Attracting talent to pharma and med comms


Ben Adams explains how a video collaboration between a school and an agency specialising in medical communications has helped to raise the profile of the industry among young people.

Attracting the best talent to the pharmaceutical and medical communications sector is of fundamental importance – but recruiting the best people is a difficult task that requires new and innovative ways of thinking. Many children and teenagers dream of being doctors, scientists or communication specialists, but few consider medical communications or working for the pharmaceutical industry as a career option.

The industry works behind the scenes – the average person on the street might struggle to name a pharmaceutical company, and it would be a small miracle if they knew the name of a medical communications firm, and what each did. These companies accomplish great things, but the regulations that bar direct-to-consumer advertising mean that much of what they do remains unknown.

For the recruiter, this poses the question: how can I attract the best talent to an industry that people have not heard of? Education and greater engagement are the keys to unlocking this problem.

Case study: Going back to school

Tracey Ellis, corporate recruiter at medical communications agency Ashfield Healthcare Communications, explains how her firm went back to school to create a more engaging recruitment project.

"Students from Macclesfield College [in Cheshire] approached us in the summer as part of their digital communications project. They had a real interest and passion in science and asked if we would work with them on a recruitment video. We thought this was a fantastic idea, as we don't currently have a video for recruitment and it would provide the perfect opportunity for the students to really understand what we do.

"We worked with them to explain exactly what our business does and the types of roles available before they came in to deliver their pitch. They then presented a professional proposal for the content of the video before returning to shoot for two days with various members of our team.

"We're now going to use the resulting video as a recruitment tool on our careers page and via our social media platforms. The video provides an insight into the business which you couldn't capture in an email or a photograph. It is also a powerful tool to help spread the message about the pharma and med comms industry and the passion behind it.

"Ashfield works closely with local schools, colleges and universities, regularly attending careers fairs to explain the options that exist in medical communications and offering internships. We've created a strong network and this project has come to fruition as a result of that."

The finished video can be viewed here.

The students' perspective

Macclesfield College decided to approach the company for the collaborative video project as it is a well-regarded locally. The project gave the students the opportunity to work with a well-established company and market leader in their sector. The students not only gained working skills but knowledge of opportunities within the industry.

"I thoroughly enjoyed working with Ashfield as part of my college course. The opportunity of being able to work with a company as prestigious as Ashfield communications will look fantastic on my CV. I feel that the knowledge I have gained is invaluable to my education and future career; I now feel I have a much better understanding of the medical communications industry," said Tom Willis, Macclesfield media student.

Bridging the skills gap

Attracting new talent to med comms has never been more important as there is a major skills shortage in the industry. An innovative approach is needed to combat this and new ways of generating awareness is key. Tracey Ellis admits she "did not have a clue" what med comms was before working in the industry, "but recruitment and vacancies are a really good platform to push out our message, and more and more this is being done digitally to reach the most people," she explains. The key is to get the message across on as many different platforms – whether physical or digital – as possible. This includes better engagement on social media channels; more information on company websites; more multimedia usage such as video projects and infographics; and ensuring the right people are viewing all of this via the latest search engine optimised technology.

"Ashfield's work with local students, its presence at careers fairs and internship programmes are all a part of raising the visibility of medical communications as a career option to a new generation. The recruitment video was an excellent example of a project that demonstrated to the students making it what is involved day-to-day in medical communications, which can now be shared to educate a wider audience. We need to spread the word to younger people about the benefits of working for pharma and in med comms in order to make the industry more visible to the next generation. This can be done most effectively by having med comms agencies work more closely with schools, colleges and universities to allow talented people to see this unknown side of the healthcare industry as a place they want to work."

About the author

Ben Adams is a freelance writer specialising in the pharma and health sector.