Leaving nothing to chance
Although creativity is a huge part of pharma comms, it is meaningless if it does not lead to a demonstrable impact for clients and, ultimately, patients. Aurora’s digital insights lead, Chris Bath, says he has noted a tendency in the industry to focus on creativity rather than measurement of outcomes, especially among industry award bodies.
“Sometimes communications can feel quite intangible,” he explains. “But actually, success in pharma comms can be measured and it can be proven.”
This is the line of thinking that has led Aurora to take a more data-driven approach to their comms strategies, using insights to measure the success of their programmes then adjust them to optimise impact.
Bath, who led the implementation of Aurora’s insights framework, highlights the importance of knowing that communications are actually “making a difference”. He says that this can be achieved by both designing an insightful strategy based on data and then measuring its impact.
An ‘insightful strategy’, he says, is about ensuring you’re working with facts not assumptions.
“We don’t develop programmes based solely on gut feeling. We want to be confident our strategy is reflective of what people want and need. We want to know we’ve done the due diligence by speaking to patients and healthcare professionals, and that we’ve drawn out the insights that are most important.
In order to gather such insights and get accurate measurement of success, Aurora developed a dedicated framework, Acumen, and applied it across the entire agency.
Acumen is based on existing tools – such as the AMEC Integrated Evaluation Framework, which was developed to introduce standards for evaluation and measurement across the communications industry – but tailored to be bespoke to healthcare. It follows five stages:
- Input – strategic insights developed from data
- Action – the strategy based on these insights
- Reaction – the immediate reception, perception and reaction for the programme
- Result – longer-term strategic aims including changes in behaviour and attitude
- Impact – the quantifiable impact on businesses, patients or customers.
The main sources used for these metrics are HCPs, social media, search, and patient intelligence panels through the agency’s partnership with PIP Health. “These panels help ensure that our programmes are truly patient intelligent,” explains Bath.
“Meanwhile, we can use social media to analyse what people are talking about and who’s talking about it. We’ll also analyse search engine data, which is important because there’s always a disparity between what people are talking about publicly on social media and what people are searching in private.
Gathering meaningful data from social media might sound difficult, but Bath says that following certain principles can help.
“You always have to create and test a hypothesis; if you have a particular question you can go on to social media to prove or disprove that. You look at conversation topics and volumes, as well as where people have those conversations – is it Twitter, is it blogs, is it more visual conversation using Instagram? You can then analyse those conversations.
“Not every conversation is analysed, but ultimately you get to a point where you’ve got lots of rich data that can prove or disprove your hypothesis and lead you to uncovering that insight that is special to your campaign.”
“These channels allow us to benchmark what people want. We’ll go back to retest them all later to prove that our programmes have made a difference.”
Implementing a new measurement framework like this in an established agency is no small task, and Sian Hurst says it required a lot of research and testing.
“To make that possible we created a dedicated team, which Chris heads up, who became experts along the way and could then train the rest of our team, and in turn our clients as well.”
She says that it took longer to embed across the company than they had anticipated.
“This is because it required a behaviour change across the agency at every level – from myself down to graduate account coordinators.
Making an impact inside and out
Hurst says that taking this approach has forced Aurora to think more critically about what they are doing and why they are doing it.
“That might sound obvious, but comms can be so fast-paced that it’s actually a good way to consciously pause, reflect and help us think.
“If you’re going to do this right with clients, you’ve got to have face time with them, so you can thrash out the details of what you’re trying to measure. Then you’ve got to sit down with them and assess and reassess the direction of the programme as new data comes in and you learn more and more. It makes us think more critically as teams with our clients. I think that’s a brilliant thing.”
Many might have assumed the opposite – that increasing digitisation would mean less face time with clients, and Hurst says there is still a risk of that.
“You could just look at the surface level of the data, and tell the client what you’re going to do without discussion. That’s not where we want to go. We want to use the framework as a starting point to look at why we are taking the approach we’re taking and then seeing how it evolves. It’s a constant negotiation.”
Negotiation is key as the insights gathered during the creation of a programme can have some surprising results. Bath points to one campaign where market research showed that digital would not actually be helpful at all for the patient population in question.
“It was for families living with an ultra rare condition where, prior to treatment being available, patients only lived for two or three years. The advent of treatment meant that children could go to school for the first time, but the unmet need was that schools weren’t equipped with the right information or resources and families weren’t equipped with the right knowledge to apply for grants.
“After speaking to families and nurses at Great Ormond Street Hospital, we designed a resource pack that helps families learn what they need to talk to the school about and helps equip schools with the right documents to apply for grants from the government and local authorities.”
Families did not need to download the pack off the internet. Instead, the programme was paper-based and led by the nurses.
“You might assume that in 2019 you need to do something digitally,” Bath says. “But we didn’t need to do that. It wouldn’t have worked for these patients because it’s focused on a very specific population and was co-created with them.
“In terms of success there is something to celebrate here. All the families who received the pack secured a meaningful and worthwhile education – something that hadn’t been seen before.
“That’s still measurement and data-driven, of course. When you say data, people think zero and ones, numbers and charts, but actually you can still get the richest data from having a conversation with families that have a child with a condition, instead of trying to find some form of insight using social media.
“If you lose the voice of the customer, you lose the data at the end to prove you’ve made a difference.”
Eye to the future
Bath notes that it can take extra time to nurture insights like these to work out what’s important to brands or campaigns. This, he says, points towards a changing skillset in communications teams.
“Big networks often have insight teams which healthcare practices can access. We see it differently. Integrating the skills amongst the team is really important so we can all deliver the work that can successfully make a difference.”
Bath says that agencies like Aurora will also need to make sure they keep pace with new roles that appear with emerging channels. To do this, he says that it’s important to keep speaking to patients and healthcare professionals to ask them where they find their information and where they go to talk about it.
If you want to find out more about how we can make a difference for you, get in touch with our Digital Insights lead Chris Bath.
This interview was first featured in PharmaPhorum’s Deep Dive “sales and marketing innovation” which you can read in full here.