Why Inclusion for Life Matters to Me as a Professional and a Parent

We work in a female dominated industry, which in my twenty plus years in PR, has always been the case.  But we don’t have the same proportionate number of woman in leadership positions across the industry and I have often asked myself why. What happens to cause this in the employee experience and life cycle somewhere between entering the PR industry and retirement? My conclusions aren’t rocket science, but the reality is far more complex than it might at first appear because there are historical barriers in the way of female progression, from society’s expectations of how to act and behave, to stereotyping and biases. Over time women have learned to conform and mask parts of themselves to fit in with a workplace historically designed by and for men. To survive, let alone progress, women have often needed to overcome, ignore, or accept ways of working that are not inclusive to them or designed with their needs or success in mind.

Both in my role as a leader in the UK business, but also as a parent to 3 school aged daughters, I am passionate about women not just in the workplace but in all aspects of life, having an authentic equal playing field. This means being confident and comfortable to be themselves, to ask for help and support without fear of judgement and not having to mask their true self to thrive.  For this to happen, we need to think, act and talk truly inclusively, in all walks of life allowing people to be themselves, to ask for what they need because to treat people fairly and equally takes time, effort, intention and empathy. It’s a world where differences are celebrated and not just tolerated or worse.

In the UK office, we have put a lot of thinking, time and intention behind our people, learning and DEI work, words and actions. This includes enhancing the terms (including remuneration) for our gender-neutral Family Friendly Leave and focusing on the time re-onboarding back into the business for those returning from family leave. We also recently introduced a range of new policies to support employees at critical life moments, including menopause, fertility, and menstruation. We have partnered with a women’s health charity, The Eve Appeal, to raise awareness of gynaecological cancers. In the year in which our Global DEI theme is focusing on Mental Wellbeing and Neuro-Diversity, in the UK we are deepening our longstanding work around wellbeing in the workplace through our ‘How Are You’ approach to open up conversations, mental health talks and a planned programme of ‘movement’, for 2024.  We believe that these programmes and actions help us to better understand how to support and encourage everyone to feel empowered to overcome the hurdles in their way and to proudly be themselves, asking for what they need to succeed. 

Making sure that everyone, including women at all levels and stages of their life and careers, are seen and heard, and we are doing all we can to understand them and their needs, whether that be through wellbeing, career progression, neuro diversity, life as working parent – whatever that might be. This is our goal. 

-Rebecca Hall, Group HR Director

Unlocking the creative power behind healthcare comms

By Paul Andrews, Executive Director, Creative, Design & Production

Design plays a vital role in healthcare communications, helping translate complex scientific data into digestible content and visually exciting campaigns for wide-ranging audiences.

We caught up with the head of Virgo’s global creative design studio, Paul Andrews, who leads The Pharmacy, our multi-disciplinary team of 13 designers who are passionate about delivering accessible, creative and innovative healthcare design.

What areas of healthcare are most exciting creatively?  

All areas have potential for creativity, but they all manifest differently, I think congress booths have the most scope for introducing new and emerging technology into the experience, we are always exploring at how we can make content more engaging in this setting. Data visualization is an area healthcare should be better at, with the amount of data that’s presented we should be setting the bar of what is possible, telling the scientific or human story through the data and contextualizing it for the audience.

How can design make healthcare more inclusive and accessible?

People always assume design is making something look visually appealing but that’s the end product, the process to get there is more problem-solving and inclusivity and accessibility is a key part of that: How do we take this content and make it easy to digest? How do we make sure the audience is represented? What’s the messaging hierarchy and how do package that information in an aesthetic way to attract viewers and maximise usability?

Intended audience is always a consideration, regardless if it’s healthcare or not. If we are setting type on a patient piece of content for the elderly or visually impaired we take that into account for sizing and legibility of the text or if we are creating an animation with text – are all the viewers reading this in their native language, if not we slow it down to give people more time. If we are using imagery, is it representative of the audience we are talking to.

How will AI affect design?

Will it replace illustrators, designers and animators? Probably not, it’s just going to become another tool we all lean on to get the best results. AI will certainly streamline processes, speed things up and spark creativity – there are platforms where you can automatically generate 50 versions of artwork for different media, it’s not always perfect and needs a human eye to tidy-up but that kind of automation is getting better and better.

