UK agency Aurora promotes Chris Bath to managing director

Independent UK comms agency Aurora has promoted Chris Bath to managing director.

In a statement the London-based agency said Bath joined in 2015 and achieved rapid promotion to the agency’s management team.

As well as providing senior counsel to clients and agency teams, he led the development of the agency’s digital insights capability and recently launched its measurement practice, Acumen, which helps clients prove the impact of their communications.

Aurora was founded in 2005 by Claire Eldridge and Neil Crump and has recently launched a sister consultancy, Atlas.

This supports clients to connect with patients and advance products and services through strategy, co-design and organisational change services.

Despite the pandemic, Aurora said it has been able to continue to hire and promote, to build its team of 28 communications experts.

Aurora is the sole UK agency and European hub for GLOBALHealthPR, the largest independent health and science communications agency partnership worldwide.

CEO Claire Eldridge said: “Chris is the ideal person to lead this charge, both from a cultural and capability perspective.

“He provides excellent counsel, champions evaluation, and lives our company values every day. In doing so, he enables our healthcare clients to communicate effectively and so achieve better patient outcomes – which is what Aurora is all about.”

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ARK promotes King to client services director, hires Rodriguez as art director

London-based comms agency ARK has promoted Nicky King to client services director, with Martina Germinario Rodriguez joining as art director from Langland.

King joined ARK, which describes itself as “the data-driven agency”, in 2018 as co-founder and account director and helped grow two of the biggest accounts in the group.

After working with a variety of healthcare clients she grew her team in 2020 with three new recruits and oversaw a global pharmaceutical brand launch.

Zsofia Kopetka, co-founder and managing director, described King as “one of the hardest workers and most positive people in the industry”.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez joins the creative team at ARK as art director and will be reporting to Dom Marchant, founder and chief creative officer. She joins from Langland and previously worked at Publicis LifeBrands.

Marchant said of the appointment: “We are delighted to welcome Martina into the ARK family as she has demonstrated great skills in various disciplines and across media in her work.”

“She has developed a great portfolio and considerable experience in a relatively short time. Having looked at many, many candidates for this role, we knew that we had struck gold after the first interview and we are excited to see Martina augment the agency’s creative output over the coming years.”

ARK’s pharma clients include AstraZeneca, Bayer and Kyowa Kirin.

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W20 acquires data technology firms Swoop and

W20 has begun 2021 by buying data technology firms Swoop and, adding to its rapidly growing list of acquisitions.

Representing the ninth acquisition for W2O in just over a year, the company said the acquisitions show its commitment to technology and the role it will play in the future of healthcare.

As part of the announcement, W20 has established a new health tech division that combines W2O’s data and analytics software with the Symplur, Swoop and tech and data assets.

W2O said it has evolved its business and made big bets on tech-enablement over the past few years adding that this is another milestone in its transformation to a healthcare innovation company.

In a statement, W20 said Swoop and are pioneers in using machine learning, artificial intelligence, and real-world data to solve big challenges in healthcare.

Swoop creates precise patient audiences, improving targeting of healthcare engagement and empowering patients to become active participants in their treatment journey. uncovers the ideal patient, enabling accelerated research, development, and marketing of life-saving therapies in under-defined patient populations.

W20 has been on the acquisition trail since it announced a partnership with New Mountain Capital in 2019.

The company achieved revenues of more than $350 million in 2020, an increase of 50% from the previous year.

W20 was founded in 2001 by Jim Weiss and now employs 1,500 people, using analytics and technology to build insights for clients in the life sciences industry.

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Health strategy consultancy makes two senior hires

Health strategy consultancy has made two senior appointments, with former government analyst Tom Bourne and former TV marketer Victoria Donougher getting on board.

Bourne has joined as associate director, analytics overseeing a team of 36 analysts, data scientists and language specialists at the company’s global offices.

His brief will be to lead the team providing strategic insight to clients.

Bourne has previously held analytical roles at both local and national government level. Most recently at Kent County Council as the public health intelligence manager, he oversaw a team of specialist public health analysts which supported local government’s tracking of the spread of COVID-19 cases.

Earlier in his career, Bourne spent five years working as senior analyst at the UK’s National Audit Office, where he strategically led and undertook various elements of health value-for-money audits of government spending on behalf of Parliament.

Donougher has joined as associate director of marketing and communications, where she will lead a team focused on sales and marketing.

Previously, Donougher ran her own marketing consultancy business specialising in strategic and digital marketing for SMEs and start-ups.

Prior to running her own business, Donougher held marketing roles at a number of television and publishing companies, including Disney and BBC. provides insights and consulting to inform health strategy, communications and policymaking among some of the world’s largest healthcare companies, government organisations and NGOs.



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Ex-Resolute co-founder Blackburn starts hybrid agency Certain Health

Former joint founder and owner of Resolute Communications and Real Science Paul Blackburn has launched a new hybrid agency, Certain Health.

Blackburn made the move after Resolute and Real Science were absorbed into Publicis Langland.

The company said its hybrid model has the benefits of both the traditional and virtual agency models, with expertise in health PR, medical education and the creative space.

Former joint founder and owner of Resolute Communications and Real Science Paul Blackburn has launched a new hybrid agency, Certain Health.

