How has COVID-19 changed healthcare communications in Philippines?

 COVID-19 has triggered many changes across industries. In the healthcare segment, the campaigns launched also underwent massive change moving from purely functional ones to more purpose-driven. The leap saw many healthcare brands going from an overlooked information space to an important resource making headlines.

Discussing the transformations that have happened - and will continue to happen - is Aman Gupta, co-founder and managing partner of SPAG, a communications, creative and public relations consultancy with experiences in pharma, healthcare and life sciences sectors.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE:  Due to COVID-19, health has become front and centre in media coverage today. How has this pivot reshaped communications in the health sector?

Gupta: The pandemic has surely shed light on the sector like never before. Before this happened, when healthcare companies who wanted to talk actively pushed communication out, the media wasn’t interested. That has changed and pharmaceutical, med-tech companies are getting their due. Also, pharma companies who weren’t communicators have now realised the power of communications. So, from the periphery, communications has now become a part of company core strategy because a good communications strategy showcases value and expertise and builds trust.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE:  How have health and medical companies repositioned themselves in light of this development? How do they get noticed above the din of voices claiming they can all help the public in this situation?

Gupta: If you look back at 2019 to 2020, from a global perspective, pharma companies in the US were one of the most disliked sectors. However, over the past one year, this is not entirely the case. What has changed now is that companies have actually shown the value of science and research. They have been able to reflect how they can actually bring about change.

One aspect is simply talking about what you can do, the other is to actually do it. Whether it is in terms of medicines, medical technology, or vaccines, the pharmaceutical industry has been at the forefront through the pandemic.  There’s a lot of research and development that has been done over the last one year.

The core messaging of pharma companies - which is to deliver life - has come to the fore. A key reason for this is that they’re showing proof and purpose by playing a huge role in facilitating the public.

From a communications perspective, the focus is on highlighting the relevance of these medical companies. The significance of what goes on in the backend to keep the frontend machinery running smoothly and effectively is at the heart of the narrative.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE:  What are some trends you have observed in this industry?

Gupta: One of the key trends in Philippines that has emerged through this time is that pharma and med-tech companies have taken proactive steps to showcase value, expertise, and trust. Additionally, they are bringing to the fore top voices in the sector to engage with the public. This includes creating platforms to connect experts with people who are interested in knowing more and also to spread awareness at large. This is a trend we will continue to see. They’re also coming up with newer campaigns where people are empowered to make correct health decisions.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE:  How has the messaging of leaders changed and been reshaped by the pandemic and its other effects on the economy?

Gupta: The most distinct change has been that from functional messaging they have shifted to more purpose-led messaging. As I mentioned earlier, the drivers right now are purpose and empathy, and positioning, and of course leading by example.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE:  What role does technology play in the reshaping and transmission of communications during this crisis and which platforms are most vital?

Gupta: There are two aspects to it. First, with remote working, the entire focus has shifted to keeping communities together, and even messaging is largely focused on that. The other aspect is innovation and one of the core areas in health where that has happened is tele-health. Besides COVID-19, there are several overarching health needs and several innovations in the tele-health space have allowed access to services. Whether it is making it easy for people to speak to doctors, delivery of medicines, or home diagnostics – the space has evolved a lot. Communications strategies are completely aligned with the innovation in this space too.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE:  What has been the impact of COVID-19 on digital content?

Gupta: The way the digital universe has been embraced over the last one year is exceptional. Moreover, the medium has been used to its fullest with several innovations done in the space to ensure engagement and cross-pollination of ideas and information. However, there have been challenges on this front too with regard to misinformation and rumour mongering. Who to trust and who not to---that is a lingering questioning in the minds of the public. In terms of communications, there has been a need to keep tab and build robust systems where we break the clutter and push the correct messaging.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE:  How is the Philippines healthcare sector moving forward now that vaccination is taking place? What are the changes that will be permanent and how will they affect future marketing campaigns and communications policies ?

Gupta: It will be an omnichannel strategy and that is the only way forward. We have seen a sort of digital transformation over the last yea, and this change is sustainable even in the long run. The key now is to see how effectively these digital mediums are used. In order for people to engage with healthcare professionals, there would be a heavy reliance on tech. Moreover, we will see an increase in close group peer-t- peer platforms and a dependence on web assets and digital content. The focus therefore would be on tech-driven healthcare deliveries.