Ways to Engage a Critical Audience

By Jo Spink - Founder and Creative Strategist at Spink

In the changing healthcare landscape, where patients can already self-manage much of their healthcare via online consultations, digital dispensing and Dr. Google, our Founder and Creative Strategist, Jo Spink explains the rationale for ongoing investment in innovative HCP communications.

HCPs: Real Impact


At Spink, we’ve experienced first hand the influence of HCPs on consumer behaviour and purchasing choices for nearly 30 years. HCP endorsement has delivered some of our most impressive campaign results including a 1,000 percent sales spike from a TV doctor recommending an OTC product for painful joints; 12 percent category growth when school nurses were recruited to educate mums on the symptoms of threadworms and thousands of pieces of sales-driving coverage utilising engaging, charismatic and interesting HCPs for various media activities.

But in an environment facing unrivalled levels of disruption over the next decade, with patients already managing much of their healthcare from home with the aid of their fitbit, iWatch, online consultations and monitoring apps, how will the influence of healthcare professionals change?

Shifting Consumer Influence

Undoubtedly, HCPs still impact on consumer engagement and behaviour. Recent patient surveys we have conducted show that HCP product recommendation is key for those consumers self-managing their joint health, anxiety and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Increasingly though, the tactics and tools that we invest in will need to reflect changing consumer habits and behaviour. For example, understanding that younger consumers are more likely to engage with an expert video on YouTube than to chat to their pharmacist face-to-face will ensure savvy investments that deliver great ROI.

From Peer to Peer

In addition, further Spink research has highlighted that influential HCPs have a greater influence over their peers than expensive glossy training packs and sales visits. Choosing experts with credibility and impressive professional affiliations can ensure that an expert-authored feature or presentation can reach out to a wide range of influential HCPs.

Long and trusting relationships can also be key. For our joint health client, we have worked with the same respected rheumatologist for eight years. We have always respected his independence and value his ability to communicate important health messages in a professional and unbiased way.  Feedback from the many media events he has hosted is usually 100 percent positive with his quotes appearing in over 60 percent of all coverage.

Well organised advisory boards are also extremely valuable. Outcomes of a recent ad board convened by our agency and attended by the UK’s leading joint health experts has helped drive recommendation for an OTC supplement with primary and secondary professionals, patient organisations and industry bodies.

Building a Billion Dollar Brand

Using these techniques, GSK has transformed Sensodyne toothpaste from a small, niche product to a $1bn brand. Crucially, it recognised the unmet need for a tooth sensitivity pain treatment and successfully engaged dentists as educators and recommenders.

Through an HCP education programme which highlighted the extent of tooth sensitivity pain, and by ‘bringing dentists out of the surgery’ to participate in advertising and other marketing communications, Sensodyne has cemented its core values of expertise and authority.

It is now the #1 dentist-recommended sensitivity toothpaste in many markets and sustains a price premium versus competitors such as Colgate in the sensitivity category.

Keep Innovating!

Today’s communication landscape is unrecognisable from that of 20 years ago, so don’t fall in to the trap of putting HCPs in the marketing box labelled science, efficacy and education. Do push the boundaries utilising HCPs across your consumer campaigns, consumer stories across your HCP campaigns and utilising innovation and synergy across both.

Making the Most of HCPs

Jo Spink offers five tips on getting the most from your HCP communications

Choose Wisely


Be selective in your choice of expert. Those who are up-and-coming and charismatic are often more accommodating, engaging and credible than the most well-known KOLs.

Biogen handles this well with their 1MSg Multiple Sclerosis campaign, using the well-known UK TV doctor, Dr Christian Jessen to speak to consumers, and highly respected consultants for HCP communications, such as Dr Martin Duddy, Clinical Director and Consultant Neurologist at Newcastle Hospitals NHS Trust.

Be Targeted

Ensure experts are appropriate for your consumer, media or professional audience and respect the HCP hierarchy. In some of our recent work, a hand-picked group of paediatric pain experts highlighted why paracetamol was generally recommended as first line and generated a recommendation that ibuprofen had clinical advantages, encouraging HCPs to review their guidance.

Leveraging these outcomes through a professional and consumer media campaign resulted in a 21 percent increase in market share for ibuprofen-based Nurofen for Children for client RB and positive recommendations from pharmacists, nurses, GPs and midwives.

Do Your Research

Commissioning a quick poll with HCPs can often provide surprising results about the current management of common conditions and may expose surprisingly simple solutions.

A recent survey we carried out for Stiefel revealed that due to time constraints, a simple expert-endorsed A5 advice card would improve multi-disciplinary management, patient care and recommendation for a leading range of emollients. Detailed clinical packs, training modules and sales aids were deemed too time consuming by GPs, nurses and pharmacists.

Utilise Stakeholder Engagement

Securing the support of a key patient organisation, industry or professional body can unlock valuable third party endorsement and access to a niche group of specialists and patients.   

Our work with the National Eczema Society (NES) for Stiefel resulted in NES-endorsed materials for nurses and pharmacists and numerous joint ventures including HCP awards and media briefings. Similarly working over the years with the Royal College of Nursing and the National Pharmaceutical Association has offered valuable third party endorsements and access to key influencers.

Be Creative

Remember that HCPs are consumers too and will respond to engaging content often reserved for consumer campaigns. This is something that Viiv Healthcare understood with the recent ‘Change the Face of HIV’ campaign, developed by GPs, for GPs.

Designed to overcome the barriers to HIV testing in UK general practice, the campaign deployed creative content across social and digital channels, together with media outreach, to prompt GPs to start ‘thinking’ to test for HIV. Working also with clinical commissioning groups in high prevalence HIV areas, the campaign used education and training materials to support GP learning on the ground, helping them know when, how and why to test, and equipping them with the skills to do so.