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PRGN Global Survey on Healthcare Public Relations

PRGN Global Survey on Healthcare Public Relations

In the spring of 2014, the Public Relations Global Network (energi PR is the Canadian affiliate) undertook a survey of its member firms providing healthcare public relations services with a view to identify global trends and best practices in healthcare PR.

My PRGN colleagues, Ed Stevens, President of the Stevens Strategic Communications Group in Cleveland, Aaron Blank, President of The Fearey Group in Seattle and I had the opportunity to present and comment on the results at the Public Relations Society of America Health Academy in Washington, D.C. on May 8th. What we found was that the world is as it should be -- conscientious PR practitioners working to offer their clients the best counsel. The trends we see regarding the challenges PR consulting firms are facing around the world are: shrinking budgets, increased scrutiny and changing regulatory environments that in many respects parallel global trends in other industries.  

What's encouraging is the reported commitment to providing value, looking at ways to evolve measurement to speak more directly to ROI and overall value, along with the noted incorporation of social media (not to the exclusion of our more traditional efforts, but as another tool in the toolbox that helps deliver information to patients, HCPs and feedback to our clients). It seems these comments reflect a global effort to remain transparent, ethical and compliant while doing creative work on behalf of our clients and the communities we serve.

More than 20 firms within North America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East completed the survey. Here are the highlights of what we found:
•    With some reported exceptions, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are the most common social media vehicles, followed by blogs and online forums. Challenges were noted in regulatory environments such as Canada and Poland, where direct-to-patient communication is limited.
•    In most cases, the transition to electronic mediums has been successful. Most respondants noted the importance of integrating traditional and online communications vehicles to support robust communication strategies tailored to specific audiences.
•    Traditional PR efforts – e.g. press releases, events, media relations, community and stakeholder relations, print materials, etc. – continue to be important tactics. The introduction of social media is generally seen as an enhancement of – not a replacement for – traditional PR efforts.
•    Common healthcare-related crisis communications issues include questions of access to treatment and reimbursement; product contamination/recalls and related illnesses/death; ethical issues such as questionable scientific evidence, abortion; misuse of prescription drugs; questions related to cost of care; and corporate/management performance issues including strikes and labour negotiations.
•    Physicians are consistently regarded as expert spokespeople who bring value to the discussion through their willingness to contribute to PR campaigns as credible thought leaders. Most indicated there are very specific parameters to their engagement of physicians and that their role is an educator who can be supported via media preparedness training andseminars re use of online tools, but should not be influenced with respect to specific content. Providing physicians with information related to new therapies, however, was typically seen as a valuable PR role.
•    Effective media relations strategies and work with advocacy groups are perceived as key elements of increasing patient referrals to hospitals/clinics.
•    Most don’t see healthcare PR being subject to new rules – rather more directed to drive innovative strategies while remaining transparent, compliant and ethical. This speaks also to the impact seen around the world of various forms of healthcare reform.
•    Remaining competitive while complying with healthcare regulations was reported as one of the most common challenges facing the organizations we serve. ROI, misinformation and insufficient communication budgets were also common themes.
•    The rise in patient access to information (via the internet), the power of social media and the opportunity to rethink healthcare communications were named as key opportunities for our healthcare clients.
•    To be seen as experts with respect to the applicable regulations re pharmaceutical marketing is seen as absolutely critical to success.
•    Though opinion is divided, in general, understanding the medical sciences is seen as less important than regulatory expertise.
•    Insofar as international collaboration on healthcare mandates, it appears that the differences between countries is reported as being negligible. Best practices seem to be the same around the globe.
•    Google analytics, Facebook insights, Radian6, PR wires tracking, and customer satisfaction surveys are noted as the most common means to measure program success.

energiPR is the PRGN’s Canadian affiliate.
PRGN, among the world’s top four international public relations networks, boasts:            
•    1,000 + clients across six continents in more than 80 markets around the world.
•    Revenues in excess of $110 million USD, PRGN harnesses the resources of 50 independent
PR firms with more than 1,000 communications professionals to connect international companies and organizations with individual and culturally diverse markets globally. PRGN services include traditional, social and digital media – paid, owned and earned.
•    Over 60 per cent of PRGN member agencies provide healthcare PR services in virtually every therapeutic category. Next to consumer public relations, healthcare expertise is the strongest specialty practice area.
•    PRGN members serve the entire healthcare continuum from not-for-profit organizations, private and public hospitals, biotech and multi-national research-based pharmaceutical companies to generic manufacturers and professional associations and advocacy groups.
•    As a global network, PRGN is able to share best practices in healthcare communications, as well as broaden the understanding of how different jurisdictions address global challenges in terms of governance, patient safety, and access to medications, direct-to-patient communications.