Partnership between pharma and agency: best working to spread the word, support reputation and improve healthcare


Dr Zoe Healey outlines how to achieve a collaborative and most beneficial working relationship that delivers high quality outputs, engagement and outcomes.

If I had a pound for every time a pharma company worries that their agency isn't delivering what was promised in the pitch, or an agency says that their client is mean and just doesn't get it, I'd be rich, and very depressed. So instead of reeling off a list of anecdotes that will make us all grumpy, let's take a positive look at a few factors that can support a fruitful and rewarding relationship between client and supplier, helping us all get to where we want to be: improving healthcare.

"... let's take a positive look at a few factors that can support a fruitful and rewarding relationship between client and supplier."

A declaration – I've worked agency side my whole career post laboratory. But I've spent several years working with each of my main clients over the decades, and have learnt a lot from them. So I present a skewed point of view, yes, but one informed by many fruitful and rewarding working relationships.

First, dear agency colleagues, when clients are given what they ask for when reviewing agency performance, joint success is facilitated. Especially when we clearly communicate what we need from them in order to deliver what they request.

Common Pharma client requests and how client and agency can facilitate them:

• Access to the agency's senior strategic thinkers beyond the pitch

√ A clear role for agency experts in the agreed scope of work

√ Explanation made to procurement to support the need for senior staff

√ Agency set up to allow prompt cross-functional collaboration, providing access to different experts as client need demands

• Deliver correct documents first time – no typos or non-compliance please!

√ Agency and client agree ways of working, project plans, templates

√ Agency team is set up to facilitate teamwork and quality:

o Each team member has a clear role on the team, but...

o ...every member still takes full ownership of every document they see

o Each document is reviewed for scientific and clinical accuracy, referencing, compliance

o Each document (and that includes important emails) is sub-edited by someone other than the author


• Provide me with what I need to share outputs with colleagues and stakeholders to secure approval

√ Agency provided with access to approvers, budget-holders and key stakeholders to best understand their needs

√ Agency contact acts as client, sending deliverables through ready to go to all client colleagues or external stakeholders:

o Succinct background, including intended outputs, audiences, outcomes

o Clear requests for action, including timing, roles and responsibilities


• Support and enhance MY relationships with my colleagues, affiliates, partners, experts, advocates, other suppliers

√ Agency granted access to meetings with key stakeholders

√ Agency team includes specialist members for expert, advocate, affiliate relations, providing clear points of contact

√ Agency acts with client, for client, not for themselves

√ Client is available to participate in all key meetings

Now, dear clients, in order for an agency to best support a Pharma company to communicate and interact with external stakeholders, the agency needs to understand the client's business, the science behind the product, the clinical data supporting it, it's place in clinical management, as well as how external stakeholders perceive the disease, it's management, the product and the company. This can all be included in a brief, but believe me, nothing beats hearing it from the company, or their stakeholders, directly. To supply the best outputs, an agency does better as a consultancy than a supplier. Being a true partner to a client means being able to see the wood for the trees, make connections between information that a client's organization may not be set up to facilitate. This means that if you as a Pharma company provide your agency with access to all functions and their sources of information, the agency will be able to understand the client and stakeholder needs and put together the best story and campaign, in partnership with your colleagues and key stakeholders. This will support your relationships and reputation with your stakeholders. But only if your agency is also set up to provide you with the expertise and experience you need as well. Successful agency / client partnering means effectively pooling resources to best build a story and relationships so that the commissioned outputs truly support the best outcomes and help the client improve healthcare.

"To supply the best outputs, an agency does better as a consultancy than a supplier."

I've learned over the years to clearly articulate what my experience brings to a client and to ensure my role in agency is focused on best working with clients to deliver my most valuable expertise. Knowing what is it that you bring to the table / need on a team, and facilitating it's application, will always reap rewards. When building a working relationship, it's also important to remember the human side of relationships. We are all motivated by being liked, admired, supported. Of course, most of all in a working partnership, we are motivated and empowered by knowing just what it is we can achieve together and what everyone's role is in achieving these best outcomes. We owe it to one another, and the healthcare system, to plan, express and facilitate partnership. Each of us is working in healthcare because we want to improve people's lives. There is nothing more rewarding that being part of a team successfully improving the lot of healthcare professionals and patients. So let's do it together, well!


About the author:

Zoe holds a BSc in biotechnology, a PhD in gastroenterology, and has around 15 years of publications, marketing, education and communications experience. As Head of Scientific Strategy, Europe, at Chandler Chicco Agency and InVentiv Health Communications, she provides strategic scientific counsel on global and local campaigns for pharmaceutical companies. You can contact her on or +44(0)207 632 1800

inVentiv Health, Inc. is a leading global provider of best-in-class clinical, commercial and consulting services to clients whose goal is improving human life. inVentiv Health Communications (iHC) is the inVentiv Health division dedicated to delivering exceptional, global, multichannel communications to organizations focused on health and wellness. For more information, visit

What advice do you have on successful pharma / agency relationships?


4 September, 2013