Paul Blackburn

Prior to founding Resolute and Real Science, Paul Blackburn was a former MD of Fleishman Hillard UK, founder and MD of Ketchum UK’s healthcare practice, head of healthcare at Edelman UK and a former pharmaceutical marketeer.

The company aims to serve companies from biotech, pharma, devices, consumer tech, health and nutrition sectors.

It launches with a small number of clients, which have not been disclosed, including in the UK and Europe.

Blackburn said: “I started reaching out to a handful of potential clients in the middle of the year to see what interest there would be in a new hybrid consultancy model working on projects and programmes, local and global, and have been very pleased by the feedback.

“For years I’ve felt that a more flexible and integrated structure could bring huge benefits for clients and colleagues – now starting with a small team I’m making that a reality.

“For clients, this hybrid structure optimises resources, enables creativity and even greater collaboration, but most importantly allows many of the outstanding people in our industry who could work with us, to improve their work-life balance and so continue to develop their careers in the optimal way.”

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Have you checked your brand’s temperature?

In today’s fast-paced world how do you make sure your brand messages resonate with your customers and, if they do, how can your brand become even more remarkable?

These questions have always been relevant for healthcare communications, but the new world in which we all find ourselves have made them particularly pertinent as our customers’ behaviour and needs changed.

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic ensures an ongoing state of evolution. Many of the big changes created by the global pandemic have yet to be fully assessed, or even settled into their final shape, and those may still not happen soon.

As communicators, many areas of our business need to be rethought – starting with conferences, education and promotional activities.

In fact, branding itself will need to be revitalised, with new processes and techniques put in place to reframe our conversations and ensure that the messages we create are relevant and useful to our customers.

How healthy is your brand?

It all starts with a check-up. Brands too can get sick and lose their vitality, but there are various diseases to watch out for, and here are two of the most prominent.

“The best treatment for brand diseases is ‘action copywriting’. It’s a validated neuromarketing approach that helps you choose the right words to activate the emotional engines of human behaviours”

The first is brand confusion, a typical disease whereby brands no longer have a remarkable image or are able to be distinguished from their competitors. This was seen during the first COVID-19 lockdowns: when people started talking about ‘social distancing’, too many brands responded by removing graphical elements of their logos to symbolise that distancing.

But look at the three logos below. Which one catches your eye the most? Which is more remarkable?

3 logos


None of them stand out, and what is true for logos is also true for claims.

During the first wave of COVID-19, many companies started exploiting the same hashtags and their communications seemed like a line-up of the most popular online keywords.

Brand confusion, whether related to the visuals or the copy used, always has the same result: a weakening of the specificity, recognisability and memorability of the brand.

A second disease to watch out for is logorrhoea, better known in English slang as ‘verbal diarrhoea’. As in the case of dysentery, brand logorrhoea causes dehydration, cramps and general weakening, with the brand ending up withered as it moves slowly and clumsily across the media landscape.

The prime symptom of brand logorrhoea is an inability to describe oneself in a sentence.

Try it: if you are unable to describe in one sentence what your brand wants to do both in the market and in the world, you may have contracted logorrhoea.

Nursing brands back to health

The best treatment for these, and other common brand diseases, is what we would term ‘action copywriting’. It’s a validated neuromarketing approach that helps you choose the right words to activate the emotional engines of human behaviours.

It starts with identifying the brand action that we want our audience to take. What do we want our audience to do with us? Neither giving their money nor giving their likes on Facebook are of any use, because those actions express a superficial usefulness and make no real difference, here and now, to the brand or its customers.

Let’s consider the example of the New York Public Library, whose director of digital media Richard Schnorr described in a single sentence his mission: to inspire people hooked on social media to read more.

In managing to describe his brand in a single sentence he avoided logorrhoea and laid the foundations for the InstaNovel, an innovative use of Instagram Stories of famous books. The action that the brand has extended to its public made a difference, here and now, for both the brand and its audience in a symmetrical way, expressing a profound usefulness that has activated an emotional and communicative pact between brands and people.

Confusion and logorrhoea are just two examples of brand sickness. There are many others and, like all pathologies, they are diagnosed and cured by starting with their symptoms.

This is how a brand’s health is maintained and enhanced and there are five fundamental reasons for taking its temperature:

  • To achieve the brand’s full emotional potential
  • To give value to the values ​​of the brand
  • To be noticed and remembered (like Seth Godin’s Purple Cow)
  • To attract those customers that are closest to you
  • So customers understand and appreciate your value – instead of being afraid of your price.

Having a healthy brand means all of this. So, have you taken your brand’s temperature recently? Why not schedule a brand check-up now.

About the authors

Elena Pirofalo is head of experience at Healthware International, curating the creation of transformational experiences for the healthcare industry. Since the beginning of her career in 2001, Elena has partnered with various stakeholders, such as patients, healthcare professionals and life-science companies, to create impact for modern marketing activities. She can be contacted via [email protected]

Paolo Guglielmoni

Paolo Guglielmoni is action copywriter and nerdist philosopher at RADS (Responsive Ads), a responsive network of talents that focuses on maximising brands’ creative and business performance. He also serves as contract professor of circular advertising at IULM in Milan and professor of fashion advertising at Milan’s Ferrari Fashion School. He can be contacted via [email protected]

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OVID Health appoints high-profile leaders as senior counsel

Independent communications agency OVID Health has appointed Niall Dickson, professor David Salisbury and Athena Lamnisos as senior counsel, providing strategic advice and thought leadership across several projects involving healthcare and pharma clients.

