchum (Global Corporate Practice Director), Text100 (EMEA Regional Director), Hill & Knowlton Strategies (Director) and GCI (Director) to drive lasting reputational growth and business change.

My focus is on issues management & crisis communication; leadership communication & executive preparedness; thought leadership & corporate reputation; and strategic problem-solving & facilitation. I have considerable expertise across ethical healthcare, OTC, consumer health and medical devices and has worked for healthcare clients including Takeda, Roche Diagnostics, Pfizer Consumer Health, Medtronic, Macmillan Cancer Support, Medco, Allergan and the Motor Neurone Disease Association.

Over the course of my career, I have taken on all that global news events such as the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines’ MH370 and the airline’s subsequent sovereign-led restructuring can throw at you.

Stuart Mayell

Creative & Strategy

I’m a Creative Director with 22 years of undimmed curiosity about health and science. I’ve contributed the insights, innovation and ideas that have opened up opportunities for hundreds of businesses. If you need impact, whether with words, brands or strategy, I can help. I’ve led multi-disciplinary teams across design, video, copywriting, digital and development. In my time in the healthcare communications industry I’ve worked across all main medical specialities, however I have particular experience and interest in oncology, medical technology and vaccines. The Difference offers me the perfect platform to advocate for creativity as the answer to many of society’s greatest health challenges; and the tool to help businesses succeed.

Susan Cuozzo

Medical Education Global

I am an award-winning medical education specialist, accredited publication planner (ISMPP CMPP) and medical writer with a 20+ year track record of creating strategic scientific communications. I have led medical writing and editorial teams across therapeutic areas on global and US accounts for agencies based in NYC. I have worked on over 20 drug launches including agents given fast-track designation by the FDA. I am adept at applying adult learning principles to maximize engagements with any HCP audience and have designed and moderated over 100 advisory board meetings and workshops. My passion is working with thought leaders to bring data to life to ultimately improve patient outcomes. In 2017 I was recognised by Pharma Marketers 360 magazine with an ELITE award for Transformational Leadership and by PharmaVOICE as one of the 100 most inspirational people in the life sciences industry.

Vicki Harper

Client Management

I have been in communications and marketing for over 20 years, working with UK and global agencies. I have well-honed client service skills with an insight-first approach that enable me to craft and deliver effective healthcare communications campaigns with a clear strategy and a defined purpose, delivered on time and within budget. I am attuned to the need to add genuine value to my clients and committed to delivering meaningful results that make a difference. In recent years, I have created global digital influencer and partnership programmes supporting women’s health, as well as consumer healthcare brands, enabling them to reach new audiences and online communities alongside PR. I am adept at managing and delivering complex multiple-territory campaigns for large and small-scale organisations, across public, private and the third sector with a background spanning pharmaceutical and healthcare companies, women’s health, healthcare charities, sports & wellbeing brands and social enterprise.

Louise Watson

Consumer & Wellbeing Brand Marketing

I have 25 years of consumer and corporate brand-building experience gained working in global network agencies. I am a creative strategist at heart and my client experience across wellbeing, nutrition-marketing and health includes leading award-winning work for Bayer Consumer Health, Kellogg’s, P&G and Unilever. My most recent experience includes 3 years as Chair of Consumer Marketing EMEA at Weber Shandwick where I led the regional client service community and a 12-month contract with Ogilvy leading integrated campaigns.

An impassioned problem-solver, Louise enjoys bringing an audience-centric approach to client issues in order to solve business challenges through strategic communications.

I also lead communication for TEDx Kingston, one of the UK’s largest and most preferred events of its kind.