Do you want to get into a career in MedComms strategy? If so, read on. We asked two members of our strategy team to share their career stories. They cover how they found out about MedComms, their advice to help get started and what attracted them to Bedrock. And much more…
We spoke to Derek Annan – Head of Strategy, and Laura Wilson – Client Strategy Director.
What got you interested in MedComms?
While both Derek and Laura studied science at university, MedComms wasn’t in either of their career plans. They discovered this exciting industry through recommendations. And, for both, MedComms was the career they’d been looking for – a way to utilise their love of science and migrate from the lab.
Derek discovered MedComms after his PhD in biotechnology. His two-year stint as student union president gave him a taste for management and leadership, and led to an interest in looking for a job that combined pharmaceuticals and business. “I started in a company that offered brand comms and MedComms which gave me a feel for both areas of work. I was the medical writer and account manager on my very first project. This was a great grounding across the business and later led to me working in business development and client partnership roles – all of which are important for my strategy role now.”
Laura did a degree in pharmacology, and started her career as an associate at a clinical research organisation specialising in preclinical oncology and immunology – and was contacted about a role in MedComms by a recruiter. As she explains, MedComms gave her the opportunity to use her degree in a more patient-focused way. “The point of my degree was about drugs, and how they affect people, I knew I wanted to get more into the medical side, which is why MedComms completely clicked. That’s what I really wanted to do, stay within science but actually see the medical benefit and the effect for patients as well. And 10 years later, including a spell in Australia in a MedComms agency in Sydney, I’m still here!”
Tell us more about your roles at Bedrock
Derek feels that his earlier roles and rapport with medical writers gave him an appreciation of all the aspects of the MedComms business. And, as he explains, that’s very beneficial to strategy. “To be able to support a client’s strategy, you absolutely need to understand the science and the landscape.” And what else is involved in being Head of Strategy? “It’s a number of things that align towards the client’s end goal. Part of it is having robust and integrated programs, as opposed to isolated projects. Then there’s the return on investment for the client. Is the program going to achieve what we set out to do at the outset and achieve that end goal? So, the rewarding part of it is being able to navigate your way through that journey and, at the very end, have a program that has had a demonstrable impact or maybe wins an award.” Derek adds one more thing into the strategy mix. “At Bedrock, the common thread is trust. Clients feel that they trust me and our team, with whatever needs to be done. That trust is key, which is why clients will see us more as an extension of their team.”
Laura’s role is Client Strategy Director. Her earlier career working in client services and business development has given her rounded experience to be able to focus on what is needed to address the unmet needs and the challenges. As she explains, this involves going beyond delivery to forward thinking. “Strategy is about being curious and being really interested. You need to get to the core, actionable insight. You need to have that understanding of what is really happening, and also what the client’s aspiration is as well. It’s also about bringing in ideas that they might not have considered before, and new perspectives from what else is happening in medical affairs. We’re not just reactive. We’re as proactive as possible and we partner with them. We also work closely with the account teams at Bedrock acting as the ‘internal client’, making sure everything we deliver will exceed their expectations.”
What attracted you to join Bedrock?
Having worked in MedComms for several years, Derek was aware of Bedrock and remembers seeing the name at awards ceremonies. When the prospect of joining came up, Derek had to decide whether he wanted to join what was, for him, a boutique style business. So, what made him move? “Talking to Bedrock really changed my focus. I’d always been attracted to bigger companies, but I realised that to really have a much more powerful impact, in terms of what you’re doing in MedComms, you need an agile company like Bedrock to be able to get that across. I saw the opportunity to grow with Bedrock and to have a significant impact in terms of what we deliver to our clients.”
Laura was looking to move into strategy for her next role and explains what brought her to Bedrock. “Not every agency really appreciates the value of having a dedicated strategy function so when I came across Bedrock and found the role, that’s what really piqued my interest. The fact that I could work with clients and support business development is what really interested me. Also, when I had my interviews with Bedrock, everyone was so lovely, so approachable. You could tell they were truly living their values. Bedrock genuinely mean what they say. Like finishing at four o’clock on a Friday. You get the CEO messaging on Teams “It’s four o’clock now. Have a good weekend.” You hear companies talk about values, but this is the first company I’ve known that really acts and lives them.”
What’s exciting at the moment in MedComms?
