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Playing your trump card

What is behind the most visually strong and appeal Posted on: 30 May 02


Tarred as the unglamorous underdog, patient education may not the sexiest card in the pharma communications pack. But as your current best shot at opening dialogue with media and marketing savvy ethi
Tarred as the unglamorous underdog, patient education may not the sexiest card in the pharma communications pack. But as your current best shot at opening dialogue with media and marketing savvy ethical healthcare consumers, you’d be well advised to reassess your hand. And with the right expertise, good graphic design can help to make patient ed your trump card. Patient education publications have already come a long way in a short time. It was not a million year ago that graphic design meant nothing more than making sure you used plenty of green because green means healthcare. But thankfully clued up marketers soon dragged design out of the dark ages when they realised that the patients they were targeting were also familiar with the more sophisticated look of consumer marketing. However patient education is not an arena for graphic design agency one-upmanship and trumpet blowing: the primary purpose of this class of materials is informational and design must, as always, be used to enhance and never overshadow the copy. Good design is not just a question of adding a logo, a few bits of clip art, some royalty free photographs and using Arial or Times New Roman for headings and the body copy. When applied effectively, design works on a variety of levels. It can give a campaign a personality and identity – Company X does care; it does have your best interest at heart. It can reinforce an established identity or message - Company X is the authority in this therapeutic area. It can offer reassurance - Company X is committed to this therapeutic area. On a more practical level, design can help you structure your information, highlight the important messages and present the information in manageable segments. You can have the most comprehensive and researched document in the world but if no one picks it up or if no one wants to read it, then no one will know about it. Clever graphic design appropriately packages the verbal content and can increase its value to an audience. By interpreting, echoing and developing messages visually, soundly applied design principles can lead a reader through the text. Guiding the audience’s eye is of course particularly important in healthcare communications, where copy can deal with potentially sensitive or embarrassing subject matter. By breaking the written body down into manageable chunks, readers can be steered successfully through to the end of a difficult message. Effectively packaging patient education materials always relies upon finding the most appropriate way to represent the information. This is not a random or subjective procedure and whether or not you like the colour yellow is neither here nor there. The process must be based upon first gaining a clear understanding of several key variables. The designer must be made knowledgeable about the client company, the therapeutic area and the end user. An awareness of patient prognosis is vital to avoid fundamental and potentially offensive mistakes. Empathy with the end user is primary if design is to augment the value of the material. Design & The Internet Brand typefaces and colours used throughout education material can help to build brand identity and increase awareness without mentioning brand name. This has a vital role when it comes to linking on and offline materials. We cannot currently directly promote a product in print but we can create a visual identity for patient education materials that relates to a US product based web site for example. With direct to consumer advertising fast becoming reality, design will have an increasingly important role to play, especially with regards to the internet. The internet is a fantastic low cost precision marketing and communications tool; one that will offer pharmas even more opportunities to build relationships with patients. But this unparalleled access to information is empowering – patients now have a choice in their own healthcare management. Pharmas must work harder to establish a presence with these clued-up patients, to differentiate themselves from the competition and to capture their awareness and win their confidences. Mark Scholey, from internet healthcare specialists EightML (, thinks good design is paramount to a successful web presence. “A basic website is no longer enough. Patients expect more than a page of text replicated from a leaflet that they have just picked up from their GP’s and are no longer impressed by a tacked on Flash intro. They want individualised, informed, interactive and immediate information”. The ABPI Code The Code considers patient education material to be promotional if it relates to a disease area of interest to your company. And this applies even if no drug is mentioned. The Code says the following about graphic design in promotion: · It must not be misleading - Children should not be used if the product is not licensed for children - Elderly should not be used if special precautions are necessary in this group - Patient should not be pictured driving if caution is necessary · It must not suggest a more dramatic response to treatment than evidence supports · It must not use sexual imagery to draw attention · It must not be likely to cause offence · It must not use extremes of format, size or cost · Graphs must be clearly referenced and presented and not misleading A specialist design consultancy should be totally gemmed up on these protocols and not at all phased at working within them. In the same way that good healthcare PR and good medical education takes time and experience, so does good healthcare design. It is perhaps their experience of operating inside these boundaries that often gives specialists the upper hand when it comes to interpreting pharma briefs. All too often artwork produced by large consumer agencies with FMCG portfolios ends in disappointment…and the expense of briefing another agency. Dr Joan Barnard, former member of the Code of Practice Appeal Board and author of The Code In Practice manual does not find the Code to be overly restrictive. “The ABPI Code could be seen to limit imagination, but to me, the test of real inspiration is the ability to be creative within restrictions, ” she explained. “Most of the uninspiring patient ed material I have seen is not limited by any codes of practice but by poor marketing department-agency communication, lack of artistic resourcefulness and feeble attempts to bend the rules,” she added. The Code does not legislate against creativity: so search out a professional and imaginative design consultancy who can shine within in. Working With A Graphic Design Consultancy Pharma marketers fall between two extremes: there are some who rate good design very low down in their list of priorities and then there are those who expect design to literally turn a product around. However design is generally an undervalued discipline in healthcare communications and is often the last thing to be thought about. Time is very important to the design process. Often jobs are handed over with a one week turnaround, which leaves no time for ideas to be developed. This can only lead to a disappointing experience for both consultancy and marketer. A brief helps. And one specific to the job at hand, not just a general one. One of the most common things busy marketers say is: “I want this to look dynamic, innovative and modern.” But when you push them on what exactly that means, most haven’t a clue. A good design consultancy wants to know about the brand essence. They need to understand the target audience and the purpose of the communication. This all sounds pretty basic, but it is amazing how often this information is not passed over and the designers are left firing in the dark. When working in combination with a marketing department and a PR agency, a design consultancy can often find itself playing piggy in the middle. It is important that all concerned are singing from the same hymn sheet so the designers are not pulled backwards and forwards between the two. But when marketing department, PR agency and design consultancy have a good relationship, the results can be outstanding. Effective patient education material is a product of team work, with all concerned contributing their expertise to the full. And a clued up specialist design agency is more than the icing on the cake: it may in fact be the trump card you were looking for. Richard Robinson in managing director of healthcare graphic design consultancy Anytime After Nine T: 0161 877 4499

Richard Robinson

Last updated on: 27/08/2010 11:40:18

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