Communication challenges & opportunities in pharma

J Pinching 12 February 2018



Like anyone in pharma, comms departments rely on a vast knowledge of regulation.


All pharma employees are constantly weighing up what they are doing with the welter of regulations that determine what we can and can’t do. Many will have undergone specific ABPI training – I know, because everyone at the company I work for has just gone through it! Indeed, it is a serpent’s nest, but if you know where the danger points are, you can still communicate messages in a way that stimulates and excites.

PR and comms departments representing pharma are often the spark that ignites the flame of knowledge about a new medicine discovery, an approval, a breakthrough or how lives could be changed forever.

These tenacious information machines also toe a notoriously stringent line; always under the watchful eye of regulators. In many ways, what they produce holds a mirror up to the whole of industry.

Let’s hear from two people at pharma’s information highway.



Claire Martin

Director at GCI Health



We are inspired by a desire to improve the health and lives of people worldwide. Whether it’s raising awareness of health issues or new evidence for a drug’s efficacy, we aim to break down what can be an overwhelming amount of information into accessible stories that resonate with audiences.



We’re well versed in industry regulations and try to avoid seeing them as a barrier to impactful communications. Just as every cloud has a silver lining, with every challenge there’s the opportunity to do something different, to find fresh and thought-provoking ways of engaging our audiences. Ultimately, it’s about looking
for innovative solutions within the boundaries set by regulations.



It isn’t every day you find yourself launching a new therapy that’s set to change the path for generations to come, and it isn’t every day you open the papers to find the story you’ve been working on for months splashed across the front pages. Those are the real highlights that allow us, as communicators, to be part of a collective history that is so much bigger than any one function alone.



As an industry we’ve been telling the value story of pharma more explicitly in recent times, but we can still be more transparent about what it takes to deliver pharmaceutical innovation. We need to continue to be responsible as an industry, always ensuring the patient is at the centre of every decision and demonstrating our commitment beyond the provision of a single product.



In this industry it’s vital to hold on to expertise and keep people with knowledge of pharma’s unique terrain. Team consistency enables us to build relationships with our clients, allowing both sides to get the best out of the arrangement.



I think the industry is starting to come round to the fact that more authentic communications, with greater scope for character and originality, resonate with audiences far better than the heavily-scripted, polished lines with which healthcare communications has previously been synonymous. Granted, we work in a highly-regulated environment, but communications professionals shouldn’t feel shackled by it.

Go to gcihealth.com



Gwenan White

Director of Comms and PR at AbbVie



We aim to safeguard our company reputation and advocate for a healthcare system where everyone who falls ill gets the best possible outcomes. This means aiming for partnerships with patient organisations and the NHS in all we do, as everyone is working toward the same goal.



Agility can prove a challenge. In the digital age of ever-shorter news cycles it is especially challenging sometimes to manage our obligations in assuring and auditing our external communication, and responding in a timely fashion.



Healthcare is consistently near the top of public priority and debate in the media. This is because it touches all of us. We are privileged to work in an industry that has the potential to have a transformative impact on people’s lives and there are not many communications professionals who are able to say that.



We aim to be positive and directly engage with the real problems facing the NHS. There is no escaping that an increasingly elderly population – largely driven by past success at tackling disease – and long-term funding constraints, are putting major pressures on the health service. Through our Sustainable Healthcare Initiative we aim to be practical. More than 85% of healthcare spend is not on medicines, so we try to think holistically about the opportunities the NHS has to maximise what it does.



2017 saw us awarded company of the year by multiple organisations, including the Pf People Survey company of choice. We were also the second highest pharma company on the list of UK Great Places to Work and ranked #1 in the UK Pharma RepTrak survey for the second year running. Our way of working positively and ethically is being recognised as important and we saw these as validations of the culture we have built here.



Tone is where I think the industry has the biggest opportunity to make a change. We are science companies, while the NHS is full of jargon. As a result, we have become used to a language that alienates. Companies need to be clearer in how we communicate. There is no regulatory barrier that stops us doing that – it is entirely cultural.

Go to abbvie.co.uk





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