The inside track on healthcare communications

The inside track on healthcare communications

This article was published by Paramount Recruitment. See below for a link to the original article.

If you’re considering a career move into healthcare communications and want some real advice on whether this specialist field is for you, look no further! For valuable insights and an insider view on the industry, how to get into it and how to get ahead, Paramount Recruitment caught up with Reghu Venkatesan who is currently head of healthcare at Madano – a global strategic consultancy working on integrated communications in highly regulated areas, including healthcare, energy and the built environment. Previously, Reghu was a director at Madano’s sister healthcare company, AXON Communications

How did you get into healthcare communications?

I was in the middle of studying for my PhD when I realised that a career in academia and research just wasn’t for me, but I didn’t really know what other options there were for someone with my background. I spoke to one of my professors, who suggested medical publishing and put me in touch with one from a global medical publishing house who he said could tell me more. It sounded right up my street, and moving into publishing turned out to be one of the best decisions I could have made.

I spent 7 years in healthcare publishing, reviewing content for more than 40 medical journals, covering just about every therapeutic area you could imagine, and worked my way up to editorial director. I learned a lot during that time, and used that knowledge and experience to progress to an editorial director role at AXON in 2007. Once I took that role, I really had an opportunity to develop my knowledge and understanding of strategic, integrated healthcare communications. I was there for just over 2.5 years, and then tried working for a few other agencies, but finally went back to AXON in 2012 – for the people, for the culture and for the opportunity to continue to learn and develop.

What qualifications do you need to work in healthcare communications? Do you need a science PhD or a media degree?

No, not at all, neither is essential and I think that’s one of the great things about healthcare communications. I believe it is an industry that embraces variety, and very much welcomes people with different backgrounds and experiences. You don’t need to have followed a linear path to get here.

What’s it like working in a healthcare communications agency?

Hand on heart, it’s not 9 to 5 and no day is ever the same. I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s the truth! It can get pretty busy at times, especially around congresses and key milestones, but both Madano and AXON do their very best to ensure that staff retain a good work/life balance and are recognised in many different ways when they need to go ‘above and beyond’ to deliver for a client. It’s a fantastically varied sector, and you could be tackling anything from advising clients to writing copy, to being onsite anywhere around the globe, working with the most eminent physicians in their field, and everything in between – on any given day!

What skills do you think are most important in healthcare communications?

I think listening is probably one of the most important skills you can develop in this industry. Communication is a two-way process, so you have to actively listen to your clients’ specific needs to be able to give them good counsel and deliver communications solutions that will work for them. The more you listen, the better job you will do for them, and this all helps establish you as their trusted advisor, which is one of our ultimate goals in the business.

Do you have any advice for those just starting out in healthcare communications?

Be a sponge! Take it all in, ask questions and learn as much as you can, even if you don’t think it’s something that will be directly related to your work. To be a good communicator in this field, you need to have a holistic approach to healthcare. This means developing a broad understanding of the whole industry, its complexities and its challenges. We should also learn from other sectors, as we do in Madano. For example, to manage any potential issue or crisis; if we can deal with these situations in the pharma, nuclear and construction industries, then we are pretty well set to handle anything thrown at us and our clients!

I’d also say try lots of different things. The industry is slowly moving away from ‘silo’ working, and many roles require a crossover of skills and experience between brand and corporate comms, policy and advocacy, medical education, public affairs, market access, and patient recruitment and retention – so overall my advice is to embrace opportunities that broaden your experience.

Talking of full integration, working with our in-house Insights and Creative teams has been fantastic – data-driven communications is the present (and the future) and you can always stand confidently behind a big creative idea built on a solid strategy – and we love doing that!

What do you like most about your job?

There’s lots that I enjoy about my job! I guess the first thing is that I love to learn, and at Madano I’m learning all the time because of the variety of people, products and places that are involved in my work. The second reason is that I enjoy doing a good job for my clients; it enthuses me and it’s why I come to work in the morning. I don’t see myself as a vendor or supplier, I hope I am a trusted advisor to my clients and can help them to solve some of their work challenges, as well as give them the Madano and AXON perspective on their business.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started out in healthcare communications?

