health pr News

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palin Video Blog

The recent panel on “Medicalising Normality” at the Melbourne Festiva..
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Pan Pharmaceuticals – keeping the distance from a crisis

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medical marketing Blog

The trend toward independent agencies in healthcare PR

Martin Palin - Thursday, February 13, 2014

Many years ago I had a letter published in one of the marketing magazines in response to an article about a multi-national pharmaceutical company that had awarded its entire diversified marketing budget to one global holding company on the promise of greater integration.

I said in the letter that I couldn’t see the logic because the market place knows that talented people work for a range of different agencies of varying sizes for a heap of different reasons. There’s just no logic in believing that one holding company will have either a local or global monopoly on all the brightest people across PR, media strategy, advertising creative, content marketing and market research.

Plus I reckoned the people from the different teams under the umbrella of the holding company were likely beavering away in their own silos and had probably never even met each other.

My view still holds and was also recently verified (certainly at the level of the individual PR agency) over a cup of coffee with a colleague from the public affairs department of big pharmaceutical company.

He had just overseen the process by which his company had settled on a panel of “preferred specialist PR agencies”. So preferred in fact that the marketing team was prevented from commissioning any PR agencies or any PR work from consultancies outside the list. No correspondence entered into.

The company had developed a set of criteria built around capacity, experience, value for money, terms of business, hourly rates and a raft of other quality measures. His job was to scour the market and secure the best possible PR agencies for his restricted panel. And guess what?

Every agency selected was independent, medium sized and still owned by the principal. Every selected agency.

It’s more than just the arithmetic. Most clients can work out that while a multinational PR agency might have 30 consultants in total, only 5 or 6 of those typically (if they are going well) will be exclusively in the healthcare team. So their teams are the same size as the well-established independent specialist health PR agencies (like Palin Communications and our independent competitors).

The preference for independent agencies is underpinned by the demand for commitment, longevity and experience.

Clients that examine the relative benefits of independent versus big multi-national agencies see the value in having an agency with the key guy’s name on the door. They know that the quality of the agency’s work is the only thing standing between the principal being out of business and the staff being unemployed. So it’s unlikely the team will be cutting too many corners or disappearing any time soon.

So the next time the question of “global agency versus specialist independent” comes up, think about the capacity, experience and commitment of the relative teams. Avoid getting distracted by nonsense about “global footprints” and “international integration”. Because it is capacity, experience and commitment that is going to get you the best PR result.

So think independent.

The Palin team. Proudly independent and specialised.

When diseases are no laughing matter

Martin Palin - Tuesday, October 08, 2013

I happily entered into the spirit of things as part of a panel at the recent “Festival of Ideas” session on “Medicalising Normality

Industry critic Ray Moynihan was holding court and we had engaged the audience in the creation of a new disease – “Chronic Procrastination Syndrome” – or CPS we called it.

After 20 minutes we had a set of symptoms (constantly putting things off, a life dictated by delay), a screening tool (how long did it take you to agree to see the doctor, how long do you linger over a menu? etc) and an estimate of the overall cost to the community of CPS in terms of lost productivity and unmet ambition (clearly in the billions annually).

We had a slogan (“Act Now: CPS is real”), a celebrity ambassador and a date for an awareness day – but we decided to delay that by one week for strategic impact.

We were having a hoot and the audience were getting the hang of it. I was a bit worried they might think this is what actually happens. But at least they were getting a sense of how health campaigns get coordinated if not how diseases actually get defined.

Sometime earlier the panel had focused on a more practical debate about the relevance of prescribing data and prevalence figures in trying to determine whether or not ADHD was over diagnosed in Australia. (I thought it highly relevant others not so).

These were no academic or philosophical debates. The reality of them was highlighted the next day on Saturday October 6th when the Fairfax headline screamed “Suicide link to ADHD drug” – thereby triggering a broader media storm about the appropriateness of current prescribing levels.

I tweeted that this was exactly the kind of debate we had had at the Festival of Ideas.

Then on Sunday 7 October, it was bi-polar in the news when the News Ltd papers quoted a psychiatrist as saying the definition of bi-polar was so broad than almost anyone could now be diagnosed with it.

The definition of disease is no easy task. But I think there was at least one thing on which all the panellists at the Festival of Ideas agreed. It was that some people and some families are seriously affected by conditions like depression, bi-polar and ADHD. It would be tragic if their battles were made harder because debates about disease mongering and over-diagnosis trivialised the reality of those diseases and the challenges faced by those affected.

Or as a lady with ADHD said in her letter to the Herald in response to the original story, perhaps we should stop seeing “ADHD medication as creating a generation of zombies” we should focus on those people who are helped by it and see it as representing an “advance in medical science (SMH Letters 7/10/13).

I think those from the “over-diagnosis” school need to be specific in arguing for resources to be focused on those people who need them the most – ie, those who are at the more serious end of various conditions. Otherwise it just turns into disease denial and I can’t see how that is going to help anyone.