In addition to these appointments, Grace Holland has joined the team as account manager.

For more than thirty years Niall Dickson has been at the centre of health policy and regulation and most recently was CEO of the NHS Confederation, representing UK health service organisations.

He was formerly CEO and registrar of the General Medical Council and is a well-respected leader in health policy and communications. His previous roles include CEO of the King’s Fund, the BBC’s social affairs editor and health correspondent, as well as editor of Nursing Times. He was awarded a CBE for patient safety in 2017.

Prof Salisbury was director of immunisation at the Department of Health until the end of 2013. He was responsible for the national immunisation programme and led the introduction of many new vaccines.

He is the chair of the Global Certification Commission and Chatham House’s Global Health Programme Associate Fellow. He previously chaired the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization, the WHO committee that sets global immunisation policy. He was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath in 2001.

Athena Lamnisos is a senior third sector leader and is currently CEO of leading women’s cancer research charity, The Eve Appeal. Athena is experienced at forging partnerships between private, public and not for profit sectors. She has a track record of directing successful change programmes in the arena of public health and oncology and is passionate about making service user voices central to strategy.

Grace Holland joins OVID from specialist life science PR agency Zyme Communications, where she managed client accounts in the respiratory, oncology, digital, diagnostics and AI sectors, helping to build corporate value and generate interest with scientific and investor audiences. Grace’s academic background is in biology specialising in genetics.

OVID was founded in 2018 by ex-Lib Dem health adviser and agency leader Jenny Ousbey. In recent weeks the agency has won and been highly commended as New Agency of the Year (PR Moment and PR Week Awards 2020).

In the past year the agency has achieved six-figure growth and launched the Patient Partnership Index, an initiative that aims to help create better partnerships between the pharma industry and patient communities.


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Healthware Group buys Finnish digital agency Make Helsinki

Healthcare agency, consultancy and digital health group Healthware Group has acquired Finland-based digital service development and creative agency Make Helsinki.

The acquisition builds on prior collaborations between the two organisations, including in best-in-class full-service agency offerings, digital transformation, technology/enterprise solutions and corporate venturing.

The move will see Make Helsinki’s CEO and co-founder Petteri Kolehmainen assume the role of managing director Finland at Healthware Group.

He said: “We have been cooperating together for several years, and have found that we strongly share similar focuses, cultures and targets. As part of Healthware Group we can serve our existing and new customers better, faster and with wider expertise than ever before.”

Make Helsinki was founded in 2015 and offers services such as virtual reality (VR), customer experience, design, augmented reality (AR) and recruitment for virtual trials, as well as having strong knowledge of the Nordic market.

The deal will see Make Helsinki rebrand to Healthware and function as a regional hub for the group, continuing to offer its services in addition to the entire Healthware Group offering. Existing employees in the region will report into the new organisation.

Healthware CEO Roberto Ascione said the acquisition will allow the group to focus on the Nordics and Baltics region and become part of the burgeoning Finnish tech ecosystem.

Ascione said: “We are excited about this new acquisition, which extends our global footprint with a Nordics and Baltics presence and reinforces our expertise in key disciplines that are increasingly important to the future of health.”

Founded in 1997, Healthware has seen rapid growth in the past few years. It became privately-owned once again after spinning out of a healthcare communications conglomerate in 2015 and saw €10 million investment in early 2019 led by FITEC, one of the main European VC funds focusing on technology. This latest deal follows the group’s acquisition of pharmaphorum earlier this year.

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VMLY&R creates global healthcare agency for innovative pharma companies

Marketing agency VMLY&R has launched a new global healthcare agency, VMLY&Rx, to service specialty prescription pharmaceutical companies developing innovative breakthrough therapies.

The global VMLY&Rx offering has been created by aligning teams from within WPP Health Practice — including the specialist talent from Sudler in France, UK, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, China, and Japan — with VMLY&R, an agency with deep roots in creativity, technology, and customer experience.

This new agency will be led by Claire Gillis, international CEO of WPP Health Practice. VMLY&Rx will expand the healthcare offering of VMLY&R outside the US by providing global solutions with specialty prescription pharmaceutical expertise for client partners.

The new entity has been developed to service expansion within the prescription medicines market, the trend towards specialist and personalised therapies, and the surge in innovative health technologies.

The Sudler brand will be officially retired at an international level.

VMLY&Rx will also help its clients address the growing fragmentation in the management of disease, enabling connected support across a broad range of multidisciplinary stakeholders throughout the health ecosystem.

This followed an announcement in September where WPP Health Practice announced its partnership with The European Society for Person Centered Healthcare (ESPCH).

This is the first partnership between a healthcare communications company and an academic society dedicated to patient centricity.

Announced at a critical moment for patients, the partnership will bridge critical gaps in understanding and result in the development of a proprietary theoretical framework for analysing person-centred healthcare for agencies, health systems, health care providers, clients and societies.

