2020 is here and we are naturally now awash with ‘trends’ articles, telling us what to look out for in pharmaceutical communications, and how to do our jobs in the best way possible this new year.
While we often think a trends article is going to be a great read, it can sometimes be disappointing, with a focus on tactical trends that just skim the surface. There’s nothing wrong with keeping up to date on the latest technology that can make a campaign really buzz, but sometimes it is worth taking a step back and thinking about what is really changing year to year.
What has changed the context within which we work? After all, a trend by definition is a flash in the pan. And of course we aren’t just entering a new year but a new decade. So it is the perfect time to take stock of where we are in our industry right now.
A new generation
The most significant change for communicators in any field is the emergence of a new generation. The digital native Generation Z (otherwise known as the ‘centennials’) is now reaching adulthood and independence, entering the workforce and starting to engage with health services. The centennials are markedly different from their predecessors, the millennials.
Unfortunately, many in industry have been slow to adapt their communications practices to suit millennial audiences, so now the pressure is really on to make sure that audience targeting keeps up.
While there is some evidence to show that the reputation of pharma with the public has been picking up in recent years, the impact of the Orkambi story last year has had an impact. The fact that Jeremy Corbyn felt emboldened to make political capital out of the industry with the launch of ‘Medicines for the Many’ at a 2019 conference and the ‘Public Health before Private Profit’ strapline is testament to that.
Moreover, many of the Labour Party policies were supported by a majority of the population, including voters who would typically vote Conservative. One suspects that Generation Z would have been overwhelmingly supportive of the Labour position. With switched-on centennials keeping watch on the organisations they want to engage with, trust is set to remain an issue.
Pharma needs to demonstrate that it is a force for good. For Generation Z, a company’s actions must match its ideals, and while this is a generation more pragmatic in many ways than the previous one, what is important is standing up to scrutiny and not claiming to be something you are not.
The climate decade
There is little doubt that the ‘20s are to be the climate decade, and communications functions within pharma and supportive agencies have to factor this into external and internal, proactive and (importantly) reactive plans.
There is a real opportunity for pharma to demonstrate what it is doing to invest in the future health of the planet, but just as important is to demonstrate an awareness of the issues, and show that solutions are being genuinely sought.
‘Organisations should look at their communications every time there is a generational shift – the art of telling the right (and true) story, to the right people, in the right way is what communications means now’
Engagement, rather than one-way broadcasting, is key here and a critical way to win the support of younger audiences. The way this is handled represents a make-or-break situation for pharma in the battle to retain the public’s trust.
Strategy, craft and creativity are required when communicating about climate change, but also when talking about individual people’s lives. Patient-focused campaigns and cause-related marketing programmes are also under scrutiny.
They have to be authentic to win the day and authenticity shines in a campaign produced with a genuinely patient-centric organisation that has committed to a co-design process with patients and their representatives. One change we have noticed at the end of the ‘10s is that patient organisations are growing more confident in their requests for genuine commitments to co-built partnerships.
It’s a hugely positive change, but requires skill from an agency to manage the execution.
The prevalence of patient story-led campaigns means that we also now have to push that little bit harder to capture people’s attention, to make a meaningful contribution to people’s lives, and certainly to pique the interest of editors. But with deftness of approach, and the right creative and crafting skills on board, the opportunity is there to support and validate patients and make a real difference to their lives.
The advocacy landscape
The other side of the communications coin for us lies with our policy and parliamentary work. Understanding of the parliamentary and policy environment is critical. Most important is an understanding of how this interplays with the consumer world. Our best campaigns happen when we look at all audiences together, and integrate our public strategy with our public affairs approach.