Ms. Schecker is the global head of communications and external affairs at Novartis. During a recent interview with The Holmes Report, Schecker expounded upon the changing role of communications in the pharmaceutical industry. In her words, “a radical shift” is needed: “when you communicate you need to shift from things like we lead to we can learn, from we supply to we co-create, or we know to we learn and adapt. And that’s a big, big change I think.”
Baird’s CMC has supported Novartis in recent years on initiatives including the Malaria Futures reports in Africa and Asia and other initiatives under the umbrella of Novartis Social Business (NSB). These include its Arogya Parivar (Healthy Families) programme, which began in India and has been expanded to Kenya and Vietnam, and Novartis Access scheme, which provides low-cost medicines for the treatment of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) in developing countries.
In her interview, Schecker was keen to emphasise that it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. “When we launched [Novartis Access] we thought we’ll be in so many countries in such a short period of time, we will actually face production issues and we will not be able to hide because we have such high demand,” Schecker motes. “This did not happen. So that was a really interesting learning because whilst the portfolio offering made commercial sense, countries are not set up in the way that they can procure portfolios, they procure single treatments, one at a time.
“So over the past three years we learned a lot. We found out that some partners like NGOs and aid organisations could very well work with such an offer while the public sector we might need to adjust. And when we launched what we did is actually what we discussed earlier, we engaged in transparent dialogue. We put our approach out on the table, we said look guys if you are interested come, help us, challenge us, be conscious that we will also say we will need to adapt, and this is exactly what has happened.”
This dialogue, Schecker is keen to emphasise, effectively represents the future of healthcare communications. “We have no other choice — and I’m deeply convinced of that — to move away from big campaigns, which I might call stunt campaigns, that very often do not involve the countries where the issues are actually acute, to a new way of communicating which is really driven by dialogue, transparency,” she says. To this end, the involvement of the communications sector is imperative.
“This is an area where the sector needs to engage with stakeholders and partners to try to find solutions jointly,” Schecker outlines. “In my opinion this is the big shift in comms also because not only do we need to adjust to that new reality but I do actually believe we need to help drive it. That means if we need to drive it we need to be at the centre of the business strategy and not at the periphery and have a seat at the table up to the highest level.”
In their endeavours, Novartis has enjoyed success – in no small part thanks to the lessons learned in developing its communications efforts. The Malaria Futures reports in Africa and Asia, Schecker said, exemplifies the collaborative style of communications necessary to reinvigorate the “not…media-sexy” subject of malaria – “a topic,” she adds, that “the world is getting very complacent towards” – and identify trends and solutions. Meanwhile, the outreach of programmes such as Healthy Families and Novartis Access have succeeded in reaching millions with health education and treatment.
For the future, Schecker offers arguably guarded optimism. “I think we are on the right path but I think we are not there yet. I think that the changing reality will accelerate this movement but it would be too bold of me to claim that this is already a reality everywhere.”