On a day-to-day basis, it will enhance the development of patient-centric client services and creative communications through multi-stakeholder engagement such as development of frameworks around person centred healthcare for specific diseases.

Following the pandemic, the partnership will provide evidence-based learnings to further understand and highlight patients’ continued challenges and needs.


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Media means business

COVID-19 has left us more reliant on media than ever – both the pharma industry and society as a whole. Havas Lynx Group’s 2020 white paper provides a blueprint for pharma brands to inject meaning into their media.

“Meaningful media experiences are made by connecting with the right people, in the contexts they spend their time, with content that drives impact. If a campaign does this, it will position a brand as trusting, engaging and influential, and deliver measurable performance”

Like so many others, the job of the pharma sales rep has been dramatically affected by the outbreak of COVID-19. A role built on interpersonal relations had its foremost tool – face-to-face meetings – rendered impossible in an instant. Sales forces have been admirably quick to adapt, but the situation accentuates an issue that many in the industry will already be aware of. A sales force cannot do it all – a successful pharma brand needs a clear purpose, strategy, central creative idea, and an effective media plan. The latter is the subject of our 2020 white paper, Media Means Business.

What do we mean by ‘media’?

‘Media’ is a very broad term and is applied differently from industry to industry. For the pharmaceutical marketing industry, it is the management of every channel and opportunity with which we deliver our marketing. From telephone calls to tweets, real-time programmatic display advertising to the ever-important representative. Getting media to work for you means getting it all to work together.

And what does media mean to us?

Looking at the bigger, societal picture for a moment, media is woven into the very fabric of our daily lives, no more so than in these recent and unprecedented times. Whatever you do and wherever you are, we’ve come to rely on it. This is as true for healthcare professionals as anybody else. When a doctor is explaining a treatment programme with a patient, or video-conferencing their wider team to discuss new protocols, or even just catching up on the news whilst grabbing a coffee, they’re constantly in touch with a myriad of channels. This means that media offers a huge opportunity for pharma to connect with healthcare professionals (HCPs).

Preconceptions about the cost, effectiveness and safety of media investment have held back many in pharma from seriously exploring the potential of media. In this white paper, we will look to dispel these preconceptions and provide a roadmap to developing an effective media strategy that builds a meaningful connection with HCPs.

Mx = C x C x C = E diagram

Meaningful media experiences are made:

By connecting with the right people

This means establishing who your key targets are and really getting under the skin of the HCPs within this audience, white coats on, white coats off; from their motivations and pressures in their job, to whether they unwind by running marathons or marathoning Netflix series. Our digital lifestyles offer a bounty of insight into understanding who our audience are, how they spend their time, and what makes them tick.

In the contexts they spend their time

Pharma tends to lean on owned channels such as brand websites. However, by combining traditional staples with shared, earned, and paid media can reach audiences. From shaping the tone and timing of campaigns to reflect the national mood to placing patient information about overactive bladder on the back of public lavatory doors, where and when a campaign is seen has a huge influence on how and if it’s received.

With content that drives impact

We live in a world of content overload. The average person sees up to 3,000 advertising messages every day. So how do you stand out? In developing content, brands need to go beyond selling the product and explore how they can tangibly improve people’s lives, collectively and individually.

Giving you campaigns that deliver great effect

If a campaign does all of the above, it will position a brand as trusting, engaging and influential, and deliver measurable performance. And measurement is crucial. Outcomes from specific marketing strategies need to be assessed in order to join the dots between tactical performance and business performance.

Download the Media Means Business white paper today at

About the author

Sarah Price is the director of media and performance at Havas Lynx Group, heading up the company’s specialist media department, AMP.

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GCI London bolsters leadership with David Berkovitch hire

GCI Health’s London office has bolstered its senior leadership team with the hire of David Berkovitch, who joins after a four-year stint at 3 Monkeys Zeno and previous roles at Edelman and Fleishman Hillard Fishburn.

Kath Kerry, MD at GCI Health commented, “We are thrilled to have Dave join the GCI Health family. He and I worked together years ago, and I knew he would be a great hire for us.

“His skills and expertise coupled with his drive and passion, will further enhance what we can deliver for our clients. Dave also brings significant experience in leading a successful business, and we are looking forward to his contributions to realising our vision for GCI Health.”

David Berkovitch

David Berkovitch

In addition GCI Health has also appointed three new account directors to support the team: Kayleigh Moore, senior account director, previously at Syneos; Fenya Lazar, account director, previously at Syneos; and Harriet Mooney, account director, previously at Evoke KYNE.

The agency has also hired an additional five junior team members to support across various accounts.

GCI said its management team has put a lot of emphasis on and effort into making sure new starters can still benefit from its culture, despite the virtual working environment in place because of the pandemic.

Deputy managing director Kim Walker said: “We have stepped up to the challenge of ensuring we keep the whole team connected, motivated and most importantly, happy, while we work remotely.

“We are dedicated to looking after our GCI Health family and maintaining morale – from guest speakers, to plant growing challenges, to our first virtual GCI-festival – we’re thinking differently to keep our spirits high.”

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W2O acquires health policy consulting firm Discern Health

W2O has bought US health economics and outcomes research company Discern Health, marking its sixth acquisition in less than a year.

