PR’s Top Pros Talk… Moving the Pharmaceutical Industry Forward
Blake McEvoy, Head of U.S. Corporate Affairs for Respiratory & Immunology, Vaccines & Immune Therapies at AstraZeneca, describes the communicator’s role in the healthcare transformation. He explains how leaders can provide value to the next generation of workers. He also shares his insights on how the healthcare industry is developing a people, planet, and society-focused approach.
DOUG: Blake, you’ve talked about the healthcare transformation that is taking place. What do you see as the one most important aspect of that change?
BLAKE: The most important aspect in healthcare transformation is that we have to get much closer to the patient experience. And what I mean by that is being in the communities where our medicines, the healthcare ecosystem actually is working so that we can better tailor and hyper-focus our efforts versus it be quite a benign, generalist point of view. So I think that’s the one area we could do the best in our work in the future.
DOUG: Yeah. So, what are you seeing as some of the steps that need to be taken to make that a reality?
BLAKE: Well, I think technology is a huge opportunity for us to be able to get closer to the patient experience on an impersonal level, because data, I think, lacks some of the color and connective tissue that we all like to have as a human experience. So, there’s one area of data. So, data analytics, AI can really help us be swifter, smoother, hopefully more cost effective in our work. I think the other area is having more connected conversations. I think it sounds simple, but we need to create a space for a table for communities in which we work to be able to have them feel comfortable enough sharing where they would like us to better support in the health care ecosystem, and equally be ready to receive some tough input and action upon it. So, we can’t just end with we’ll have our hearts and minds with these communities. We actually have to show measured, sustainable commitments to patient communities, no matter what disease area that is. The third area I think we in order to do this, it requires a huge amount of and has required a huge amount of collaboration with health systems, payers, and also from a science and R&D perspective, as we bring new molecules forward, we need to have a better conduit for having those conversations with the key ecosystem players that ultimately do deliver health care to patients, so that we can appropriately tackle any challenges and see opportunities ahead.
DOUG: Yeah. What it sounds like you’re saying is that the communicators role has to become much more important and can even be separate, because now it’s so integrated into the entire business function. Obviously, you’ve got a unique seat at the table of one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. So how are you going about integrating that communication challenge throughout all of the work the company does?
BLAKE: Well, it’s no easy feat. And I would be fibbing if I if I were to say that we’ve cracked the code on it. But I do think we’re making meaningful strides, at least in the areas that I’ve seen within the disease areas and the patient populations we support. And how that’s come to bear is really working closely, day one, with our market and insights teams so that we can really take the data, translate it into actionable insights for how patients would like to see and hear us reflect their experience in our communications channels. Versus lining and also, what are those communication channels that are most meaningful and some of them probably don’t exist in a meaningful way. So, avoiding them or creating our own, I think then the other areas translating that value and why that’s so important for us to work with them, the marketing or commercial teams in our business units who carry the PNLs for these products to make sure that they see that one does not exist without the other. Our world within communicating is important for both their bottom line and what they have to deliver from a sales perspective. But it’s not just about the sales, and I know at AstraZeneca, we believe so much in the power of patient centricity and truly embedding patient voice into our work. And I think then as you take that forward, you have to be able to demonstrate and connect better dots back to our business leaders at how each of these triggers along our communications plan. So, making them much more trigger and data insights driven so that they can truly see that when we communicate, it’s heard by the right people. The right people are taking the actions that are best for them. And it’s not a monolith of communications. It’s very much can be tailored to right person, right disease area, right, right patient, so that they can certainly be empowered to take action themselves as well.
DOUG: Sounds like you have to start looking maybe differently about how you staff and the type of people that are put into these communication roles throughout the company and what those roles look like. I know you’re an extremely thoughtful person, which I appreciate. Can you maybe shed some light on how that is changing in terms of maybe for some of the people earlier in their careers, what that might mean to them?