Tools like generative fill in Adobe Photoshop is a game changer, Mid-Journey or Firefly are great for instantly bringing concepts to life, which is perfect for showcasing ideas to clients or suggesting visual routes you might not have considered. We will certainly see more content creators specializing in AI generated content as there is an art to getting it right, a mix of creative intention, programming and knowing the right prompts to create your vision.

What are the challenges of designing for healthcare?

One of the main hurdles in healthcare design is making sure you are compliant with local guidelines, such as the ABPI in the UK. As these vary from market to market, we all need to be aware of the requirements. Another common issue is finding images. Stock imagery for healthcare can be a real challenge, especially if you are trying to avoid the common tropes, for this reason we often suggest bespoke illustration as an alternative, and we are very fortunate to have a group of very talented illustrators within the team.

What misconception about healthcare design would you dispel?

People assume designing in healthcare can be a little dull and samey: scientific content, blue and green corporate pharma colour palettes, Photoshop’d images of patients breaking through walls, death by PowerPoint – but it’s the opposite!

Yes, there are aspects of that but it’s an incredibly rewarding sector to work in, both creatively and technically. We get to translate complex mechanisms of action into graphic or illustrated pieces that everyone can understand, we create educational disease awareness explainer animations and emotionally charged patient videos – the work we do is wide-ranging, complex and challenging but for all the right reasons.

What design challenges are the hardest?

Data visualisation – it’s one of the things I am most passionate about as I believe data presented in the right way can really contextualise the content and bring people into the story we are telling. The exploration of how we present that data can take some time and throw-up problems that you wouldn’t find in other projects, such as creating interactive user-led journeys through the content. It doesn’t have to be fancy or over-complicated, just something that gives the viewer the content in the most digestible, yet meaningful way.

The Pharmacy is Virgo Health’s award-winning global creative design studio, specializing in healthcare design and content production. Their work ranges across artwork, animation, 3D, films, photography presentation, digital design, booth and experiential design and illustration. To learn more about our capabilities or share a brief please email paul.andrews@virgohealth.com.

Medical Affairs digital and AI transformation is here

By Joe Doyle, EVP Digital Health and Sachim Makani, EVP Scientific Strategy

Digital transformation is a driving force for pharma communications teams and today it is rising in medical affairs, with a feast of channels and touchpoints for scientific learning. So when the Medical Affairs Professional Society (MAPS) group advertised a tech and innovation summit my colleague, Sachin Makani and I attended to join a new medical education world. Here’s our takeaways:

Leveraging Technology and Data to Create Innovative Solutions

Charged with caffeine, we took our first dive into the innovation syllabus with insights in artificial intelligence from Kevin Hartman, Practice Leader – Data and AI Solutions, UC Berkeley.

Joe – AI is a reality for our teams at Virgo Health, and Kevin shared great insights – such as, “hallucinate is when AI makes up a result that is incorrect, but close.” His students’ projects for healthcare included a clinical trials chatbot that optimizes real-world evidence and one that helps search relevant pub med articles for medical questions stood out the most.

Sachin – Totally agree about that real-world evidence and mining through PubMed examples, Joe. I was excited as I imagined how much time something like that could save us. This was the first of many instances we heard that day of how AI can make us more efficient.

Digital Transformation in Medical Affairs: Is it a Complex Goal?

Vruti Patel of Xeris moderated a group that included experts from IBM, Astellas, Pfizer, Inizio, and Alucio. The Q&A featured ideal thought starters for the day.

Joe – My favorite question from the moderator was “You can’t be super proactive with medical information; how do you balance that?” The panelists referred to a time just five years ago when we didn’t even say the words Marketing and Med Affairs in the same sentence. Jessica Wong of Alucio explained that our pharma data, especially peer-reviewed examples, is public, and corporate entities are helping health professionals find it for the betterment of patients. Rishi Ohri, Astellas, added that he’s been able to achieve more by helping legal and compliance understand the importance of digital amplification. Virgo Health works with a couple of brands where this is a reality, and it makes all the difference.

Sachin – This was my favorite panel session, the discussion that didn’t have anything to do with AI or medical affairs per se but team-building and collaboration. One approach highlighted by the participants was to “highlight junior members” and “celebrate small wins.” Another highlight was 6-3-5 Brainwriting Ideation, where 6 people come up with 3 ideas each, in 5 min. (After 6 rounds, this = 108 ideas). Good when the objective is to generate many ideas without a single voice dominating the room.

