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AUTHORS: Stephanie Heuser, Managing Director

The client briefs, the agency delivers: That was yesterday. Today, creating successful healthcare communication requires a new attitude, new competences, and a new style of collaboration.  From agencies, as well as from pharma companies. Stephanie Heuser from PINK CARROTS for health relations sheds light on what contemporary cooperative and efficient collaboration can look like.

In this article you learn about:

• How requirements have changed for agencies and companies today

• Which skills today’s healthcare agencies must master

• Why virtual kick-offs are a crucial success factor for successful collaboration

• What effect empathy and mutual appreciation have on co-working

• Why time management needs an appreciative stance as well

• How today’s agencies 2.0 should set themselves up


The world of communication is becoming increasingly complex, changing at a faster pace than ever before. This of course applies to health communication, as well. New dialogue target groups, formats, and channels are emerging, the way we address target groups is changing. In the context of these dynamics, pharma industry players must decide which paths and objectives they want to pursue to keep up with the times.

Even though Big Pharma is still dominated by a rather traditional approach, the desire for innovative ideas is strong:

  • regarding new touchpoints enabling clients to reach doctors in a different setting,

  • regarding also the question of “how”. High in demand are innovative, creative ideas that activate Healthcare Professionals (HCP) in a way that adds true value.

A Dynamic Environment means Changing Needs

Understandably, this development also means increased expectations towards agency partners. Just a few years ago, typical procedure was: The client briefs, the agency delivers. Today, health agencies are much more involved in the strategy development process and long-term brand management.

This creates opportunities but is also a challenge. Because: To go new ways, leave downtrodden paths, to think differently, and thus stand out from others requires a great degree of empathy and intelligence. On both sides. To tell stories in new ways that appeal to the target’s heart and brain, it is essential to have in-depth understanding of the target groups, and the courage to risk something new.

Pharma companies expect their external partners to be experts on the right approach, consultants able to assess a new idea’s potential, and ideally even to quantify KPIs in advance.


And always to act within the tight legal framework for health communication. Because: Safety still is a fundamental need in the health sector.

An especially demanding task is transferring best practices from other industries to health communication. Because the framework in the health industry is so different, this feat must be achieved without the freedom other branches have, without the freedom to experiment, and more often than not without a comparably significant budget.

Which Skills do Agencies Need?

The increasing expectations towards agencies naturally result in increasing expectations towards each individual employee. Today, it is not enough to have in-depth industry expertise and a deep understanding of doctors‘ and patients‘ needs. Agency teams must be trend scouts, keeping an eye on current developments at all times, well beyond the horizon of the health world. At the same time, they need to focus on where it is fruitful to dive in deeper, and where it is not.

Thus, agencies are looking for personalities that can act as all-rounders, and simultaneously have the required specialized expertise. Rounded off with a just-right degree of innovative spirit and willingness to try new approaches.

Success Factor for Collaboration: Virtual Kick-off

Since 2020, communication has become above all one thing: more digital. This has dramatically and rapidly changed collaboration between client and agency teams. Instead of jour-fixe-calls and quarterly on-site status meetings, teams get together more quickly at a virtual table, i.e. to plan and steer projects and campaigns. In many cases, a kick-off meeting makes sense. Usually, responsible members of the marketing, medical, sales and communications team on the client as well as agency side come together cross-functionally. True to the motto „One Team, One Dream“, all participants‘ needs, concerns and ideas are brought together and condensed into a common understanding of objectives. If all players are involved from the very start, teams work a lot more effectively towards a mutual goal.

In this initial phase, communication is crucial and has highest priority. Because content must be agreed on by an increasing number of people in less time. Also, the framework can change at short notice. Thus, a good start with all involved is a decisive success factor.

Agency and Client: From Person to Person

In (virtual) collaboration between agency and client teams, personal relationships play an important role. To achieve great things together, it is not enough for everybody to “just do their job”. In addition to professionalism, empathy and mutual appreciation are key. This is especially true in times like these, where agencies and clients are in a permanent state of crisis and must nonetheless deliver high performance. It is a proven fact: humans are not made for non-stop stress. Our mental wellbeing suffers. Especially in the health industry, all players have a high responsibility for health issues. Not only towards doctors and patients, but towards employees, whether on the agency or client side.

The skill and willingness to understand people makes human contact more personal. Being able to empathize with others makes collaboration a lot easier.  This is true for both sides: whether it be a client taking care of a sick child while attending a strategy call, or an agency employee striving to draw a healthy line between work & life - instead of 24/7-availability.

Respectful and Efficient Time Management

The dynamic changes increase demands on agile work and more efficient, smarter handling of time. It used to be not uncommon for an agency creative team to withdraw for three weeks after a client briefing -  and then present 5 brilliant ideas on-site to the client. Nowadays, strategy development usually takes up at least an equivalent amount of space and time. It can be of great value in this early phase to integrate client teams via well-prepared (virtual) preview sessions. As soon as the strategic core idea for a communication program or campaign is developed, it is shared with the entire client team. Feedback is obtained, the idea modified and honed.

This not only ensures that everyone involved is always on the same knowledge level. The approach also integrates valuable experience from a variety of individuals and different experts early on into the project. Thus, precious time is saved because it is not the final outcome that is assessed, risking having to start the process all over. Keeping an eye on time throughout the process is not only mandatory in the face of ambitious objectives regarding KPIs, measurability, budget, and resources. It is also the vital for respectful interaction with each other.

Agency Teams 2.0: Interdisciplinary, Agile,

and Open to New Ideas

How do these changes affect agency teams? Overall, they certainly create a new sense of self-identity. Past are the days of thinking in disconnected “silos” and separated categories like „creative, marketing, medical, or PR agency“. Past also are the days of creative gurus and lone account people consulting clients and steering projects as a one-man-show. Because pharma companies today are looking for holistic communication solutions, good agency tams are increasingly set up as interdisciplinary teams. This means people with very different backgrounds work together. This again requires an agile and open mindset from all those involved.

An example: Creatives coming from other sectors like FMCG or automotive collaborate with medical colleagues to develop a creative idea for an Rx launch. The agency management’s task is to meet the various needs of team members, while creating a framework for team objectives that inspires and motivates all. This is hardly attainable without an investment in further training or coachings – which are vital in enabling pro-active, speedy and constant set-up adjustments to meet new challenges

and requirements.


The New Way of Working opens new perspectives for agencies and pharma clients to set out on new paths together in collaborating to create communication. An environment in which teams work together with an attitude of mutual appreciation and at eye level is the best precondition for creative and productive collaboration. Empathy and respectful, efficient time management help agency and client successfully meet even ambitious goals together – as „One Team“. This requires strong commitment on both sides – but success is inspiring.

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