DOUG: You’re touching on a topic that I’m deeply passionate about, which is development, and making sure that we cultivate a talent pipeline of communicators in the pharmaceutical or in health care sector that can bring to bear all of the great science and patient voice and to future work and so I have actually benefited personally from interning at in the pharmaceutical sector, and that got me my pharma bug to stay in it after being a journalist for some time. And, I think it’s so important as we’re taking those early talent opportunities to build in a pipeline to easily get them into entry level roles that will get them exposure and breadth into the business units and what they have to be able to, I think, also see in themselves is the ability to bring real time information from a social or, you know, maybe it’s like a digital aspect to their careers that they’ve been interested in, or even from a marketing perspective, marketing comms has a lot of overlay, but give them the breadth to expose themselves to the industry so they can see how communications is fundamental in many different layers that I talked to earlier. And then after that, we don’t just release them, we need to make sure that if we’re investing this time and energy into early internship programs or fellowships or whatever, you have, be able to create a pathway for them to come into the company at a more junior level so that they can be successful in industry and not just have to send them back out to, to do jobs outside of our sector. So quite multifaceted. But I do think the power is in bringing that talent in very early.
DOUG: Yeah. Are you seeing the health care industry shift to a more sort of people planet society focus? If so, is that a good idea and what can you do to bring it on more quickly?
BLAKE: I think at AstraZeneca particularly, we see that happening. I do believe in the pharmaceutical sector. It’s absolutely going to be on the agenda of policymakers, legislators, regulators, as well as the communities that we serve. So, we would be remiss if we didn’t do that, but also think it’s our responsibility as a good corporate citizens, to think about what is the carbon impact from a sustainability perspective of health care? What role do we have to play in that, and how can we how can we develop a meaningful agenda that supports that not just within our supply chain, but, you know, from planting trees to creating a next generation propellants for our products, to working with patient groups and communities to create green solutions where their communities can flourish in a healthier air environment. If when we talk about breathing and good lung health. And then I think that ties in to just natural when you think about health care ecosystems, we do have a therefore a play into what that means for communities and how that impacts communities that come together in spaces. Green spaces are not. How do they have their voice represented in local governments? How do they have their voice represented in health care reform in general? So, making sure that we have that pillar covered and in general, if we do all of that right, if we’re doing right by patients and communities, then we’ll be doing right by our business. I think they definitely flow within each other and have a congruency. And when one’s out of shape, then we’re not in equilibrium anymore. And I definitely think that should absolutely be the focus of where I would look to work at any company in pharma. But I think it’s going to be expected of us.
DOUG: Yeah. And I think you might have touched on part of the answer to my next question. You were talking about community a lot. That word was coming up again and again. So how do you get C-suite executives to be persuaded to become community driven? I would think that’s a communications role there, but they need to see the value.
BLAKE: I think it would be, you know, remiss for me to say that it was just a simple communications demonstrating value. The leader mindset has to be there, too. And unfortunately, if you don’t have a leader who has the creativity of or at least the maybe it’s an empathy connection into what we can do better and want to contribute back then, that uphill battle is one that becomes even steeper. But if barring that isn’t true and there’s a will to do it, I think absolutely, communications or corporate relations plays such an important role because not only does it’s the right thing to do, and I think communications can demonstrate that when we do communicate effectively, when we show that our investments and our values match our actions or what we’re intending to do, then we do see greater opportunity for us to both partner. We have a better seat at the table with when it comes to tough conversations that we have to have with legislators and be able to have more open and honest dialogue about, it’s not just simply a binary way of working where large pharma has to bear the brunt of all the healthcare challenges, but we can do it together and find the right players who have to equally all make adjustments for a better, healthy future for both our planet and for people. So, it definitely is for communications I think to shine that light, bring great examples to the table, introduce them to key voices and activists in the space that are important for advancing that mission. But if you don’t have the will and the company, it makes it much harder for that to happen.
DOUG: Blake, do you have any final thoughts? For those who have been watching this very informative segment.
BLAKE: My final thoughts would really be around thinking about, as a communications professional, where you can find differentiated value you bring back to the business. Always be problem solving and helping see the road ahead, as well as reacting to the immediate needs of the business. I think there’s two sides to the coin, obviously, that we always find ourselves in. Don’t get caught up in the reactive. Try to be as attuned to the business and the landscape as possible so, you’re truly bringing insights that may not come to bear for several years, but you’re bringing them now so that the business is ready to act on them in the immediate future. And showing up as leaders, I think in that respect will do a wealth of good for the communications departments and any companies that can see the road ahead and have their magical ball to shape the future together with the business.
DOUG: Thank you so much for your great insights. It’s a pleasure speaking with you.
BLAKE: You as well. Thank you for having me!