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Tuesday Tonic: Spend a pound, save a life

{Tonic: (noun) something with an invigorating effect}

How much do drugs cost? Have you ever thought about it? It costs millions to develop some drugs, but some drugs are worth much more than their monetary value.

In the UK, nearly £2 billion each year is spent on the treatment of heart disease. £5.6 billion is spent on healthcare costs for the treatment of cancer. It costs a lot to treat people who are sick.

But what about a disease like malaria? How much do you think is costs to treat a disease that kills 660,000 people every year? How much does it cost to treat a disease that kills a child every single minute? A pound. One single British pound. £1. That’s all that it costs to buy the drugs needed to save a life.

The World Health Organization estimates 3.3 billion people (half the world’s population) are at risk from malaria, with approximately 250 million cases and nearly one million deaths every year. Yet, it’s a disease that is preventable and treatable. The problem is, the vast majority of people at risk live in the world’s poorest countries. £5 for a mosquito net may not seem much to us – sacrifice 2 cups of coffee on  your morning commute and you’ve covered it – but to a family trying to survive on less than £1 a day, it’s a lot of money.

This Friday, it’s Red Nose Day in the UK. The money raised helps Comic Relief support many projects devoted to tackling malaria.

Just £5 is all it takes to hang a mosquito net that 2 people can sleep under. £5 to save 2 lives. Donate now. It really is that simple.

Opinion

Tuesday Tonic: Remote doesn’t mean distant

{Tonic: (noun) something with an invigorating effect}

So with my relocation to a far-flung corner of Scotland imminent, I thought a little post about the benefits of remote working was called for.

Remote working works. I already know this, but how can I convince you of this too?

How many of you use email on a daily basis? Hands up now. No hiding. How many of you use conference calls with clients to save time travelling to their offices? All of you I’d guess. Email synced to your iPhone or Blackberry? Me too! So already, you’re using tools to communicate with clients and suppliers that are not on your doorstep. But email and conference calls are just the tip of the metaphorical iceberg when it comes to remote working.

In the past, I’ve used Skype to work on concepts with an art director. The video facility meant that we could share our scamps and bounce ideas off each other ‘face to face’. He was only on the other side of London at the time, but he could just have easily have been on the other side of the world. Skype also has a nifty function that allows you to share your desktop, a feature that came in very handy when I was discussing my portfolio with the creative director of an agency in New York one evening.

But Skype isn’t just for video calls. You can use it to conduct group conference calls too. Just last week I received a brief from a creative director sitting in his study in south London, while his creative services director drove the call from her sofa in north London. I was in my kitchen in sunny Surrey at the time, but we were able to go over the brief in as much detail as we needed without leaving the comfort of our homes. No travel time or expenses, no meeting rooms to be booked. Just a simple Skype group call. We didn’t even switch on our web cams, so they could have been dressed in their pyjamas for all I knew (don’t fill in the details if you’re reading. It would spoil the mystique).

But if face-to-face meetings is your thing and you insist on it, that’s not a problem. As well as Skype, there’s FaceTime via iPhone or iPad and Google+ hangouts to explore. Both of which are free (hurrah!).

So remote, doesn’t have to mean distant. The world is connected, to quote Richard Branson and if all this talk of VOIP and video conferencing makes you nervous, there’s always the good old fashioned telephone.

But what other tools do I use to make sure remote working works? Google Drive and DropBox are my new best friends. Google Drive lets me share documents and calendars with clients, giving us both editorial control over a piece of work. Everything is cleverly stored in the Cloud, easily accessible whenever you need it and safe from flying cups of coffee.

DropBox on the other hand is where I store my large files. Portfolio pieces, reference packs, background information. I can access it on my laptop, my iPad or my iPhone, so if you ever lose that copy of the Annual Report from the Chief Medical Officer, I can send it over to you with just a couple of clicks.

In 2013, with such a wealth of digital tools available for free that make meetings and networking possible on a global scale, do you really need me sitting in the creative department eating your biscuits? Working from Scotland means I can charge lower prices. My overheads are lower, so I pass that on to you. But my work ethic and standard of writing remain intact. It also means you only pay for the hours you use. If a piece of work takes me 3 hours, that’s what I invoice. So you don’t need to worry about booking a copywriter for a whole day and have them twiddling their thumbs for an hour while a brief is put together.

So, how about we try this remote working lark? If you hate it, I’ll send you biscuits to compensate. Now how’s that for an invigorating thought?