That’s a really tough one. I think I would have liked to know that clients are just people and they want to hear your opinion, even if it’s different to theirsWe shouldn’t just be ‘yes’ people. We can and should challenge our clients and we should speak up and share our views. They’re not paying us to agree – well, not always!

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Why electric vehicles present the ideal communications debate

Why electric vehicles present the ideal communications debate

Written by Oliver Buckley, Associate Director in Madano’s Energy Practice.

Electric Vehicles (EVs) are the hot topic of the moment.

Recent media announcements have brought EVs to the front pages, rather than the business pages as we’re normally accustomed. We’ve seen EV announcements recently by Tesla and Volvo as well as a UK Government commitment to ban cars with internal combustion engines from 2040.

The dizzying array of viewpoints on EVs highlights the disjointed approach to their introduction. 

EVs in the media

According to the media which have covered EVs in a positive light, they could be:

  • the solution to the UK’s air pollution crisis.
  • the principal form of passenger transport once petrol and diesel cars are banned in 2040.
  • a source of battery storage to work in conjunction with local electricity grids.

However, some media have covered EVs negatively, saying that:

  • the positive impact of EVs on improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions will be negligible.
  • the amount of CO2 required to make, use and dispose of lithium-ion batteries negates any carbon reduction benefits they bring.
  • the UK could not produce enough electricity to charge all plugged-in EVs at peak times. 

This presents the perfect scenario for communications professionals. There are two fiercely contradictory sets of arguments, both of which come across as logical. And for a non-specialist without access to data on these topics, it’s genuinely difficult to come to a concrete viewpoint.

No time to waste

In the case of EVs, assessing the ‘for’ and ‘against’ is the wrong debate to have. That’s because change in the sector is already happening at a blistering pace. There’s no time to sit around and debate the merits of more or fewer EVs. They’re here and the market is growing. 

Sales of EVs are expected to sky rocket in the coming years. There were 2 million EVs on the road globally in 2016. The International Energy Agency (IEA) expects an electric car stock of 9-20 million by 2020 and 40-70 million by 2025.

It surely makes more sense to see the benefits of this step change in car purchase choice and to simply make it work.

Did people try to block the expansion of the internet because of worries about fraud or privacy? No. Having access globally to a world of information was too powerful a notion to be held back by worrying about the negatives. That’s not to say that those worries are totally overlooked.

EVs – the next digital revolution?

And so we can apply that approach to EVs:

Should we worry about the limited range of batteries on a single charge? One would expect batteries to become better and cheaper over time. Tesla’s ‘Model S’ car now has a range of 300 miles and, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the cost of lithium–ion battery packs has fallen by 73% since 2010.

Should we worry about a lack of charging points in relevant locations? Simple economic theory suggests that if enough people demand something then a market will naturally develop, with or without the help of government. It’s surely only a matter of time until petrol stations on the motorway or in towns introduce charging points to the forecourt. From 2011 to 2016, there was almost an eight fold increase in the number of charging points available in the UK according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) and this trend will undoubtedly continue.      

Should we worry about the electricity burden on the grid when everyone gets home from work between 5 and 7pm and plugs their car into the grid to charge? Lots of cars suddenly charging in close proximity could in theory create localised grid problems, however there can surely be no excuse for grid operators to not start preparing for this now. Besides, people will very quickly learn to programme their device to start a charge outside of peak hours when fewer cars are charging and electricity prices are lower.

The EV communication challenge

EVs may not solve every problem but data from well-respected organisations show that they will play a significant role in the future of our transport and energy systems. Communicating the change will certainly feature myriad negative voices, however I expect the positive voices to drown them out.

Madano Energy is a team of energy communications specialists which advises clients in an era of profound market disruption as the global energy sector decarbonises, decentralises, digitises and democratises. If you would like to discuss how the changes in the energy market could affect your organisation we’d be delighted to have an introductory discussion. Please contact me on [email protected] or 020 7593 4018. 

Getting the basics right when a crisis breaks – Stage 3

Getting the basics right when a crisis breaks – Stage 3

Missed Stage 1 on how to get the basics right when a crisis breaks? Read it here or read Stage 2, here.