The move will give Discern Health access to healthcare communications agency W2O’s proprietary data models and tools, as well as its 1,400-person-strong multidisciplinary team – including data analysts, scientific strategists, branding experts, communications specialists and creatives.

Rita Glaze, practice leader of commercial strategy and market access at W2O, said: “Our clients need ongoing evidence-generation strategies that mirror the market dynamics they are facing, along with up-to-the-minute insights and counsel.

“With Discern Health as part of our organisation, we will continue to raise the quality and depth of our data and analytics offering, to ensure it stands up to the scrutiny of peer and government review. We will truly be #BetterTogether.”

Founded in 2004, Baltimore-headquartered Discern Health provides strategic direction and policy solutions to life sciences companies, government and non-profit agencies, and health insurers. The firm works with organisations to strengthen and quantify clinical and real-world evidence strategies that inform ongoing market access and commercialisation initiatives.

Discern Health’s founder Guy D’Andrea said: “Value-based care is a key driver of health system change. To be successful, health care companies need to integrate value-based strategy into each level of their organization and each stage of product development.”

Tom Valuck, partner at the firm, added: “We’ve been working with W2O over the past year and have gotten to know each other well.

“Being part of the W2O team means that we can supercharge our capabilities and incorporate world-class analytics and insights into our work, bringing even greater resources to our clients and, ultimately, improving patient outcomes.”

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Merck makes communications leadership change

German pharmaceutical company Merck has appointed Thomas Möller as its new head of group communications.

Most recently responsible for corporate communications, Möller has worked at Merck since 2017, when he joined as head of external communications.

Prior to that he served as head of media relations at BASF and held various corporate communications positions in Germany, the US and Switzerland.

In his new role Möller takes over from Constantin Birnstiel, who is leaving Merck, will like his predecessor Möller will report directly to chairman of the executive board and CEO Stefan Oschmann.

Oschmann said: “I cordially thank Constantin Birnstiel for his engagement and the results achieved in positioning Merck as a science and technology company, as well as in purposefully advancing our communications activities.

“Thomas Möller is an experienced communications professional with excellent knowledge of Merck. I am really looking forward to collaborating with him further.”

Merck Constantin BirnstielBirnstiel (pictured left) had headed Merck’s group communications since 2017 having joined the company after working for Siemens, Osram, E.ON and Uniper.

While with the pharmaceutical company he was responsible for building Merck’s brand identity in China and, together with Möller, established Merck’s global newsroom, which was launched in 2020.

The two also worked together to drive the digitalisation of group communications over the past several years.

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Creative agency woolley pau regains independence after buyout

Healthcare marketing agency woolley pau has gone back to its independent roots following a management buyout by three of its senior team.

Ed Shorthose, managing director, said the move “felt right on every level”.

Shorthose, Christian Dawson and Dean Woolley bought out the agency, which was had previously been acquired by healthcare communications company gyro in 2007 and then in 2016 by digital marketing company Dentsu Aegis Network.

Woolley, head of creative for woolley pau, said of its new leadership team: “We have different skills that dovetail perfectly to make us a formidable, problem-solving team for our clients.”

Dawson, head of strategy, added: “We’re gaining the benefits of independence, with all the buzz and energy of a start-up, while still being able to call on the resources of a global network of world-leading data and digital experts.”

The London-based agency was co-founded in 1993 by Woolley and Louisa Pau, who left in 2013, and works on pharmaceutical and medical device brands for pan-European and global clients.

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Cello Health acquired for £182m by private equity firm

Cello Health has been acquired by Arsenal Capital Partners, a private equity firm investing in healthcare and industrials companies.

Arsenal said the £181.8 million deal would give it the foundation for a new enterprise to enable its healthcare and biopharmaceutical clients to maximise the value of their products.

Jon Williams, CEO of Arsenal’s new planned enterprise, said: “We are creating an enterprise that supports better strategic decisions, generates robust data and evidence, undertakes advanced analytics to draw out critical insights, and supports communication with a range of critical stakeholders.

“We look forward to working with our new colleagues as we embark on the next important phase of our journey.”

UK-headquartered Cello Health currently works with 24 of the top 25 global pharmaceutical companies, as well as a wide range of biotech, diagnostics, devices firms and other key non-healthcare clients. The firm assists clients to commercialise, differentiate their assets, and drive brand success in global markets.

Mark Scott, CEO of Cello Health, said: “Today’s announcement marks an exciting moment for Cello Health. We have a shared belief with Arsenal that clients need a partner that combines industry expertise, commercial experience, scientific depth, and cutting-edge technology and data.

“We’re confident that we can accelerate growth by expanding support for our clients, investing in innovation, and continuing our ambition to become a world-class, truly global company.”

Arsenal’s deal with Cello Health follows its acquisition of Sheffield, UK-based health economic and outcomes research consultancy BresMed in February.

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Emotional empathy is driving brand equity

How the COVID-19 pandemic is forging pharmaceutical brands into better shape.

