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The second of two episodes recorded in partnership with PRWeek UK at their PharmaComms conference in London where we chatted with a number of speakers from the event.
1/ Roeland van der Heiden, Director, Digital Communications, AstraZeneca – ‘Creating a unified digital strategy to present a clear message’
2/ Bhavin Vaid, Head of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs, Ferring Pharmaceuticals- ‘How putting purpose front and centre has maximised corporate reputation for Ferring Pharmaceuticals’
3/ Maria Caporaso, Pharma and Med Tech Lead, Prostate Cancer UK; Clara Bentham, Global Director of Corporate Communications, Norgine; Alex Wyke, CEO, PatientView – ‘Patient group partnerships: what should pharma’s relationship with patient groups look like?’
Our first guest was Roeland van der Heiden, Director of Digital Communications at AstraZeneca who had just spoken at the event on the topic of ‘Creating a unified digital strategy to present a clear message’
Roeland said that what he tried to emphasise in his presentation was the importance of sound editorial planning. He explained that involves a cross-functional structure across all teams that use the global corporate digital channels for content. So, the editorial planning teams consist of HR, sustainability, therapeutic areas, designs units – basically, everybody who is involved with producing content for AstraZeneca’s global channels are part of the editorial planning group and he said that the cross-functional team has given them quite a bit of success,
Roeland said that because his corporate digital team is very small and nimble and not as big as some of their competitors, they needed the cross-functional involvement of all those teams that are part of global corporate affairs, but also outside of our direct control, which was the biggest change they have implemented to cement this structure. There is an editorial planning group that meets monthly and one that meets weekly, plus a direct feed through the markets and an alignment session to the internal communications network and to the digital market network, plus a direct line into their leadership team too. This is all supported by a metrics and KPI framework.
The editorial planning group looks at all the content and all the channels, both internal and external. These include social media as well as digital signage across their buildings, He said that four years ago, Facebook was a prime channel for recruitment but now the see Instagram becoming much more important for that purpose. He added that it’s continuous process to stay on top of the game in terms of channels and is the reason that they upskill all of their global corporate affairs colleagues in the digital communications space. They run a corporate digital upskilling program, which all global colleagues are mandated to go through.
When it comes to focusing all channels on a particular story or theme, they call it a cover story.
For measurement, Roeland is using technologies such as BrandWatch and other online sentiment and online listening platforms, alongside built-in analytics capabilities of the platforms they use. The also look at what he described as hero metrics, i.e. real downloads of documents or the number of candidates in the recruitment pipeline.
Our second guest was Bhavin Vaid, Head of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs at Ferring Pharmaceuticals, who had just presented a case study on ‘how putting purpose front and centre has maximised corporate reputation for Ferring’.
Bhavin explained that at Ferring, their purpose and mission is to build families and help people live better lives. They have approximately 6,500 employees located in Saint-Prex, Switzerland close to Geneva and one of their core therapy areas is reproductive medicine and maternal health, and so fertility treatments are very important to them. Therefore, Bhavin said that it makes it easy to focus on their business purpose. In fact, one of the reasons he joined the company was that the purpose was very clear, and it was something that he could really align to.
When they were thinking about purpose at the early stages, Bhavin said that Ferring recognised that purpose driven companies actually perform up to 30-40% better than other companies. He thinks that was one of their strongest drivers in making sure that they had a purpose driven communication strategy, which was about letting people them know about what Ferring is here to do and what they want to do.
Bhavin said that there’s a lot of discussion and talk around purpose, but putting that into action is really hard and how do you consistently do that? So, when thinking about their therapy areas, they decided that building families is their core and was what they could communicate and share now and in the future.
