PR LEAGUE TABLES: Healthcare shows reassuring signs - While healthcare PR hasn't set the world ablaze, it is in an ideal position to ride out a slowdown

For years, IT and healthcare have been seen as the two fastest

growing segments of the PR industry. Last year the glory went to the

techies, helped by the dotcom phenomenon. However, given the recent

downturn in the US economy and its impact on the IT sector, the medics

may yet have the last laugh.



The fact that for once no out-and-out healthcare specialists have made

this year's tables of fastest-growing agencies (see page 37) does not

mean the sector had a bad year. The multi-discipline networks with

healthcare practices, such as Hill & Knowlton, GCI/APCO and BSMG,

continue to expand aggressively. While a couple of the specialists,

Medical Action Communications and Lowe Fusion Healthcare, stood still,

others report-ed growth, ranging from 16% at Mun-ro & Forster to HCC De

Facto's 50%.



Healthcare is a remarkably buzzing sector, with distinct

characteristics. For a start, it's wide-ranging.



At one end, with over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, it is close to a lot

of other consumer PR, though with its own strict regulations about what

can be fairly claimed. A fair example would be a recent media campaign

marshalled by Munro & Forster, drawing attention to the high levels of

fatigue in modern society. This was for Boehringer's Pharmaton capsules

- ginseng with vitamins and minerals.



It also stretches right back to initial research. For instance, HCC De

Facto occupies a specialist niche working for biotechnology and life

science companies at the start of the pharmaceutical development chain.

Much of it is a corporate task, promoting a credible image for young

start-ups.



Because it's so specialised, managing director Richard Cripps says most

of his competition comes from a handful of similar specialists in the

US, whose reach extends to Europe. In turn, he gets 30% to 40% of his

income from continental clients because, he says, there are no

equivalents in Germany or France.



The huge investments involved in developing modern drugs means

multinational corporations dominate the sector. There are fewer and

fewer of these because of mergers - SmithKline Beecham, for instance,

got together with Glaxo Wellcome to form GlaxoSmithkline.



Many PR agencies work for the same handful of clients. In this sector,

it is not that if you work for company A, you can't work for company

B.



It is much more product-specific: if you're working on a heart drug for

one corporation, you're unlikely to be allow-ed to take on a competing

product.



PR is important for several reasons. Not least, it can set the scene

before the official launch of a new product. It can push the boundaries

of what's allowed more easily than advertising and it tends to be

international work.



Some aspects of the PR brief, such as recruiting doctors and patients

for clinical trials, may surprise outsiders. Although other PR agencies

claim to have been offering this for some time, it's a new addition to

GCI's services.



'I would never have guessed there was a PR role in this, but there is,'

says GCI/APCO chairman Adrian Wheeler. 'Often it needs to be a worldwide

trial. There are so many going on these days that it is a challenge to

find hospitals and research departments willing to participate, and then

attract the patient numbers.



Patient participation



'Obviously, this has to be done on a purely information basis - you

can't 'sell' a drug to a patient - but fortunately you don't have to. If

people are suffering from difficult conditions, they are often keen to

participate.'



Cohn & Wolfe, whose income from healthcare rose by almost one-third last

year, has added a policy unit to its practice. The idea is to provide

expert help to clients to understand the changes happening in the

National Health Service, and ensure that corporate and product

information reaches the right people.



Given the constant state of flux in the NHS, this might appear to be no

more than common sense. Shire Hall also has a dedicated unit, and UK

managing director Sarah Matthew says she cannot understand why most of

her competitors don't.



'There is an opportunity here to help clients understand the nature of

the changes, and to identify new customers and stakeholders resulting

from the introduction of primary care organisations and so on,' she

adds.



'When change is introduced, there's a tendency to get in a flat spin,

but in reality it's a question of understanding the agenda and the

processes.'



Patient empowerment is one of the key trends in the sector, leading to a

relentless growth in demand for information. Alison Miles, formerly with

Grayling, and now managing director at Ruder Finn, says the distinction

between 'ethical' and 'consumer' healthcare continues to blur.



'You have a bunch of aware and confident consumers out there who are

educated about their health,' she adds. 'The chances of them going into

a surgery or pharmacy and questioning what is going on is much greater

than before.'



Hill & Knowlton has merged its separate teams because of the blurring of

boundaries, the movement of products from prescription-only to pharmacy

recommended or OTC, and the demand for consumer education. 'You need to

combine your skills,' says chairman David McLaren. 'It has worked well

for us.Our medical knowledge group is doing well and if you have the

right offer in all these markets there is lots of opportunity.'



The appetite for information is closely tied to the expansion of the

web. Julie Flexen, managing director of consumer business at Munro &

Forster, says that it is playing a huge role. Now that the panic to get

online is over, however, she finds that client emphasis is switching to

developing the right links with appropriate web sites, including, for

instance, trade-only purchasing channels.



Working for pharmaceutical companies frequently involves public affairs

assignments - lobbying, in plain terms. This explains why Westminster

specialist PPS' presence in the table. It is a requirement that also

suits BSMG Worldwide, which last year absorbed the leading public

affairs independent, BJW.



'Healthcare is our smallest practice, but also the fastest growing,'

says BSMG chief executive David Brain. 'The sector is not

recession-proof, but it is less affected than others.'



GCI/APCO, another group with a strong public affairs offering, has

strengthened its healthcare side through the acquisition of Maureen

Cropper PR, an agency with an income of pounds 500,000 specialising in

OTC products.



Manning Selvage & Lee has beefed up on this discipline too. A decision

to pull all of the PR together under the MS&L brand follows the

formation of Bcom3 from the merger between ad agency groups Leo Burnett

and DMB&B.



The rejig includes the transfer of healthcare specialist Interscience,

albeit with the loss of a few senior people who saw this as an

opportunity to move on to other things.



TOP 25 HEALTHCARE PR AGENCIES

Rank Agency Income 2000 Healthcare

(pounds) (pounds)

1 Medical Action Communications 10,200,000 10,200,000

2 The Shire Hall Group 7,019,000 7,019,000

3 Hill & Knowlton UK 28,934,000 4,080,000

4 GCI/APCO 16,282,000 2,931,000

5 BSMG Worldwide 17,919,000 2,867,000

6 Ketchum 10,570,000 2,643,000

7 Cohn & Wolfe 8,409,000 2,607,000

8 Fleishman-Hillard UK 6,426,000 2,570,000

9 Grayling 9,291,000 2,035,000

10 HCC De Facto Group 1,956,000 1,956,000

11 Edelman PR Worldwide 10,458,000 1,882,000

12 Munro & Forster Communications 2,678,000 1,875,000

13 Countrywide Porter Novelli 20,906,000 1,610,000

14 Ruder Finn UK 2,410,000 1,446,000

15 Lowe Fusion Healthcare 1,328,000 1,328,000

16 Sante Communications 1,039,000 1,039,000

17 Weber Shandwick Worldwide 31,929,000 958,000

18 Biss Lancaster 11,282,000 790,000

19 Myriad Public Relations 1,123,000 674,000

20 Manning Selvage & Lee 4,872,000 633,000

21 The EuroPR Group 1,664,000 499,000

22 Nexus Choat 4,256,000 426,000

23 PPS Group 3,088,000 401,000

24 The Red Consultancy 5,678,000 341,000

25 BMA Communications 1,908,000 267,000



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