Day by day it becomes clearer that some brands are coming through the pandemic in better shape than ever.  These are the brands that have clearly demonstrated emotional intelligence, that have shown emotional empathy to their target audience. They understand the current, heightened emotional state of their customers and respond to it in ways that show they give a damn. Sometimes it is just about style and tone: like a mother’s soothing words to a crying child that create immediate comfort and calm. Sometimes they go further, and like that same mother applying a soothing balm to a grazed knee, show by their action that they care.

The emotional wave of the moment is all about reliability, the calm in the storm, the trusted friend. Think of the sourdough craze or the social media frenzy around banana bread: in these times of unprecedented uncertainty in relation to life’s fundamentals – health and livelihood – we are reaching out for the warmth of a well-worn comfort blanket.

Simple kindness is one such comfort blanket. Something we want to receive and something we want to give. Each of us is touched by the countless acts of community kindness being shown to the vulnerable. We see the dedication of healthcare workers – or of the shelf-filler in our local store – and we are moved to thank them and to make our own contribution.

Non-pharma brands leading by example

Something was broken before COVID-19 came along. The 2019 Edelman Global Trust Barometer showed levels of mistrust in business to be stratospheric, at their highest point ever. Government and the media didn’t fare any better. Of these three societal pillars, it is, perhaps surprisingly, business that has stepped up to the plate most assuredly in 2020 – led by some of the world’s strongest brands.

“Pfizer has shown remarkable emotional intelligence at a corporate brand level”

Brands are contributing in myriad different, relevant and engaging ways. T-Mobile went into partnership with Verizon, AT&T, and iHeartMedia to give 40,000 phone chargers to hospitals, putting frightened, isolated patients back in touch with loved ones. Verizon also donated $2.5 million to small businesses to support the Local Initiatives Support Corporation and has offered special prices for nurses and teachers. These are acts of kindness appropriate to both the brands and the situation.

Kindness starts with colleagues. Starbucks extended its mental health benefits for members of the team. In partnership with Lyra Health, Starbucks offer personalised, confidential mental health care, free in-person or video sessions, and access to a provider network of mental health therapists and coaches. Microsoft keeps on paying support staff who earn an hourly wage even when there’s nothing much for them to do.

The pandemic is global, so let’s take a quick peek at some beautiful examples from around the globe.

  • In the Philippines, Coca-Cola handed over its precious advertising spaceto support the COVID-19 relief and response efforts of local communities.
  • Bacardi switched production from its famous rum to ethanol so that hand sanitiser could be manufactured in bulk. Louis Vuitton did much the same thing in France.
  • PepsiCo and partners have provided one million meals a week to rural children in need across the US and Puerto Rico.
  • LinkedIn threw open many of its learning courses for free.
  • Nickelodeon launched a free site to keep kids out of their parents’ hair.
  • In Britain, the venerable BBC launched BBC Bitesize to help parents home-school children. They even launched virtual church services, presumably so those parents could pray for the schools to reopen!
  • New York Magazine, the New York Timesand The Economist amongst many other news organisations knocked down their paywalls for COVID-19-related coverage to keep readers informed in a rapidly changing and often confusing environment.
  • At Delta Airlines, the CEO ripped up his pay-check for the year to try and diminish layoffs.
  • Bank of America halted foreclosure sales, evictions and repossessions.
  • CVS facilitated COVID-19 testing in secure areas of parking lots at select stores. Individuals tested haven’t had to leave their car or step into the store.

Big pharma surprises itself

The pharmaceutical industry, often depicted as public enemy number one, has (with a gargantuan leap into the future), seemed to catch the public mood and respond appropriately. There is a scale difference in this transformation.

In 2017 Pfizer was one of the top ten US donors of charitable aid, to the tune of a staggering $210million (or 1.7% or profits) according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, yet still, the organisation doesn’t even appear on the 2019 Axios Harris poll of top 100 reputation ranking. In 2018 the research firm Reputation Institute ranked Pfizer’s reputation at rock bottom on a list of 22 pharma companies – and none of them ranked highly against other sectors!

The data isn’t public yet but today Pfizer holds its head up high and talks about reputation openly and assuredly: clearly confident that there has been a change and that there is more to come. How did that happen? Pfizer has shown remarkable emotional intelligence at a corporate brand level.

“For the moment, the successful brands are the ones that understand the universal emotional tide of the moment. In the future, these brands will need to strive for a differentiating emotional connection”

The change is local and global. To take one local example, in the UK Pfizer is working with the National Schools Partnership to make its Superbugs and Vaccines education program suitable for home learning. Over at corporate HQ, the ambition is as big as it gets, of the moon-shot order in fact, when it comes to defeating COVID-19. Pfizer has four different mRNA platform vaccines in play against one-another: a radical new approach for them. Their chief, Albert Bourla, quoted in Forbes magazine in May, made the new way of thinking and working crystal clear to his team:

“Think in different terms…Think you have an open cheque book…Think that we will do things in parallel, not sequential. Think you need to build manufacturing of a vaccine before you know what’s working. If it doesn’t, let me worry about it and we will write it off and throw it out.”

He was clearly impressed with the way his team responded to the challenge, saying:

“How fast we moved is not something you could expect from big, powerful pharma. This is speed that you would envy in an entrepreneurial founder-based biotech.”

