Traditionally, drug bulletins focus their messages on a chosen ‘target’ group which will usually consist of doctors or pharmacists. This group is the bulletin’s constituency. It is the group which the bulletin wishes to satisfy, to which it would naturally direct any questionnaires to assess customer satisfaction, and in whose language (style, vocabulary) the material is written. There are, however, others who it is also worthwhile addressing, including the media, politicians, opinion formers, patients and consumers.
It is important to remember that, in any country, bulletins will have an unrivalled knowledge of locally appropriate treatments, because any decisions they make on the use of a treatment will have been made in the context of local knowledge about healthcare. The advice given in the bulletin will also be up-to-date, unbiased, impartial and accurate. Inevitably, and because of its work, the bulletin becomes the repository of data and sound decision-making and this resource should be widely available. Influencing groups other than the bulletin’s natural target has all sorts of potential advantages (see Table 10.2), but a bulletin will need to develop a strategy if such influence is to be successful. However, it is important for the bulletin’s editors to keep in mind that as bulletin representatives their areas of expertise lie within the topics that have been the subject of bulletin articles. Advising or informing on subjects outside one’s area of expertise is a recipe for disaster!
Table 10.2. Advantages of influencing two non-target groups*
• Exposure in the media will broaden understanding of therapeutic issues by the population at large, and may make patients and consumers more receptive to new ideas.
• Because stories in the media will also be read by the bulletin’s normal target group, they will remind them to read the bulletin.
• Stories can provide a public health warning. If an article raises concerns about the dangers of particular treatments, affected patients may specifically consult their doctors and have the problem resolved.
• When the media are approached with stories from others (industry, government), bulletins can offer an independent informed view of the issues and so minimise the publication of biased or groundless claims.
• Politicians normally influence health policy and the better informed they are the more reliable the policy.
• Politicians should respond to public demand and to respond well they need information that is reliable, accurate and impartial, and which they can trust.
• Politicians may have to decide on a bulletin’s funding or comment on its perceived place in society. The more they know about the bulletin the easier it will be for them to identify with (and support) your cause.
*Assuming the target groups are health professionals
Of course, there are potential disadvantages in having a policy involving addressing new and broader audiences (see Box 10.2), and these need to be taken into account before embarking upon such a policy.
Box 10.2 Potential disadvantages of involving a wider audience
• Takes extra time.
• Requires ‘media’ training.
• Needs senior members of staff who are prepared to be exposed to the media or other public arenas.
• Requires planning.
• May backfire if the bulletin is misquoted or the relationship ‘goes wrong’.
• Exposes the bulletin to criticism.
• May anger some of the bulletin’s primary target readership.
• May concern a body involved in the funding of the bulletin.
Introducing a policy of communicating with a wider audience requires the agreement of all of the bulletin’s senior staff. Once this has been decided, the steps listed in Box 10.3 are worth considering. If closer working with politicians is part of the strategy, arrangements will need to be made to meet identified persons (e.g. member of parliament) and the occasion should be carefully scheduled. At the end of the session, the politician should know exactly what you do and how you do it, what your aims are, the areas in which you have expertise and can offer advice, and how s/he could contact you for advice (phone, fax and e-mail details are essential). The meeting should probably take place at your office so that the politician has a clear picture of you in your own setting.
Box 10.3 Some steps when considering working more closely with the media
• Ensure all the senior staff agree with the policy.
• Identify those who will act as communicators. They may need media training.
• Identify articles that you feel would benefit from being highlighted in the media.
• Provide a press release on the article, drawing attention to the important issues. The press release should be sent in plenty of time for the media article to be written. It should include some short quotes from the editor, a copy of the original article, an embargo date, and also the contact details of the bulletin’s trained spokesperson.
• Journalists should be made aware that they can call on the bulletin at any time if they want impartial, accurate and independent advice about medical interventions.
It is worth identifying potentially interested and capable journalists (for example, newspaper health correspondents, writers for consumer columns/publications, magazines for women, parents and elderly people, financial pages, TV and radio reporters and editors, journalists from the medical and pharmaceutical press). You should encourage those who want to get the information right and avoid those who are more interested in communicating a distorted message. It can take years to get to know and trust journalists. By sending regular press releases on selected topics, you may attract their attention so that they gradually come to consider your bulletin as a reliable source of information. In the longer term, being known as a reliable source of information can bring about a new problem, in that it can be difficult to manage the number of journalists calling for information (for example, as many bulletins experienced because of the media interest in the Vioxx affair). If your bulletin is seen to produce articles that have clear messages for the public, you may be invited to write a regular column for a lay publication (as occurred for a Japanese bulletin). Do not miss a good chance to communicate with the public or with patients.