Unless of course that disease is Chronic Procrastination Syndrome in which case a little light-hearted fun and a lack of urgency to make a point are probably going to be ok.

Martin presents at the Festival of Ideas “In defence of disease awareness”.

Does healthcare PR actually work?

Martin Palin - Thursday, August 01, 2013
About ten years ago the Palin team was invited to present credentials to a major multi-national pharmaceutical company in Australia and we were encouraged to showcase a couple of our PR success stories. I led with a terrific award-winning PR campaign that used World No Tobacco Day to drive additional sales for nicotine replacement products.

At the end of the case study I invited questions and the Marketing Director asked “Is that it? Is that all you’ve got? Patch sales went up on World No Tobacco Day? Doesn’t that happen every year?”

Well yes and no actually.

It is related to the broader question that (probably out of politeness) doesn’t get asked as much as you would think. That question is: “Does healthcare PR actually work?”

The answer to that question is “Sometimes, but it depends”

It depends on your aims, your plan and what you measure.

In many ways a more interesting question is “How can you show that it works?’

You can show it works by establishing agreed quantitative targets (ie. media coverage, audience engagement*, increases in consumer knowledge, traffic to your website, shares of content etc) ahead of time and then hitting them. *Note that engagement is a loaded word and must be more clearly defined based on the objectives of your campaign.

People who get proposals from the Palin team are used to seeing a section on “Quantitative targets” over which we can haggle.

There is another important step which involves developing business-related performance indicators for PR in consultation with the client. What opportunities are there to integrate fields related to PR into the “How did you hear about this?” questionnaire for the telephone sales team? What benchmarks related to consumer awareness are available via the regular community surveys that the clients conducts?

The challenge is to find measures that have commercial relevance for the client and are tied to broader initiatives that track business outcomes.

If you adopt this approach it barely needs saying that “Advertising Value Equivalents” (How much would it have cost to buy an ad equivalent to the space our editorial recieved?) and arbitrary measures of media sentiment (wow we scored a positive 4.2 in 2012, yeehaw!) no longer become central to your evaluation program.

Which, we are happy to say, is all in line with the latest evaluation guidelines endorsed by the Public Relations Institute of Australia (see The PR Professional’s Definitive Guide to Measurement).

In regard to the nicotine patch presentation, clearly I jumped too quickly to the sales data and didn’t spend enough time explaining how the PR had driven enquiries to their “Help Line” and how some pretty ambitious media relations targets (like celebrity quitters on Today Tonight and positive national TV news stories) had pretty much been smashed.

Evaluation is a subject that is close to my heart because I came to PR from a background in social research.

When I first started in healthcare PR I could see that evaluation and measurement was a huge issue. I was young and cocky and thought I could fix it in about three months.

As you can imagine, it’s more complicated than I thought but the principles are pretty straight forward. Build performance indicators that mean something to your clients, establish realistic benchmarks, develop strategies with those targets in mind, and measure and refine the strategy as you go.

Above all, be accountable.

That’s what we’re determined to be at Palin.

Accountable consultants with clear definitions of success that have been agreed and tailored in partnership with our clients.

Because if we can’t agree what success looks like how will we know whether to laugh or cry when the campaign is over?

Media cuts set to drive renewed interest in pre-packaged medical news

Martin Palin - Thursday, November 15, 2012

I went to a PR industry breakfast about ten years ago and the guest speaker was the Channel 10 news director at the time. Someone in the audience asked him about video news releases (VNR’s) for medical stories and he really warmed to the subject.

“If you’ve got a great news story happening, just tell me about it and I’ll send a bloody crew. Don’t send me some crappy VNR about it…”

VHS: Technology not tipped for a return to favour but highly produced multi-media news release packages just might

Those of us that had seen Channel 10 news use our “supplied video materials” at length were somewhat perplexed. But it confirms (in retrospect) what we perhaps did not quite appreciate (at the time) – that TV news rooms then were relatively well resourced.

How things have changed. The media reported this week that Channel 10 has confirmed around 100 redundancies from its news staff. If crews, editors and reporters have been light on the ground in recent years, they are about to get even lighter.

The changing workforce in news – both print and broadcast – looks certain to change the way specialist PR agencies like Palin Communications operate.

For one (and the video news release production people will hope I am right here) I think it will see the return of the VNR and “multi-media news release” platforms. The process of generating news will change from setting up exclusives for a specialist journalist (from health, biotech or finance) in advance, to one of competing on a day-to-day basis with the best, most complete, most easily translated news package you can afford to compile.

It will be more and more about whose news package can win on the day.

Of course there has always been a big dose of that in PR – but it’s going to become more of the game in the future. 

It might even go so far as to see the emergence of the “A Roll” here in Australia – the concept of a fully edited and distributed 90 second news package (reporter, voice over, graphics, editing and all) that can run on a commercial TV news program as if it has been produced by them. (Someone out there is probably going to tell me this happens all the time already, but I haven’t witnessed it yet).

