Communication is key – and can earn a premium in the health market

Those in marketing communications (marcoms), understand the value in delivering a clear message to the right audience, in the right way, and at the right time. The developments seen in the health and life sciences sector in recent years have created significant demand for marcoms services. Expertise range from the design of patient portals for health care providers, to effective and compliant strategies for pharmaceuticals and data-informed messaging for self-managed care devices.

Marcoms agencies that have adapted well against this transformative backdrop have seen high demand for their services and, in some cases, their entire business.

Here we look at the current challenges marketing and communication firms are tackling for clients in the health sector, as well as the opportunities for specialist agencies looking for acquirers or Private Equity investment.

The challenges marketers are taking on

The transformation in the health and life sciences sector is increasing demand for marketing and communications services.

We see six key challenges marketers are addressing.

Time poor. People are generally busier and harder to reach. This is true for doctors and patients as well. Marketing agencies have found ways to use physician and patient time effectively and digital agencies have taken the lead here, offering solutions such as user-friendly patient portals where medical records can be accessed, test results can be viewed and appointments can be booked online.

Targeting. A highly valued skill for any marketer, is strategically creating and delivering a message. The process is more complex when reaching health professionals and consumers. Marketers are being asked to create marketing programs that use new digital channels and provide the data and data analytics needed for micro-targeted campaigns.

Technology. As Artificial Intelligence (AI) is playing an increasing and real role in engaging consumers, marcoms firms are needed to help design and write content. For example, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) utilises AI as a patient’s first point of contact for symptom checking, as well as repeat prescriptions services for those with chronic illnesses. The challenge for marcoms agencies is to find the right balance of human and digital interaction in terms of communication clarity, comprehension and style.

(Lack of) Transparency. In the US, the continued absence of a clear healthcare policy is creating great demand for health public affairs and government affairs services. This opaque and shifting landscape, with piecemeal plans coming out of Washington, requires deep industry knowledge and monitoring and analysis of such plans to then communicate to the public.

Takeovers (or mergers). Large mergers across sectors, as we saw with UnitedHealth buying DaVita Medical Group, and tie ups within single sectors are placing a premium on top marketing communications strategists. Strategic messaging internally and to the wider public are needed to explain how jobs or local access to care might change as a result of a merger.

Trimming costs. Efforts to hold down costs of new medicines are forcing the pharma sector to more effectively communicate the value of their treatments and technologies to patients and payers. Marcoms specialists are being brought in at the early stages, to describe how a clinical trial was designed and staying involved right through to the creation of the treatment dossier that goes to regulators and the payer.

In the case of medical devices, payers will want to understand not only the devise itself (e.g. how it works, how effective it is) but also how it integrates with data analytics. This requires expertise beyond what a generalist marketing agency can provide.

Array of acquirers

Strategic and private equity acquirers are looking for firms that are meeting these challenges of the new health landscape. While approaches from companies within your peer group are worth exploring, it’s important to know they are not the full story.

The networked agencies such as Omnicom and Publicis are often front of mind when considering likely buyers of health marcoms agencies. The generalist giants recognize the value that specialist agencies can add to a broad offering, particularly in highly regulated areas like healthcare and pharmaceuticals.

Buyer interest extends well beyond this group, with consulting firms Deloitte and Accenture entering the fray, along with private equity. For example the Colorado-based firm Mountain Gate, through the W2O acquisition and subsequent bolt-on acquisitions, is building one of the world’s largest health communications firm.

Sellers of marcoms firms operating in the health market can be positioned to take advantage of strong buyer demand at the moment. These sellers can often expect a broad-range of firms from different industries showing interest leading to a more competitive sales process and increased exit choices.

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