The challenges of creating healthcare PR campaigns in Europe

Bell Pottinger Health works with pharmaceutical and life sciences clients to help them to create campaigns that will not only help their businesses, but could ultimately improve healthcare provision. Now a director at Bell Pottinger Health, Tanya von Ahlefeldt spent the first 16 years of her working life within the retail industry, and was delighted to have the opportunity to work and live in many far-flung places such as Hong Kong and South Africa. The 80s were a fun time to be young, free and single, she says. After marriage and the birth of her first daughter, globe trotting lost its appeal and she longed for an environment that she could still thrive in, but was able to embrace motherhood as well.

During this transitional phase, von Ahlefeldt made a radical career change. She was fortunate enough to find a job locally to her Hertfordshire home where she was able to utilise all the knowledge she had gained within the retail industry and apply it to healthcare. She explains: “UKPractice was the first UK online medical education portal aimed at GPs that provided accredited education through interactive, modular courses. The portal grew into an enormous beast with a wealth of peer-reviewed material. The revenue model was through pharma industry sponsorship. This was early days in interactive online usage and was successful through close collaboration with the RCGP and ability to enrol its members as users.”

From there onwards healthcare, became her raison d’être, von Ahlefeldt thrived on the vastness of the regulatory minefield one has to work within. For every project undertaken this involved helping to differentiate clients from their competitors by creating thoughtful and relevant creative platforms. Results were measured by robust evaluation methods, ensuring that all stakeholders were communicated with effectively – and all this within strict local and EU guidelines for the promotion of ethical drugs.

She says: “The biggest challenge in healthcare in the EU is that it is a very different arena to how it is delivered elsewhere in the world. As the debate rages on about the NHS and the inadequacies of the current system in the US and the inevitable reassessment that is needed on both sides of the Atlantic, the biggest divide lies in our lack of ability to communicate sound, peer reviewed information about prescription medicine to consumers.

“Consumers are turning to the internet more and more now for information about disease and treatments. By not making this information available through trusted sources, consumers are at the mercy of unscrupulous online hawkers or worse, US specific material that may include drugs that aren’t even available in the EU or have different names and indications. Misinformation can be a dangerous thing and the regulations that are in place for us in the EU dictate how, what, when and where we talk about medicines.” von Ahlefeldt’s biggest wish is that in her career the lid is lifted on the secrecy surrounding consumer communications and that the industry is able to speak to all stakeholders about the benefits, safety and efficacy of their drugs.

Last year, during an interview, a journalist asked von Ahlefeldt how agencies “get around” the regulatory guidelines…. She said: “Clearly there is no getting around them. Agencies talents lie in being able to provide the best creative and most effective strategic counsel to ensure measurable results for the clients within the guidelines.”

If von Ahlefeldt had to give up PR tomorrow she would dearly love to work full time in the not-for-profit sector. The plight of victims of serious crime has been something she has been involved with and lobbied for, for a number of years, from the government's ‘Victims Advisory Board’ to being a board director of Victim Support.

Career history

2008-present: Bell Pottinger Health – director

2007-08: Porter Novelli – director of healthcare

2005 -07: Ruder Finn UK – client services director (2006-07), associate director (2005-06)

2003-04:Manning Selvage & Lee – London, associate director (freelance)

2002-03: Compass Communications Healthcare – client services director (freelance)

2001-02: Hutchison3G UK – content manager – healthcare

1999-2001: UKpractice.net – head of communications (1999-2001), sales & marketing manager (1998-99)

1981-97: spent in the retail industry and included buying and marketing communications