Sharing is caring

From the beginning, Bourla openly authorised having discussions and sharing proprietary information with rival firms. A brave move in the often closeted, secretive world of big pharma. Bourla made Pfizer’s manufacturing capabilities available to small biotech concerns and is in talks to make large quantities of other companies’ COVID-19 drug candidates.

One Pfizer brand getting plenty of attention is Xeljanz, their blockbuster anti-JAK rheumatoid arthritis pill that could damp down the massive immune response that overwhelms some COVID-19 patients. Pfizer is supporting a Xeljanz trial in Italian COVID-19 patients, as well as a US trial that will test a different arthritis medicine, an experimental drug that targets the Irak-4 protein, against the virus.

It is not just Pfizer though: we’ve simply highlighted them because of the low levels of trust the wider community has had in their brand, and because they’re now a great example of what the industry is doing to rebuild brand trust. There are many other mega pharmaceutical companies in the kill-COVID game: Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi, AstraZeneca, GSK and Roche included.

Here’s a mini roundup:

  • Speed of development and partnership are characteristic of many players, ahead of the race is Moderna (working with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) with a trial under the aptly titled ‘Operation Warp Speed’ now in Phase 3.
  • AstraZeneca has joined forces with GSK and Sanofi to play a socially responsible role in the search for a vaccine and its rapid production. More quietly, AZ has donated nine million face masks to struggling nations.
  • GSK is scouring its portfolio of brands for ones that might impact COVID-19 patient treatment. They’re also investing heavily in trials of the best candidates.
  • Eli Lilly is supporting diabetes patients who are encouraged to call the Lilly Diabetes Solution Center, where they can talk through their options with advisers (including switching to generics).
  • In our own small way, at THE PLANNING SHOP, we are supporting the Hemophilia TalkShop online community as they support one-another in these unprecedented times. The RAM (Rare Advocacy Movement) Living with Rare Disease online community is another heart-warming example where patients are turning out to be a great comfort and source of solace to each other.

There is one final example that convincingly tells us that trust has become immensely important to pharma companies: Chinese clinicians are using an AbbVie HIV treatment to address coronavirus-related pneumonia. Kaletra (also known as Aluvia) contains anti-viral components that block virus replication. Although not yet approved as a treatment for coronavirus, Kaletra has shown efficacy across multiple trial cases.

AbbVie has donated $1.5 million worth of Kaletra to China for use as an experimental treatment option.

Kaletra is vital to AbbVie’s commercial success, yet the company has given up some of the brand’s commercial potential by announcing in April that it wouldn’t defend patent rights to Kaletra. In the event that Kaletra does prove effective against COVID-19, the move would allow competitors to create additional supply to satisfy demand that AbbVie alone can’t meet. That is an astonishing move of generosity that can only inspire admiration and trust.

There are emotions other than comfort and trust

The pandemic has given brands, including pharmaceutical brands, the opportunity to demonstrate emotional empathy by responding to the need for confidence and trust with clear demonstrations of caring. The power of emotional connection has never been clearer. For the moment, the successful brands are the ones that understand the universal emotional tide of the moment. In the future, these brands will need to strive for a differentiating emotional connection.

This is a big ask. There are very few pharma brands not built with an emotional component, but that component rarely has foundations anywhere near as deep as the functional core claim. The generic nature and lack of ownability of the emotional component is clear, if you recognise these four emotional foundations, then you know the problem:

  • Confidence
  • Reassurance
  • Satisfaction
  • Empowerment

To capitalise on the opportunity, pharma brands will need to embrace the growing evidence base of human science behind understanding emotion, and they will have to invest in growing their knowledge.

Acclaimed academics such as Professor Lisa Feldman-Barrett are seeing their work on emotion as a learnt, not innate, trait, become more widely understood, and this is something we’ve been fascinated by at THE PLANNING SHOP. So much so, that we’ve built our new brand creation Thought Model to help our clients build brands with equally strong functional and emotional foundations.

The importance of understanding emotion is creating an exciting new world. The growing ability to understand emotions and to better empathise with customers is revealing new opportunities for brands. There is a growing realisation of the role a brand should play in shaping emotions and impacting deeper with audiences. Perhaps for the first time ever, pharma is well ahead of other sectors in this understanding. THE PLANNING SHOP is daily growing our knowledge and evidence base on how to build an Emotional Brand.

Some brands are coming through the pandemic in better shape than ever because they are showing themselves to be in tune with the times. The next generation of emotionally intelligent brands need to learn from this and start to write the tunes of the future.

About the author

Michael Dumigan is global brand consultant at THE PLANNING SHOP. If you’d like to talk to Michael about this article, please get in touch!


THE PLANNING SHOP is an insight-led brand and communications consultancy of choice for the healthcare industry, with offices in the US and UK.

We dig deeper, go further and challenge perceptions to generate the insight-led business solutions pharmaceutical companies need to grow successful healthcare brands.

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Intouch Group hires Susan Perlbachs as chief creative officer

Intouch Group has announced the hire of Susan Perlbachs as its chief creative officer (CCO). As CCO, Perlbachs will be responsible for creative leadership across all Intouch Group affiliates, locations and clients. She will be based in Intouch’s New York office.

“I’m looking forward to being part of this award-winning organisation that I’ve admired for quite some time,” said Perlbachs. “I’m thrilled to work with the incredibly talented executive creative directors who have made the Intouch creative team what it is today, and to partner with them to elevate the organisation and its reputation to even greater heights.”

