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If you’re considering a career move into healthcare communications and want some real advice on whether this specialist field is for you, look no further! For valuable insights and an insider view on the industry, how to get into it and how to get ahead, Paramount Recruitment caught up with Reghu Venkatesan who is currently head of healthcare at Madano – a global strategic consultancy working on integrated communications in highly regulated areas, including healthcare, energy and the built environment. Previously, Reghu was a director at Madano’s sister healthcare company, AXON Communications
How did you get into healthcare communications?
I was in the middle of studying for my PhD when I realised that a career in academia and research just wasn’t for me, but I didn’t really know what other options there were for someone with my background. I spoke to one of my professors, who suggested medical publishing and put me in touch with one from a global medical publishing house who he said could tell me more. It sounded right up my street, and moving into publishing turned out to be one of the best decisions I could have made.
I spent 7 years in healthcare publishing, reviewing content for more than 40 medical journals, covering just about every therapeutic area you could imagine, and worked my way up to editorial director. I learned a lot during that time, and used that knowledge and experience to progress to an editorial director role at AXON in 2007. Once I took that role, I really had an opportunity to develop my knowledge and understanding of strategic, integrated healthcare communications. I was there for just over 2.5 years, and then tried working for a few other agencies, but finally went back to AXON in 2012 – for the people, for the culture and for the opportunity to continue to learn and develop.
What qualifications do you need to work in healthcare communications? Do you need a science PhD or a media degree?
No, not at all, neither is essential and I think that’s one of the great things about healthcare communications. I believe it is an industry that embraces variety, and very much welcomes people with different backgrounds and experiences. You don’t need to have followed a linear path to get here.
What’s it like working in a healthcare communications agency?
Hand on heart, it’s not 9 to 5 and no day is ever the same. I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s the truth! It can get pretty busy at times, especially around congresses and key milestones, but both Madano and AXON do their very best to ensure that staff retain a good work/life balance and are recognised in many different ways when they need to go ‘above and beyond’ to deliver for a client. It’s a fantastically varied sector, and you could be tackling anything from advising clients to writing copy, to being onsite anywhere around the globe, working with the most eminent physicians in their field, and everything in between – on any given day!
What skills do you think are most important in healthcare communications?
I think listening is probably one of the most important skills you can develop in this industry. Communication is a two-way process, so you have to actively listen to your clients’ specific needs to be able to give them good counsel and deliver communications solutions that will work for them. The more you listen, the better job you will do for them, and this all helps establish you as their trusted advisor, which is one of our ultimate goals in the business.
Do you have any advice for those just starting out in healthcare communications?
Be a sponge! Take it all in, ask questions and learn as much as you can, even if you don’t think it’s something that will be directly related to your work. To be a good communicator in this field, you need to have a holistic approach to healthcare. This means developing a broad understanding of the whole industry, its complexities and its challenges. We should also learn from other sectors, as we do in Madano. For example, to manage any potential issue or crisis; if we can deal with these situations in the pharma, nuclear and construction industries, then we are pretty well set to handle anything thrown at us and our clients!
I’d also say try lots of different things. The industry is slowly moving away from ‘silo’ working, and many roles require a crossover of skills and experience between brand and corporate comms, policy and advocacy, medical education, public affairs, market access, and patient recruitment and retention – so overall my advice is to embrace opportunities that broaden your experience.
Talking of full integration, working with our in-house Insights and Creative teams has been fantastic – data-driven communications is the present (and the future) and you can always stand confidently behind a big creative idea built on a solid strategy – and we love doing that!
What do you like most about your job?
There’s lots that I enjoy about my job! I guess the first thing is that I love to learn, and at Madano I’m learning all the time because of the variety of people, products and places that are involved in my work. The second reason is that I enjoy doing a good job for my clients; it enthuses me and it’s why I come to work in the morning. I don’t see myself as a vendor or supplier, I hope I am a trusted advisor to my clients and can help them to solve some of their work challenges, as well as give them the Madano and AXON perspective on their business.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you first started out in healthcare communications?
That’s a really tough one. I think I would have liked to know that clients are just people and they want to hear your opinion, even if it’s different to theirs. We shouldn’t just be ‘yes’ people. We can and should challenge our clients and we should speak up and share our views. They’re not paying us to agree – well, not always!