Health communications and marketing

Working in health communications and marketing

Healthcare communication skills can be used to promote public health research findings, promote health services to the community, encourage behavior change among the public, boost pharmaceutical sales and even influence government and policy-makers. Having a sound understanding of scientific process, basic health concepts and medical jargon is extremely helpful.

Key to health communications is the ability to distil key messages and clear calls to action; identify and empathise with target audiences; identify the most appropriate communication channels; and the ability to write in different styles. These skills can be applied to website work, blogging, social media, traditional media, video production, print material design, podcasts, events and other platforms.

Employers may rely on healthcare communicators to help build awareness (for study recruitment or boost program registrations), brand-manage (increase prestige and limit damage when things go wrong), share research findings with the community, or advise on the development of public-focused materials.

The rise of digital media means that the success of communications campaigns are increasingly data-driven, and strong analytical and computer skills are a bonus.

Pharma sales requires more detailed understanding of marketing theories, which take into account buyer psychology and behaviour. This can be learnt on the job.

Finding the right position for your experience

Public health focussed Bachelor degrees sometimes contain communications electives, which provide sound theory, but don’t always provide practical experience. Complementing this with voluntary or part-time communications experience is a great addition to your CV. Consider approaching community healthcare groups, sporting groups or even social justice organisations.

If you don’t want to undertake further tertiary training (grad dips, grad certs in marketing), workshops and short courses may be useful to build specific skills. Look at companies like General Assembly, Public Relations Institute of Australia and Centre for Adult Education for shortcourses and workshops building basic technical skills in photography, video production, digital advertising, website design, public relations and content marketing. Then practice what you learn.

Entry-level jobs often involve hands-on work such as posting to social media, copywriting for web and media, and pitching stories to journalists. Look for jobs as science/health communication or marketing ‘Assistants’ or ‘Coordinators’. If applying for an agency role, public relations associate or account manager may be appropriate.

As you progress, these technical duties tend to be delegated, and you focus on long-term strategic planning and partnerships, managing budgets, managing large campaigns and even lobbying – building relationships with people who can influence health or research funding or policy.

Ideal attributes

  • Skilled writer – a strong grasp of vocabulary, grammar and tone of voice is vital.
  • Organised – Communications projects can have a lot of moving parts, and you’ll often need to juggle numerous projects.
  • Attention to detail – Ever said ‘orgasm’ instead of ‘organism’ in a high-school science presentation? Or submitted an assignment saying ‘pubic health’, not ‘public health?’ Think about doing that, but to an audience of thousands. That’s why this matters.
  • Empathic – You need to understand and connect with your audiences.
  • Stakeholder management – Negotiating skills and the ability to understand stakeholder goals is vital when collaborating across organisations or at senior levels of management.
  • Outgoing – a friendly personality is essential. If you prefer emailing to picking up the phone, re-consider this career!
  • Tenacious – a lot of communications projects involve chasing busy people for input and approval, often to tight deadlines. You’ll need to advocate for the importance of your own work.
  • Flair for design – you don’t need to be a good designer, but it helps to know good design when you see it.