Perlbachs brings nearly 20 years of experience with other renowned healthcare agencies, including high-level positions at GSW and Grey Healthcare, driving major campaigns for US and global brands for professional and consumer audiences, including over-the-counter, oncology, nephrology and neurology.

Most recently, she served as EVP, Group Creative Director at FCB Health. Honours and accolades include being named one of PharmaVoice’s Top 100 Most Inspiring People, speaking at Cannes Lions Health and serving as a Clio judge. She also was named an HBA Rising Star.

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BCW promotes Catherine Keddie and Tamsin Tierney

BCW (Burson Cohn & Wolfe) has bolstered its healthcare leadership team, promoting Catherine Keddie and Tamsin Tierney to new roles.

Keddie (pictured above left) becomes group managing director for healthcare and head of culture, UK at the healthcare communications agency, with responsibility for overseeing the continued growth of BCW’s UK Healthcare business.

She’s been with BCW for six years, having previously served as director, health at Edelman and in senior roles at Ketchum and Hill & Knowlton.

Her former role of managing director of BCW’s UK Healthcare practice will be filled by Tierney (pictured above right), who will report to Keddie and will sit on the agency’s UK board.

Tierney joined BCW as deputy managing director of the agency’s Healthcare business in 2017, prior to which she held senior med comms roles at Cohn & Wolfe, Tonic Life Communications and Just::Health PR.

BCW’s UK CEO Rebecca Grant said: “Our plan for BCW in London is to become a creative business for sustained growth and innovation, with a clear purpose of solving complex problems by moving people. This trajectory has been most exemplified by our healthcare practice over recent years under Catherine’s leadership so it’s no accident that she has taken on this cultural role that is so critical for our future success.

“Given her experience and contribution to the agency thus far, we’re confident that in her new role, Tamsin will further evolve and drive forward the success of our healthcare practice as we continue to meet the dynamic demands placed on our clients as we emerge from the pandemic.”

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Healthware launches global resource hub for COVID-19’s ‘new normal’

Healthware has launched a new online resource that aggregates information and analysis on how to respond to the huge changes COVID-19 has wrought across life sciences and healthcare.

The open access aims to help guide executives from pharma, biotech and medical device companies in their response to the pandemic and its aftermath.

Roberto Ascione, Healthware Group’s CEO, said: “The ‘new normal’ is a seismic shift for the life sciences industry and requires a transformation of how we conceive of healthcare that’s far broader than just an app or other piece of technology. We need to be thinking about how people, processes and policies need to change.”

The site contains content from Healthware and its partners, including pharmaphorum, and covers customer engagement, digital health, digital transformation, and trends and perspectives on future scenarios for the industry.

These include looking at how AI can help fight COVID-19, the ascent of telemedicine, drivers of change within pharmaceutical marketing and future roles for digital therapeutics.

“The special conditions that COVID-19 and its lockdowns generated have acted as a catalyst, accelerating companies’ existing digital transformations and speeding the uptake of telemedicine.

Digital health and digital therapeutics were already growing, but only at a certain pace – the pandemic created a number of conditions that have massively accelerated that,” Ascione said.

He added that the need for home access to care, and the isolation of those affected or potentially affected by the virus, had demonstrated that remote monitoring of patients at home was possible.

At the same time, within the pharmaceutical industry, stranded field forces have been taking advantage of remote detailing to overcome their lack of physical access to healthcare professionals, adapting it to HCPs’ needs for meaningful information.

This has shown, Ascione said, “that promotion is not enough, you need to render meaningful services and move from push marketing to marketing-as-a-service as a baseline. That, to me, is part of the new normal when it comes to pharmaceutical companies”. will be regularly updated, including with a planned series of New Normal Talks that will feature one-to-one virtual fireside chats between experts from all side of the healthcare ecosystem.

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Jo Spadaccino joins healthcare comms agency ZPB as a partner

PR agency ZPB has appointed Jo Spadaccino as a partner to help realise its ambition of offering an integrated market strategy for the pharma, healthcare services and tech sectors.

She joins the London-based healthcare communications agency from Pegasus, where she spent 10 years, most recently leading an 85-strong team as head of client partnerships.

Spadaccino said: “My mission at ZPB is to extend the agency’s 360 vantage point in healthcare – going deeper into the pharmaceutical sector to really challenge the status quo in how communications are delivered.

“For me there was an instant connection to both the consultancy’s mission and the people behind the work. What I like most about the proposition is that you can’t easily put ZPB in a box, and that’s what we want for our clients, their companies, their customers and the end users of healthcare too.”

Her appointment builds a number new pharma account wins for ZPB over the past 12 months, and follows the company’s acquisition of healthcare specialist PR agency Journalista last November.

ZPB Associates CEO Zoe Bedford said: “We are delighted to welcome Jo to our team. Almost every aspect of healthcare is changing at the moment: the way we fund it, the way we consume it, access it and engage with it, and this means that organisations need to rethink their approach and try new ways to engage.

“Having a 360-degree view of the healthcare system means we’re well placed to help teams do this, and Jo’s appointment allows us to build on this further.”

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