Bhavin shared a campaign that was based on insights. They looked into the community that they were serving, including the fertility patients or anyone / potential parents looking to start a family, and something that was very common coming across, was the theme around ‘Project Family’. When people were starting their fertility journey, it was all about them starting their own project family and what was that going to look like and how were they going to do that? So, recognising that they also needed to differentiate themselves from other Pharma companies who may have either focused very solely on mothers or just patients, as Ferring is a family company as well and we’re a private company, they decided to align with their own internal purpose and actually make that external as well. What they had to do next was build that into a campaign that their employees could get behind, have some fun and actually make it something that everyone could start to live and breathe.
Bhavin quoted the example of when John F. Kennedy, when he was visiting NASA, spoke to a janitor and asked the question “What are you here to do?” and the janitor responded, “I’m here to put people on the moon”. Bhavin had actually given that example to his executive team and they challenged him to say, “okay, fine, get everyone behind our purpose of building families and just do it”. So, from there, one of the campaigns was about whether they could find other companies that have a very similar purpose to Ferring and how they can we build on that? When doing the research, they found another Nordic company where they have some roots, which is also very family-centric being Lego. They then thought how they can use Lego to help communicate their purpose internally at the start and then externally thereafter. The idea they went with was to combine their employees to build a giant Lego baby, which hadn’t been done before.
The Lego baby turned out to be roughly about 5 foot 8 inches in height, which Ferring believe to be world’s largest giant Lego baby.
Ferring then took the baby to their family day event with internal stakeholders and employees, and then decided to put the Lego baby onto the Congress circuit to see if the doctors would also get enthused behind it. It worked! Their our actual mission or purpose was also being communicated externally.
They did have questions from a compliance perspective on whether it was suitable or not or was it just a gimmick? However, it worked because it completely supported what they do and was based on evidence, plus there was that connection as well. They also had some fun doing it and some of the feedback that they had from customers was excellent, but also internally, it helped shape the mindset that they wanted around building families.
From an external perspective, Bhavin said that they did some benchmarking with their core audience, i.e., fertility experts and then obstetricians. From a baseline from before they did any of our work, a year later, they went back to a similar group of professionals and saw a 40% increase in their reputation compared to their competitors who are also in this space.
In addition, they also were looking at their social media statistics in the sense of how many followers were growing, how much engagement they were getting. They saw that they doubled their following in LinkedIn organically from 70,000 followers to 140,000 a year later, through consistently delivering authentic content, telling a story and connecting it with their purpose every single time.
They did use some paid social on Instagram and on Twitter, but Bhavin felt that LinkedIn is quite expensive for paid social.
Bhavin’s parting message was that you really have to live and breathe your purpose every day. Management have to have a complete buy in and selling of what is that purpose and they have to also live and breathe it. It also needs to be very simple.
Our final interview of the conference was with:
All three guests had just been part of a panel session discussing ‘what should Pharma’s relationship with patient groups look like’
Maria started by explaining how, in her experience, the relationships with patient groups and pharma companies have worked in the past and crucially what she was looking for from them moving forward. She said that things have definitely moved a long way from a situation that they had in the past where they had a very transactional – donation based – interaction with the pharmaceutical companies. Now, they are looking for longer term partnerships with the industry, from the basic exchange of information with pharmaceutical companies around plans for professional education awareness-raising and information for patients to information about clinical trials and how they can influence companies on making those clinical trials more relevant for patients and also make them easier for patients to take part in. She said that they are looking at a way of working with companies at different levels within the organisation and that is really the area where they want to be operating in the future.
Clare agreed. She thinks the most successful relationships with partner organisations from a pharma company perspective are those where it really is a long term, true collaboration. So, colleagues working together in a team of shared objectives where they bring their different areas of expertise to that team. But they really do think in a long term about a true partnership.
Maria also wants to see more data sharing between the patient groups and pharma companies. She said that as a research funding patient group organisation, they want to bring together the brightest minds in the research and clinical community and share that knowledge.