Biscuit anyone?
Biscuit anyone? If you try to fit a whole one in your mouth, I’m not sure how invigorating that would be to be honest…but let’s do a Google+ hangout to check!
Opinion

Tuesday Tonic: Sharing is caring

{Tonic: (noun) something with an invigorating effect}

Back in school, hiding your work from class mates was an integral part of the day. Essays were furiously scribbled behind arms shielding A4 notepads, science projects were conjured up beneath a veil of secrecy. Nothing was volunteered until it was committed to paper and approved by the teacher. The fear of somebody stealing your ideas was cultivated and encouraged to thrive and went hand in hand with the fear of teenage rejection.

But now that we’re all grown-ups, working in isolation is not such an appealing prospect. It’s too easy to get caught up in the minutiae of a project when you’re up against a deadline. Too easy to forget the bigger picture. Which is why sharing your thoughts, processes and work can be a great way to get out of a thinking rut. It feeds your creative brain cells and helps you grow and learn. Sharing and bouncing ideas off of other people can help nurture creativity and lead you in new directions you never thought of.

Yes, it’s daunting, but it can also be pretty exciting. Take this blog for example. Knowing that people all over the world can find me here, read these posts and react to them was pretty terrifying when I started out. What if everyone hated it? Could I stand the rejection? Did I have a thick enough skin? I decided if I didn’t, it was time I learnt to grow one.

So how do you share your work as a freelance copywriter? For me, this blog is the starting point. Working in healthcare, it’s not always appropriate or permissible to share my back catalogue online. So instead, I’m sharing examples of my writing here. But I’m also a sociable bee and you can find me on Google+, LinkedIn, twitter and as from today, dipping my toe in the clear, sparkling waters of Creativepool.

But why do I need them all? What’s the benefit of one over another? Here’s my take on what each social network has to offer someone like me:

Google+

It’s the new kid on the block, all the cool kids are using it. It’s strength, is in it’s reach. I can find designers, art directors, photographers, app developers and digitally savvy people on there as quick as I can type their name into the search box. The communities are a useful feature and it’s easy to see at a glance which ones have active members. Then there’s Hangouts. These can be used for a bit of fun, as a teaching tool or to collaborate with other creatives. I share blog posts, take part in conversations and discover and share new sources of information.

LinkedIn

Facebook for the professional me. It lets me build a network of professionals from within the pharma advertising world and check in with other freelancers. It helps people remember me and me them. It’s my digital little black book. I share relevant news, availability and play matchmaker when I can do other freelancers a favour.

Twitter

Immediate. That’s Twitter’s strength. And concise. Everything I need to know in 140 characters. Good practice for writing short, snappy sentences with impact if nothing else. But it’s also a portal to a whole world of information and knowledge. I share stuff I find interesting that I stumble upon, facts and updates, social media campaigns that grab my attention and interact with other freelancers and pharma ad types.

Creativepool

This one I just discovered recently and only completed my profile on this morning. But a quick look around revealed some nice content that I’m looking forward to exploring more. It looks like it’s going to be a more creative environment to build connections in than LinkedIn, so I’m eager to go back and explore more. I share not much more than my profile at the moment, but as I learn more about Creativepool I’m hoping to share some awesome looking creative work.

What about you? Where and how do you share your work? Come find me on any of the above networks and let me know. Don’t be shy!
Google

Opinion

How do you write?

When I started out as a writer, I didn’t really have much of a clue about what I was doing. I knew I wanted to write about science and I knew I loved playing with words, but that was about it.

So how did I learn how to write?

Listening

A lot of trial and error. I was very lucky to be trained in the craft of copywriting by some very patient people at the award winning agency Langland. The writers and art directors there all helped teach me about writing for healthcare and the essentials of good advertising. I’ll never forget presenting my first detail aid – it was terrifying. Quite rightly, it was torn to shreds. I was gutted and it was years later before I appreciated the depth of constructive criticism I received at Langland.

Because that’s what you need when you’re learning to write. Criticism. That’s the only way to learn what works and just as importantly, what doesn’t work. This is where the old Chinese (or is it Japanese?) proverb fall down seven times, stand up eight rings true.

Writing, rewriting, rewriting again

To learn to write, I wrote. Then I wrote it again. And again. And again. I had my word choice challenged by art directors, account handlers, brand managers and medics. Some words I changed (choose your battles writers), some words I fought hard to keep. Some words just naturally fell by the wayside while others clung on for dear life. But that is what crafting copy is all about. Accepting the criticism and letting people help you improve your writing.

In the beginning, you find yourself back at the drawing board (or writing slate) all too often. But starting afresh is exhilarating. A clean sheet of paper, an empty word document. Just waiting to be improved by the addition of some carefully chosen words.

