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The Pandemic and Its Impact on Healthcare PR


By Emily Brice, Account Executive

COVID-19 has dominated the headlines for more than a year, impacting every area of healthcare communications and media relations. From oncology and mental wellness to telemedicine and preventive care, everything has taken a backseat to the pandemic.

In the world of healthcare PR, especially related to clinical research and pharmaceutical trials, communication teams always need to have clear, accurate and concise information tailored to their audiences. For medical professionals, the explanations should be in-depth and specific; for the public and patient populations, information needs to be topline – focusing on results and access. 

With the intense focus on COVID-19, public interest in the specific science behind healthcare news has increased significantly. The demand for information about clinical research and public health has been growing for years as the internet democratized access to content. The pandemic created an even greater demand, increasing the pressure for accurate and timely information. To break through with unrelated news, PR pros in pharma and biotech need to provide greater detail about clinical trials, including the technology’s scientific mechanism of action, as well as project status, timing and funding resources. 

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One of the best ways to differentiate your client’s news is to have the right messenger. Having a media-ready personality who can clearly explain technical or abstract ideas can be a winning strategy; and an engaging and charismatic spokesperson is a highly effective tactic. This may require media training to strike the right balance between scientific credibility and likeability, but it can mean the difference between landing or losing a story.

Another major shift in medical and pharma communications has been the impact on live, in-person events. Traditionally, medical meetings and congresses like American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), American Academy of Neurology (AAN) and American College of Cardiology (ACC), were annual, universal touchpoints where key information was shared. However, during the pandemic, presentations announcing pivotal data or first-in-class medications have transitioned from convention centers to video webinars. On-site interviews with clinical trial investigators changed to email Q&As. Biopharma companies are using exclusive media interviews, data released in peer-reviewed medical journals and digital content like videos and microsites to reach physicians, media, patients, companies and stakeholders. If done strategically, these tactics can help announcements break through the COVID-19 info-demic” in the absence of live, in-person events.

Also keep in mind that the pandemic has caused a high rate of reporter burnout and turnover. In March 2020, traditional and non-traditional healthcare reporters were assigned to only cover COVID-related news. As we approach the anniversary of the first surge and quarantine, more reporters are stepping down from their jobs for a mental health break. This is something of which PR professionals across all industries need to be cognizant. Our job is to be a resource, not a burden.

News related to COVID testing, rates of infection, vaccines, variants and treatments will continue to dominate the media landscape for the foreseeable future. Even as COVID subsides, experts predict cancer diagnoses and other chronic illness rates will rise as people return to doctor’s offices. To compete in the marketplace of information, healthcare PR professionals need to lead with relevant scientific data, utilize digitial content platforms efficiently and creatively, and work with credible, engaging spokespeople. By strengthening relationships with reporters and producers, we can deliver the best possible outcomes for our clients.

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