Moving to Remote Engagement with HCPs and Patients

FleishmanHillard Ireland works with a wide variety of companies in the healthcare sector across Ireland, EMEA and globally, including pharmaceutical, devices and diagnostics, advocacy and consumer health.

Working with our clients, we devise communications strategies that cover reputation management, product launch and life cycle management, public affairs and policy, and digital and social outreach.

Traditionally an industry that is  cautious when it comes to embracing online activity, pharma companies have been  reviewing how they engage with health care practitioners and patients in the wake of COVID-19. Now that many face-to-face opportunities like congress events and in-person briefings have been postponed or cancelled, how can companies operating in this highly regulated space optimise their online communications and find ways to stand out from the crowd?


Embrace the opportunity

Moving to online engagement should not be viewed as a plan B or backup, something to plug the gap where you’re missing your usual activations. Instead, embrace this period as an opportunity to get to know your stakeholders better and tailor solutions to their needs. Remember also that virtualising an event has many benefits: you can still communicate what you planned to communicate at an offline event, you can own the moment without having to compete with other brands and activations, you can execute the event whenever and for however long you want and you can extend the audience beyond in-person attendees.

First things first

Pharma communications aren’t typically reactive. Instead, the likelihood is that content and event planning happens months in advance and has gone through a complex system of approvals from medical and legal teams. As such, the first step in changing course is reviewing what’s already been done.

  • Understand the situation – How much has been done? What is fixed and what can be changed?
  • Assess the specific objectives – What’s essential? What can you live without?
  • Review alternative approaches – What solution best meets the cost and time restrictions?
  • Propose solutions – Every solution needs to consider processes and approvals
  • Costs and timelines – Do the costs and timelines need to change to meet the needs?

Choose your toolkit

While many companies will have a preferred product for facilitating online events (everything from one on one video calls to large-scale online launch or congress-style activity), that tool may not be the best one to meet your needs. There are myriad a software of options available but asking some key questions can help point you in the direction of the right option for you.

  • Does the software have a hard cap for participants or attendees and or contributors?
  • Do you need the platform to allow capability for surveys, live questions, live chat?
  • Does the platform have recording functionality, if you need to record the session?
  • What kind of content do attendees need to see and/or interact with?
  • Where do you hope for attendees to connect post-stream?
  • Will you disseminate follow-up assets via mail or through a portal?
  • Do you need a secondary break away channel way from the main channel for media to interact with stakeholders?

Event starters for ten

A successful digital event won’t happen by placing your contributors in front of a web cam and doing everything in the same way as you would have offline. People participating are in a very different environment, allow and account for this in how you execute the content.

  • Keep your agenda short and allow for comfort breaks
  • Encourage webcams where appropriate to keep people engaged
  • Virtual meetings need strong moderation – have someone strong on time-keeping and audience engagement lead this
  • Utilise a mix of interactivity: polls, online workshop tools, collaborative working tools
  • Try to prompt follow up before the event ends – supply a download link, encourage email sign-ups etc.
  • Consider the audience locations –will time zones work for live broadcast? Would on-demand or delayed broadcast make more sense?

Owned social

Many companies across all sectors are rushing to increase social media activity in the absence of IRL events due to COVID19. But more isn’t always the answer. If you haven’t been active on a particular channel to date, ask yourself why before rushing to jump onboard.

Social for pharma is not a one-size fits all. Content should be tailored to each channel and use of channels should be evaluated based on their ability to get you in front of the right people.  LinkedIn is perhaps the most appropriate channel to target HCPs specifically as users identify by job title. Do you really need a Facebook page or Tik Tok too? Does Twitter serve a different purpose for you, perhaps allowing you to monitor and react to news and trends?

Consider also what your team’s capabilities are to ‘socialise’ existing content? For example, turning a paper into an infographic can dramatically impact your engagement levels on social. Are your team equipped to do this? If not, should you perhaps look at partnering with a team or agency who can?

Ask yourself if you would stop to look. On social we refer to ‘thumb-stopping’ moments. You may not have the most exciting message in the world, but relevant to your audience expectations, is it something that can reasonably be expected to stand out from the crowd? If not, maybe it’s time to try a different approach or engage with a team who can help you get there.


BY: Michelle McMahon,

Social & Innovation Lead

[email protected]