The Pharma Comms role: what it often is, and what it should be

Posted by: in Healthcare Insights, Integrated Communications on May 12, 2011

Having worked with a fair few Communications/PR Managers (hereafter referred to as Comms Managers for brevity), a pattern has emerged that I have now seen too often for comfort. Perhaps you have observed it too, or – worse – you recognise some of the following in your in-house role:

  • Despite being nominally a member of the brand team, the Comms Manager does not sit in the same location; he may even be based on a different floor, building or even country
  • The brand team has little idea what the Comms Manager’s “day job” is; in practice, she is usually called on only to write press releases and develop a coverage report
  • More often than not, the data that Comms Managers have to report were selected by the team Medic or Brand Director and do not constitute ‘news’; the focus is on ‘this is what we want to say’ rather than ‘our customers will really want to hear this’
  • Whenever cuts in the overall brand marketing budget are handed down by senior management, the Comms budget is the first to be slashed, the one reduced the most, or both
  • The idea that the Comms Manager is as important to the business as the Brand Manager or the representative from Medical Affairs would never be taken seriously

The good news is that this sorry state of affairs can be addressed quite easily, and in fact should be looked at as quickly as possible since Communications – in its true sense – is vital to the success of any company’s sales efforts. The current silos into which brand communications are currently split – e.g. PR and MedEd – might make sense from an internal structural perspective, but unfortunately also guarantee that Pharma companies are not getting anything like the optimal RoI that they could be. Consider this: the person usually tasked with overseeing all external communications in general is the Brand Director – someone who typically has no communications experience!

In today’s fully connected environment, the concept of PR, MedEd or Social Media – or any other external communications activity for that matter – being somehow separate activities is now demonstrably obsolete. Picking just one example, the messages that you might want to convey to a physician audience at a satellite symposium are the same as those you would want your spokespeople saying and posting online on your behalf following a key data announcement in the media. Why then are these activities handled by different functions (more often than not utilizing two different agency teams)? More importantly, why are Comms Managers not involved from the beginning to ensure seamless delivery of messages?

The challenge is therefore clear: there needs to be a paradigm shift within Pharma to ensure that Comms Managers can contribute fully to all aspects of the brand communication plan. In order to be able to do this effectively, they will need support from people with the breadth of experience and skills to be able to come up with and deliver fully integrated, strategic communication programmes for all audiences and across the entire life cycle of the product.

I say “Bring it on!”

By: Manu Field

Manu is a Director in WCG's London office, and offers his clients strategic medical communications counsel based on over 10 years of experience across MedEd and PR. His LinkedIn handle is 'manufield'.

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  1. Translational Science | Common Sense linked to this post on May 18, 2011

    […] My colleague Manu Field and I have certainly seen over the time we’ve worked together several ways in which the Communications department can support others, but as he’ll tell you, sometimes it needs hard work to achieve even […]

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