Alex said that it’s very important to look at how healthcare has changed over the last decade and why we’re in a situation where patient groups and pharma companies might find themselves as willing to partner in a way that they probably weren’t before. She said that one of the main reasons is that the patient groups themselves have evolved quite considerably. There are now millions of patient groups worldwide and they are much more sophisticated and respected by all levels of all stakeholders in a way that perhaps before they might have been considered on the fringe. She added that the other most important thing is that the patient group has a ‘bird’s eye’ view of the whole of the healthcare system. Only the patient group works with doctors, nurses, pharma companies and regulators, networking with all these stakeholders. So, they are in a unique position to see what a patient might want or need and translate those needs to the pharmaceutical company. She therefore thinks that all the talk of patient-centricity really can only be articulated by patient groups because an individual patient doesn’t really quite comprehend what goes on inside a pharmaceutical company.
Maria added that patient group organisations do have intelligence and experience of what the reality is for the patients and by working with the industry, ultimately they can have the industry being better at what to do to be able to come up with a solution that can make the life of patients better.
Alex said that a very good example of the way patient groups have transformed healthcare, is the carers’ movement, which she explained was a grassroots movement that changed legislation. Carers are now recognised as entities, where they need breaks, they need help. They are individuals within the healthcare system. Until the carers’ movement happened, that wasn’t the case.
Clara added that for people that work in the pharmaceutical industry, they go to work every day to help people to live better, longer, healthier lives and so the relationship with a patient organisation, if it’s used internally with employees, is hugely motivational to people. She said that it gives people a huge sense of purpose in their work and reminds people who may be working in finance or on the manufacturing plant, what they are doing is actually helping to change people’s lives.
Alex said that there are some pharmaceutical companies that still think that trawling social media and listening to conversations of patients talking about their experiences is the beginning and the end. However, she said that we’re living in a world where people read a lot on social media and don’t trust their doctor anymore, with the relationship between the doctor and the patient being a very fragile one now. So, they are challenging the system and they want change and many more are joining as members to patient groups. She said that these patient groups can see what the wants and needs are and change the world around them. And so therefore, the world of patient advocacy has grown and exploded. This is an area that perhaps pharmaceutical companies may be a bit cautious about and reaching out on that score, but still it’s happening, and it has to be recognised.
Maria added that it’s all very good to reach out to those patients who are talking about their experience on social media, but there needs to be an understanding of those people and if they are doing what they are doing is because they are already quite vocal and quite eloquent for themselves. However, what is being missed out is the other part of the patient population in any disease area that are approaching a patient group organisations, and may have had difficult experiences and maybe vulnerable people who may have had complications and are just not interested in sharing their experience to an external audience. This is where the patient group organisation is dealing with all of that – the people who don’t want to talk about their experience but are still encountering difficulties and the people are more than happy to talk about their experience and sharing that with the wider world. And if a company is just basing their understanding of the patient experience on those individuals on social media, then they’re not going to get a true picture of the reality.
Clara said that from a pharmaceutical perspective, the reality is that you do both. So, her company does a lot of social listening to understand what their patients are talking about online. But they also have great relationships with patient organisations. She also said that a lot of Pharma companies are starting develop apps to help patients to manage their conditions. But social listening really helps because through trawling through online conversations from around the globe, you can understand what patients are asking, what they’re posting about, what they’re saying they find difficult and you can address that with an app. However, she said that that does not take away from the relationship that you need with the patient organisation, to carry out user testing, to validate it and to really understand the other dimensions.
Alex added that PatientView runs corporate reputation studies where they find out from patient groups what they think of pharmaceutical companies right down to which companies are best and which are worst. She said that one of the things that’s coming out of that data is that the companies that merely give money and walk away are the ones that are least well-thought-of and the ones that are really helping and working together and sharing with patient groups are better thought of.
Maria finished by saying that the senior buy in for the partnership is very important to have the leadership of the organisation to be willing to make partnerships work, because when you don’t have that, then the relationship ends up being sometimes just a PR exercise and an interesting donation at the other side, This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to have a CEO working day to day with a CEO at the charity, but even one conversation once a year can make a huge difference.