And “multi-media news release” platforms will change from what they are now (what only the bigger players can afford to buy) to a basic entry level tactic. Everything in one place (video, copy, pics, audio grabs, infographic, social media links), packaged perfectly and pleasantly promoted for whoever needs good news content on the day.

As the number of specialist health and medical reporters at newspapers and newsrooms dwindle it will likely mean an increase in the number of projects that require PR people to pitch the “full package” to the top (to the News Director, the Editor, the Chief of Staff).

No more pitching to the specialist health reporter and waiting to see how they go “pitching it up the line”. 

I’m not sure it makes life better for PR people. I’ve always enjoyed discussing health and medical news with specialist reporters who understand the nuance of medical angles and are not shy to quiz me about vested interests and commercial influence.

But I sense it’s all about to change. Let’s see if I’m right.

Can you be held to account for the social media links you don’t control?

Martin Palin - Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Most Australian medical companies are getting the hang of the social media compliance thing by now. 

Companies know they are held to account for the content generated (in whatever way and by whoever) via the online assets they own and control.

Red Bull sponsored daredevil Felix Baumgartner standing 39 kilometres above earth while closer to home 'recommended' videos appear on YouTube

They know that the responsibility for Facebook comments lives with the sponsor of the page – even where that content is not generated directly by the sponsor. If someone who “likes” the page is posting non-compliant content then you better have some processes in place to deal with, edit, adjust, delete or hide that content.

Preferably within the first 24 hours.

But a recent ruling by Medicines Australia has flagged an increased level of responsibility for content and links over which manufacturers have absolutely no control.

As reported recently by Pharma In Focus, Medicines Australia is now taking a serious interest in the additional video “Recommendations” that are posted by the YouTube system next to videos as consumers play them.

So here’s the challenging scenario.

You post an educational, code compliant, consumer-facing, awareness-raising video that focuses on a particular health issue. You’ve produced it in partnership with a respectable consumer health organisation and everyone is very happy with the result.

Your medical department has been over it. Your legal department has been over it. The consumer health organisation love it. Your MD is bragging about it. You post it as part of the broader campaign.

But here’s the thing.

You haven’t thought about the links that YouTube automatically posts to “Recommended” videos (or suggested content, videos you’d like, additional options, related suggestions, or whatever you want to call them or what YouTube might call them in the future) that appear around your content.

What if YouTube posts a non-compliant video in the “Recommended” list next to your video? What if they post a link to a video that features a medical specialist waxing lyrical about the benefits of a particular prescription-only compound?

No problem” says your Medical Director – we don’t own that content and can’t be held responsible for it.

This could potentially be the wrong answer if we look at a recent Medicines Australia case.

In a recent case the complaints committee “agreed unanimously, that the content displayed alongside [a] video, but not created by [the manufacturer] could lead to the promotion of a prescription product to the general public” but “the Committee determined by majority decision that [the manufacturer’s] activity had not breached …the Code.”


Check this bit out though: “The Committee did note, however, that a different set of Suggested Clips displayed in association with [the manufacturer’s] video may have led to a different decision (my emphasis). The Committee cautioned that companies should carefully consider what content may be displayed in association with the company’s content published through the social media and whether the association between the company’s content and other content could result in [non-compliant] promotion to the general public”.

What does this mean for manufacturers who are producing what appears on first review as code-compliant consumer-facing video content?

In the light of this most recent development that actually looks like a pretty good question.

Here’s my go at an answer.

If a competitor could argue that it was part of a contrived strategy to load video content on YouTube that would likely (given what we know about how YouTube works) generate non-compliant “Recommendations” around your content, then any informed, fair-minded observer would be tempted to conclude that the committee would be mightily inclined to find against you.

You might argue that the “Recommendations” are not in your control. And that would be true up to a point.

But any B-grade golfer and occasional YouTube searcher (like me) knows that any request for golfing tips triggers a range of “Recommended Videos” and “Tiger Tips” that promise an improved short game.

If you are posting content about new developments in oncology (for example) then the regulators will expect you to have some expectations about the “Recommended” video that pop up around your content. The people searching will likely be those who have searched for cancer issues in the past and who have some personal connection to the issue. We can all predict (to some degree) what YouTube will “Recommend” as additional relevant content for these consumers.

Ignorance will be no defence (especially if you personally use YouTube for golf tips, travel tips, finance tips, cooking tips and any other darn tips) because the complaints committee will assume (and here’s the rub) that everyone now understands how YouTube (and related recommendations) work.

So you need to be able to explain what actions you took to mitigate the risk of non-compliant content popping up around your video. Did you deal with this issue in the copy attached to the video? Did you flag the regulatory environment within which the video was produced? Did you direct viewers to speak to a healthcare professional in regard to the content? Or perhaps flag the consumer health organisation as a key point of contact? Or warn against likely “Recommendations”? Or specify the target audience for the video?

Because these are all legitimate and heart-felt tactics for mitigating social media (and regulatory risk).

Good Lord – the medical marketing and PR game doth changeth by the day!

For examples of code-compliant social media campaigns (or at least they were when they were launched!) – go to

© 2012 Palin Communications


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