Written by on . Pegasus.

Reflections from PharmaComms #1: Strength in numbers

Head of Client Partnerships, Jo Spadaccino reflects on the growing use of data to power effective health communications programmes, but is reminded that the real strength in numbers comes from something that can never be time-stamped.

Last week I attended the inaugural PRWeek PharmaComms conference in London. It was a good crowd, with a varied speaker panel and a highly engaged audience made up of both in-house and agency-side communicators.

From chatting to many of the delegates it seemed that the conference had filled something of a void in the industry landscape, so the talks and roundtable discussions were leapt on with huge enthusiasm. Well done PRWeek!

You perhaps wouldn’t win many prizes for guessing what the main topics of debate were – many of them were like familiar jumpers that have been adorned for years: How to ‘do’ social media, how to work within the regulations, how to manage the industry reputation, how communicators can add value to their organisation, etc.

But rather than looking threadbare and moth-eaten (ermm, I’m obviously not thinking of my own favourite jumper here), there was a renewed sense of polish and confidence in the room around these topics. There were bountiful examples of best practice being shared, work that was achieving impressive and meaningful results – it was less ‘can we do it?’ and much more ‘this is how we do it’.

And whilst a delegate poll on day two highlighted that only 56% of the audience felt equipped to respond effectively to their organisation’s audience base using social media channels – suggesting there is still a way to go on this one in particular – the overall tone of the meeting was a very upbeat one.

The use of data to support better health communications (that leads to better health outcomes) was a common thread. But for these sessions, which were ably led by very inspirational speakers, there was much less clarity on ‘how’ exactly the industry is harnessing the power of data to support its business and communications efforts.

There are still so many questions around data ownership, how to achieve good clean datasets, how pharmaceutical companies collaborate with health providers to share data, how the interface works between companies and the consumers of healthcare, and where the big tech players fit into the mix (complementary or competitive?). Which leads me to conclude that we are still a way off from this being part of the day-to-day.

There were some great nuggets though. More than a couple of times the UK was cited as a great place to harness the power of patient data, due to the NHS ‘one provider’ environment – ‘at least everyone is working from the same map’.

How companies are using data-driven insights to inform communications programme development, delivery and evaluation appears to have become much more purposeful, and I was thoroughly reassured of the focus on impact and ROI rather than outputs.

And reflecting on the clinical trials world put some of the operational challenges when working with patient data into context – the pharma industry already operates in one of the most sensitive data spaces and relies on navigating it well, as its lifeblood. As every organisation regardless of sector or funding grapples with how to play in this space, the pharma industry is well placed to be at the forefront of innovation.

But the message I couldn’t help but take away from the conference was that the real strength in numbers doesn’t always have to mean huge swathes of data analysis. The question posed by chair John Clare at the start of day one was whether, if pharma comms was a drug, would it be proved effective under trial conditions?

Every single interaction I had led me to think that person-to-person collaboration is the key. Whether it’s cross-functional or intra-regional, pharma and healthcare provider or consumer, client and agency, and anyone in between, the need to stay open to new thinking and embrace the potential of working with others towards an identified common goal is perhaps the most potent tool we all have.

is Head of Client Partnerships at Pegasus and has over sixteen years experience delivering integrated health campaigns for pharmaceutical and public health clients.