The secret formula

After 12 years I have a tried and tested formula for writing. It has 3 stages: Immersion, Procrastination and Panic.

The first stage, is all about research. Reading the brief, understanding the brief, learning about the disease area if it’s new to me. I search online for insights into what it’s like to live with the disease, how doctors feel about treating it and what they think about the drug in question.

Then I procrastinate. Actually, I’m filtering all I’ve absorbed in stage 1, but it can look like procrastination to the untrained eye (ahem). But it all seriousness, stage 2, whatever you call it, is necessary. Go for a walk, eat lunch, watch an episode of Mad Men. Whatever it takes.

Then comes stage 3. Again, to the untrained eye, it can look like panic in the face of a looming deadline. But it’s actually Focus. By the time I’ve absorbed and filtered and digested all I need to, I’m itching to get those words captured in a word document.

But the real secret behind my tried and tested formula is…do you really want to know?

It’s the brief. A well written, carefully produced, thought out, insightful and inspiring brief.

That’s the real key to producing compelling healthcare communications.

IMG_0866
Not forgetting cake of course, essential for inspiring (bribing) account handlers with
Opinion

Jackanory

If like me you were a child of the 80’s, you’ll remember Jackanory. In fact, it’s still going strong today.

But what does Jackanory have to do with healthcare copywriting? In a nutshell: Storytelling.

Telling a compelling story that draws your audience in, engages them and leaves them feeling they’ve spent their time wisely is as relevant in a children’s storybook as it is in a detail aid.

Even the driest of medical facts can be engaging if you weave them into a story. You just need to find a narrative that your audience will respond to.

Easier said than done, I know. But while we’re on the subject of audience, it’s worth keeping in mind that even the most respected consultants and key opinion leaders are, at the end of the day, just people. Individuals with hopes and dreams, desires and personal preferences. Just people. And people love stories. Some people like a good thriller, others a bit of romance. Some people will tell you that they only read non-fiction or that they only read autobiographies. It makes no difference – they’re all still stories in one shape or form. History? One big story from the dawn of time. The theory of evolution? The story of how we came to be here. Politics? Lots of stories if you look hard enough.

So my advice to any budding copywriter out there is to find the story. Dig into the data, read up on patient experiences, absorb the guidelines, digest the brief. Immerse yourself in the subject area and before long, you’ll find your story.

Go looking for inspiration and it will find you.

Just like this lovely website.

(and here’s one of our favourite Jackanory tales…)

Opinion

Inspiration and the path to healthcare copywriting

Inspiration can come from anywhere. But back when I was trying to decide which academic path to follow, it was reading about medicines derived from nature that pushed me towards science and medicine.

Nature medicine

Antibiotics from mould, chemotherapy from pine trees, analgesics from willow trees and treatment for heart failure from foxgloves. It all fascinated me. So why didn’t I pursue pharmacology or pharmacy?

Jeff Goldblum. That’s why.

I saw him play James Watson in a BBC adaptation of Watson’s book The Double Helix : A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA and I was hooked on DNA. I wanted to know more about the secrets held within those beautifully intertwined strands of molecular code. Code that was hidden deep within cells, code that could spell new life or certain death.

How could our DNA, when combined with another person’s DNA, result in a fully formed human being in just a mere 9 months? Everything from eyelashes to liver function was coded for. Amazing.

What about when it doesn’t go to plan though? Trisomy 21, Klinefelter’s syndrome, the philadelphia chromosome…discovering the genetics of all these situations and so many more was like finding the key to Willie Wonka’s factory. I’d found the golden ticket and could stay as long as I wanted. It was magical and all that knowledge was just waiting to be devoured.

After 4 years though, I knew lab-based research wasn’t for me. Just to make sure, I worked as a cytogeneticist for a year. But I missed the desk research of my undergraduate years. The weaving of facts into coherent arguments, the moulding of conclusions and the crafting of sentences that were both grammatically and scientifically correct.

So I turned to the world of pharmaceuticals. Writing and reporting not consuming, obviously.

12 years later, I still love it. Diabetes, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, pulmonary arterial hypertension, overactive bladder, ankylosing spondylitis, glaucoma. Every day is different and although I’ve written about most therapeutic areas over the years, the pharmaceutical industry very kindly keeps launching new drugs and publishing new data for me to discover. New facts to weave into detail aids and infographic videos. New survival rates to report on, the many facets of personalised medicine to explore, new graphs to animate.

It’s an amazing job. Thanks for inspiring me Jeff.