I've been in the healthcare communications industry for 16 years and this summer I celebrated my five-year Edelman anniversary. This milestone prompted some reflection and what struck me most was how much our industry has evolved in recent years and how much the type of work we do has changed. 

Back in 2005 when I was starting out, healthcare communications was still mostly focused on 'traditional' PR - press releases, media coverage and press briefings. In the following years, social media started to bloom and we began to see more integration of digital into our clients' plans even if that were just a few tweets. Health communications has since developed into a much broader and more nuanced specialism that requires the full integration of the communications and marketing mix to meet our clients' business challenges. Just as the kind of work we do has advanced, so has the belief in healthcare communications as a discipline. Our clients expect more from us and as digital communications solutions continue to evolve at pace, our counsel is sought now more than ever.

The best campaigns today tell a really compelling story using visual and digital elements rooted in a clear strategic direction with a measurable call to action. We must show how we've changed the way a particular audience thinks about a given health issue, how they feel about that issue, and ultimately what they do differently as a result of engaging with our campaign.

This has long been Edelman's approach and the root of our success. Take for example the AstraZeneca Break Over-Reliance campaign which was a finalist at this year's Communiqué awards. The goal of this global campaign was to prevent asthma attacks by informing, educating and encouraging action among patients, healthcare professionals and policymakers to question deeply rooted behaviours, perceptions, and even policies, related to asthma treatment and in particular, the risks of Short-Acting-Beta-2 agonist (SABA) over-reliance. We partnered with our planning team from the very beginning so that our recommendations were rooted in sound strategic insights. A carefully planned digital strategy was at the heart of the campaign ensuring all activations laddered-up to one very clear call to action: to encourage people with asthma to take an online test to measure their SABA over-reliance. 

We partnered with our creative team in Berlin to produce a campaign highlights video which was so moving the clients said it gave them goosebumps. Knowing that we've been part of a piece of work that contributes to making a meaningful difference to the millions of people living with asthma worldwide is a hugely satisfying feeling. 

Whilst we don't work frontline with patients, I think my biggest motivator has always been the fact that the work we do on behalf of our clients does shape people's daily lives and we can be really proud of that. A career-defining moment was having the privilege to support clients on a global COVID-19 communications campaign this year. Being part of a team responsible for delivering such critically important, agenda-shaping global health communications was hugely rewarding.

I’m lucky that I’ve had the chance to work with some fantastic clients and colleagues at Edelman. And one of the many reasons why I love working here is that I'm constantly inspired, challenged and always learning as Edelman remains at the epicentre of what's cutting edge in communications and on top of the socio-political agenda with IP such as The Trust Barometer. With the support of so many brilliant, caring, fun and smart brains within our business, I can be confident that our integrated teams are delivering the best thinking for clients.  

The pandemic has put the need for clear, trustworthy healthcare information into sharp focus and further crystallised my passion for working in the industry. With such amazing breakthrough science continuing to emerge across many therapy areas I am really looking forward to being part of what the future holds for healthcare communications. And as our approach to telling health stories to the world continues to evolve it's an exciting time for sure!

For anyone interested in learning the craft of healthcare communications here are my top five tips:  

  1. I strongly believe that listening is one of the most important communications skills not least because the landscape around us is changing all the time. Being constantly curious about the cultural, societal and political landscape we operate in helps us ensure we're delivering the best for our clients.

  2. Building strong relationships with your colleagues, clients, and peers is essential. Your career is defined by those relationships and the trust you build over time.

  3. Remember that new business is everyone's business. Though it's important to have an efficient and streamlined approach for a pitch, everyone on the team has a role to play in the wider effort of being ahead of the curve with ideas generation, spotting new industry trends, or networking.

  4. Be bold and brave. My number one motto is to “feel the fear and do it anyway”.   

  5. Finally, work hard to deliver the best possible work for clients but have fun along the way as with this job I can guarantee you’ll work with some people that become friends for life.  

Emma Coughlan is Associate Director in the Health team.