Both Derek and Laura feel there’s great variety in MedComms in terms of projects, programs and what they bring to clients. But the pandemic has also brought shifts in how medical education is perceived, as well as changes in who they work with. As Laura explains, “We’ve seen a change in the value of medical affairs along with the value of credible medical education. Really solid medical education is coming to the fore. We are seeing a shift in client demographics. We partner with big pharma companies as you would expect, but we are also working with biotech companies. This has really accelerated over the last few years as biotechs are coming to agencies at the phase II stage. So that’s been interesting to work with, making sure that they’ve got a robust scientific evidence platform. They’re already planning their publications at that stage, and if they do take it through to commercialisation, they know they’ve got a partner that can support them right through.”
Derek also sees medicine moving onto a very interesting communications space. “Patient voices are becoming louder. The way of communicating with the healthcare profession is now also evolving. You’re looking at the consumer and how social media is influencing the world. All of that packaged together is very exciting because you’ve got to have the right balance. But it’s not just about social media. The right balance is having an optimal approach to all, that’s how I see the future of MedComms evolving. And I think where we are with Bedrock is it’s exciting and fun, in terms of combining all of this evolution.”
What’s your favourite project so far?
Derek’s projects include consensus, disease awareness, medical education and pre-launch programs. They all tick the box of being rewarding to work on as they allow him to see the impact of his work. Of these, it’s probably pre-launch programs that he’s found especially rewarding, with one in particular in mind as he explains. “With pre-launch programs there’s so many things you can do. You’re trying to understand where the product’s going to fit in the market, the external impact that it will have, whether at phase II or phase III. One of my favourite pre-launch projects was working in the cystic fibrosis space. It was ground-breaking, we were working with breakthrough products, engaging with patient associations, healthcare professionals and building the trust to make it happen. You’re right in the middle of that conversation and you’re seeing the impact of what you’re doing.”
Laura has enjoyed working closely with clients to gain expert insights through consensus programs. It’s something of a Bedrock speciality as she explains. “Our clients really value how we go through the adapted Delphi process to make sure that we get the best input from clinical opinion leaders, build relationships with the experts, and that we are leaders in the provision of actionable consensus guidelines. That’s probably been the most interesting kind of project for me so far.”
How do you see Bedrock supporting your career development?
Laura believes that Bedrock’s size and ethos will give her a more personalised development route. So, what might that look like? “I’ve only been here a few months but already they’re really active in wanting to find tailored training for me. That, I think, is a benefit of a smaller agency, that they’re actually looking at individuals and individual training needs and not just giving out a one-size-fits-all session. I’ve got the opportunity to propose what training I’d like. I can get onto courses and find what would actually work for me.”
Bedrock is keen to develop future talent and invests in leaders and leadership training, something that Derek is currently doing, and finding hugely enjoyable. “I have to give credit to the Resonant CEO, David Youds, who introduced me to Vistage leadership training – which Bedrock pays for. It’s been a revolution for my career, which I’m very thankful for. It’s given me so many things that I apply currently in my role, from how to interact with your peers, to leading your team. It’s really more of a training journey, it takes you step by step and builds upon what you’ve done previously.”
What advice would you give anyone wanting to get into MedComms?
Having worked in several MedComms businesses, Derek has seen how quickly careers can develop and the resilience needed to cope with the unpredictable. “I think it offers steeper development or progression in comparison to other industries. But, you do need to be resilient to get on. We can have great days – but there are times when things don’t go as you expect. You need to come into this with a flexible mindset and show how you can cope with a dynamic environment. But the great thing is that you can start at an entry level role and within five years, you might be somewhere higher than you anticipated in your entire career.”
Laura is keen for people to know about the variety that MedComms offers and the various routes in. “Many think it’s about medical writing, but actually having a scientific background, you can absolutely excel through the ranks of client services and account management. Medical writing is not the only route to get into strategy. I’m not a medical writer, but I do apply scientific acumen and knowledge for strategy. While you can research the industry through sites like MedComms Networking, as a starter, most people would want to find a recruiter or apply directly to an agency like Bedrock, after all we are looking for the next generation of MedComms people.”
Who is Bedrock Healthcare Communications?
Bedrock is a multi-award-winning healthcare communications agency. We partner with healthcare professionals, patients, pharmaceutical and biotech clients across the globe to design and deliver compelling medical education programs.
Bedrock has a unique offering, whereby our service provision for each client includes a dedicated strategy team member, in addition to the scientific and client services teams. The strategy team member is part of the strategic thinking process, connecting projects and programs into a holistic plan and identifying gaps/opportunities that add value to Bedrock’s offering
Want to find out more about a career in our strategy team?
We hope you’ve been inspired by the tips and career stories from our Strategy team. MedComms is a great career option if you are passionate about communicating science and helping more patients live better lives. If this sounds like you, please tell us a little about yourself and send your CV to firstname.lastname@example.org