The last in our three stage series, Mark Dailey and Matthew Moth look at the importance of returning to normalcy following a crisis. 

Stage 3 – Return to Normalcy

The timing of this is hugely is important. Too soon and you heighten expectations only to see them dashed leading to the dreaded follow-on ‘competency’ crisis. Too late and it has the same effect.  Clear communication and managing of expectations is the key. Along with the remedial work itself.   

Key actions: stress testing the new systems before moving back to a ‘business as usual’ stance; asking for feedback and ratification that enough has been done before returning to normalcy; clearly communicating that the special provisions that have been in place are ending; beginning to position the crisis within the overall track record of the firm (giving it some perspective); renewing commitment to better practice; keeping the three key audiences fully apprised of milestones met.

What’s new today: key “mistakes” live on via YouTube, Facebook Live, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter in a way they never used to. And because of the blogosphere – it’s not over just because you say it is.   

What doesn’t work: declaring victory too quickly. Rather like George Bush and his now infamous “mission accomplished” press conference about Iraq – the hard work often begins in living up to a return to normalcy claim.

What normally goes wrong: poor managing of expectations; moving too quickly to Stage 3; not communicating the improved future commitment; expecting the crisis to be “solved” as a communications issue (it lives on as a boilerplate – so handling has to be good)   

Key communications deliverables: here’s what we’ve done; here’s our commitment to making sure this doesn’t happen again; here’s how we’ve changed and how we do on this issue overall.  

The world of crisis management is changing and we have to change with it. But spookily enough, the fundamentals are tried and tested – they just need to operate on a higher plain. 

Make sure you follow Madano on Twitter and LinkedIn to keep up to date with our latest news and views. 

Should we believe the hype when it comes to Government competitions?

Should we believe the hype when it comes to Government competitions?

Written by Tom Reynolds, Account Director at Madano’s Energy Practice.

A new competition to support the development of battery technology – the Faraday Challenge – announced last week, provided Greg Clark with an opportunity to sign-off for the summer on a ‘high’, provide industry with some positive news, and distract us briefly from the obvious “Brexit” challenges the country faces.

However, given the Government’s recent track record when it comes to running competitions, is this latest one from BEIS any different?

Many wonder, what ever happened to the small modular reactor (SMR) competition? Launched over a year ago, it remains to be seen how this will move forward. Given events over the last 12 months or so – Brexit and the General Election – the lack of progress is understandable and for now it would seem that we are in the midst of a hiatus.

With the newly announced battery competition, what is different? One element that indicates that the Government is learning from past experience is the clear structure put in place.

The Faraday Challenge competition has been neatly divided into three work streams through which money can be channelled – research, innovation and scale-up.

In contrast, Phase One of the SMR competition has involved so many different technologies, no wonder BEIS has found itself comparing apples to oranges in some cases.

It is of course easy to make such observations with the benefit of hindsight and although the SMR window of opportunity is closing, the Government still has time to turn things around. Perhaps the Faraday Challenge competition will give impetus for the SMR competition to be rebooted along similar lines.

That being said, one limitation of the Faraday Challenge competition is that it won’t go far enough to make a significant impact on development. Battery technology is not new and given the unfathomable amount of money and resources invested by industry and academia over decades, what will a first phase of £45 million investment actually achieve?

The same can also be said of efforts to support SMRs. The Government committed £250 million last year for nuclear R&D over five years, supposedly half of this would be for SMRs. It’s estimated that around £1 billion would be needed to take any given SMR technology from design through to commercialisation.

Even when some technology vendors have significantly progressed their development programmes, it’s clear that any contribution from Government only scratches the surface.

Nevertheless, a £45 million first phase investment for battery technology (of a total pot of £246 million) – a technology that will no doubt play a very important role in our future, whether it be for electric vehicles, energy storage or everyday devices – is nothing to be sniffed at.

When it comes to developing innovative technologies, ultimately industry will need to drive things forward. So in terms of any Government contribution, if we are to be optimistic, let’s be realistically optimistic.

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