Missing Link Between Organizational Vision, Strategy, and Execution for Medical Affairs

Another all-star cast was led by Bratati Ganguly of Planet Pharma. She guided a group of executives from Biogen, Ipsen, Servier and Syneos Health.

Sachin – Main takeaway for me here, whether we’re talking about a technological, personnel, or organizational innovation, is to fail small, fail fast, and fail forward. By failing small, the sunk costs are small, and by failing forward you set yourself up for the next step, which will hopefully be a success.

Joe – Our med affairs partners crave digital opportunities, but don’t always have the internal staff to help make new programs and channels successful. Hearing Shashi Singh of Agile N2N use the magic words “audience first” made me smile. Gerard Deisenroth of Ipsen added that it helps when your med affairs team has change management expertise, or your company has a COE with storytelling experts to envision success for decision-makers.

The Promise and Potential of Augmented Intelligence for Medical Affairs

If the morning keynote tackled the origins of AI, the afternoon session followed perfectly with a call to action – AI is here, it is time to use it – with entertaining guest speaker, Matt Lewis, Chief AI Officer of Inizio.

Joe – It was nice to see focus on the human side of technology. Matt made us feel at ease by pointing to one fact – humans start and finish every use of AI. And AI can motivate employees, taking away the drudgery and opening it up for employees to think more, to be more strategic. A great question from the room asked about web3 technologies (bitcoin, metaverse, AI, etc.) and which is the right innovation to get behind. Matt pointed to one fact – AI is the only innovation that is already here and widely used.

Sachin – We know this: AI is here and it’s not going away. We are currently integrating AI with client partners to create the most positive impact, safely and ethically and identifying the next generation use cases for AI to assist our teams with creativity, efficiency, and quality. Leveraging new capabilities and channels will be vital for future medical affairs communications, Matt’s real-world examples were a great validation that we are headed in the right direction.

New capabilities and channels for future medical affairs communications gave us all assurance that we are getting more personalized to bring health with a human touch.

Why I’ve stayed at Virgo for 18 years and counting

By Natasha Weeks, Executive Director, Virgo Health  

I can’t quite believe I joined Virgo Health almost 18 years ago. I started out at our first office in Richmond as a JAE working across a range of pharma clients. At the time I was one of around 20 people and we were on a mission to create Communications without Compromise. Perhaps it was my journalism training, but my passion was and still is storytelling – I wanted to tell health stories to consumers. 

So as Virgo Health hits its 20th milestone, apart from making me feel old 😉, I can’t help but reflect on what it is about Virgo that’s made me stay so long. 

Yet it’s simple really – because I love the people I work with and the work that we do.  

And it’s stayed that way, as the one thing that hasn’t changed in all this time is Virgo’s ethos and values. From Day 1 Virgo was a people-first agency, driven by our mission not to compromise our people or our clients. Over the years our culture has been kept alive by the old-timers and made more relevant by Virgo’s new generations. 

But of course, even the nicest place to work doesn’t mean much if you can’t find purpose in your work. I’ve been fortunate enough to find plenty, from creating ‘Emma: Work Colleague of the Future’, the most awarded health campaign of the year in 2020, to supporting parents through lockdown with Waterwipes, increasing representation during Breast Cancer Awareness Month and being part of an incredible media team that launched the world-first bivalent Covid-19 vaccine for Moderna. 

I do wonder if Virgo and I simply grew together, first as a young PR in a fledging agency it was wonderful to be part of building something new, then when we were acquired by Golin my life was also changing as I started a family. Being part of Golin also offered new challenges and opportunities, providing access to a global network and I’ve been lucky enough to spend time at Golin in Chicago and New York and work with colleagues across the world.  

A real highlight for me, as Consumer Health lead, has been working in collaboration with the Golin consumer teams to work on big consumer brands benefiting from healthcare expertise. Our hybrid working model is something that continues to set us apart and I’m hugely proud to work on Asics and Specsavers with the best creative and earned media minds in the business. 

Of course, across 18 years it wasn’t all plain sailing, moving from Richmond to Central London and being part of a network was a huge transition, and then there was lockdown-working with two young kids! But the magic has been, and hopefully will always be, Virgo’s strong sense of purpose as an agency that wants the very best for its people and its clients.  

Who knows if I’ll be writing this column again in another 20 years, but if I’m not, I imagine someone else saying something very similar. 

That’s the Purple Power.