I currently work in the communications team of a pharmaceutical company as a Public Relations Executive, working in the disease areas of hepatitis and oncology.
In pharmaceutical PR each day is completely different and sometimes can be completely unexpected! For example, a major healthcare story can break in the morning – so we have to react to as quickly as possible and reply to questioning journalists with informed statements.
On days with no (or limited!) unexpected developments, there are a wide range of activities I am involved with: meetings with the marketing teams to update them on the progress on our various PR activities, teleconferences throughout the day with PR agencies to discuss project progress and next steps, meetings with the medical team to get documents approved and signed off, and on top of this I also write media materials. I also get to travel abroad a lot, so at least once a month I am at a medical congress or a global meeting.
We have a large communications team and we all work very closely together as an integrated team. I also work with PR agencies and marketing teams, as well as senior management teams.
When I left university five years ago, I joined a PR agency. I started out doing unpaid work experience for four weeks, then immediately afterwards I was offered a permanent job. At first I worked on UK pharmaceutical and pro-bono accounts for about a year, and then I moved onto the global pharmaceutical accounts, which included work in cardiovascular disease and neurology.
However after a few years it became apparent that, as much as I enjoyed global communications, I wanted to focus my energies back onto UK public relations. I also was keen to experience what it was like ‘client-side’ at a large pharmaceutical company with an exciting portfolio, so I moved to my current company just over 18 months ago.
I had done some temp work during university in a healthcare PR firm - so knew it was something that interested me. Also, having lived with student doctors throughout university, I had gained a bit of knowledge of the medical world, and whilst not wanting to become a doctor myself, I loved the science and human interest aspects of healthcare.
My degree was an MSci in Geology! Which everyone finds very surprising, especially clinicians!
The company I work for is an extremely social place to work and everyone gets on incredibly well. I very much enjoy the working atmosphere here – as, whilst everyone works very hard, there is a fun aspect in the office which makes coming into work each day very pleasurable.
I am very proud of a lot of the things I have achieved in my career, especially in regard to successful media events and campaigns.
However, what I am proud of most recently is a presentation I gave to an audience of over 200 people about the important role of PR and managing reputation in the pharmaceutical industry. The audience were a division of the company who were not directly involved in what we do, so did not fully understand the purpose and benefit of having PR in the pharmaceutical industry. The presentation was a great success, and many individuals fedback that it really helped them see why managing communications is so important and why we have PR in our industry. I felt extremely proud that I had raised awareness of the essential function the communications team has within the company and that people were fully bought into our role.
There are many possibilities for my future career – including going back to work for a PR agency, moving to the company HQ in Switzerland, moving to an affiliate office (e.g. Australia), working for a charity organisation….there really is a lot of scope in terms of career progression in healthcare PR once you have some experience under your belt.
From a personal point of view, the most important part of public relations is having a positive and friendly manner, being hard-working and enthusiastic, being organised and having an ability to write creatively.
In terms of pharmaceutical PR in particular, you need to have a real passion for healthcare - as ultimately the work you do can make a difference and positively effect people’s lives.
Being in PR also means you are always ‘front facing’, so need to be able to communicate clearly with people and be able to get your point of view across. Confidence is absolutely vital.
For someone interested in pharmaceutical PR, I would recommend work experience in a PR agency – as this offers you insight into actual work that is carried out, as well as the running of pharmaceutical accounts.
I am currently on an 18-month secondment working on my company's sponsorship of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.