Without courage, we wouldn’t be where we are

Without courage, we wouldn’t be where we are

There always comes a time when people have to make big decisions. Do I risk getting a massive shock to prove that lightning is not God’s wrath, but just electricity? Do I stay at home and listen to Weimar’s state radio, or should I go outside and scream ‘We are the people!’, or even much more profound: should I found an agency and call it ‘health angels’? Benjamin Franklin, the fall of the Berlin Wall and a new agency model all have different background stories, but they do share one common attribute: they represent courage. Courage to do things differently in order to bring about change, courage to overcome boundaries and head in new directions. This is especially true for healthcare communication and marketing. Things like: ‘We do need laminated diagnostic cards’ or ‘That’s not what’s in the law on the advertising of medicines don’t help. Medicine is progress-driven and communication as well as marketing have to keep pace with it. After all, patients are sick, not foolish. And doctors need relevant information and not a new notepad for their desks. Courageous communication is what health angels is all about. And what better place to start than with Hirschen Group, whose own slogan is ‘Home of the Brave’.

Karin Reichl – founder health angels powered by Hirschen Group

All those who have no idea about healthcare should start up a healthcare agency

All those who have no idea about healthcare should start up a healthcare agency

Hirschen Group (‘Home of the Brave’) is an independent agency group within the WPP network. The network stands for the communication and consulting of agency brands, as well as creative communication consultancy, digitisation and public opinion.

10 locations / 301 clients / 800 employees / €60 million in income / Top five of the largest independent owner-run agencies

Marcel, when was the last time you were brave?

When I had to be: for a chicken like me, I guess it was when I had my long-overdue hip operation. It took courage to do it and everything worked out fine. Of course, no one told me that I would need to have insoles in my shoes because one leg is slightly shorter than the other. That’s an example of some of the missing elements in a patient–doctor dialogue. Perhaps it’s one of the reasons we decided to bring a new kind of healthcare agency to life.


Is courage actually rewarded in the communications branch?

Courage is more difficult because there is no proof of concept. And, of course, many companies want a guarantee provided by focus groups. But real success only comes from courageous campaigns. These campaigns are usually decided by people with a good gut feeling and market experience. And these campaigns are always better than what a focus group would have picked. An example can be seen in our Christmas campaign for Mediamarkt ‘Zipfelrauschen’. It received 14 million clicks and was the most popular Christmas video campaign ever. It would never have survived a focus group, just like three-quarters of our most successful campaigns.


How can Hirschen Group change the healthcare market?

Through our commitment to total creativity. For us, creativity in all we do is an absolute rule. Creativity doesn’t just come from the desks of art directors and copywriters, but from all corners and disciplines of an agency. We’re able to create more marketing value through permanently exchanging creative ideas throughout all disciplines. With 750 employees, we can cover all communications sectors with internal teams. The resulting resonance and market success is proof that we’re on the right path. The extensive expertise of health angels with their different view on things is already changing the way healthcare communication is done.

Trimipramine should be more fun than skittles

Trimipramine should be more fun than skittles

Whether it’s Apple, Burberry or Skittles, we all have those brands that we have fallen in love with and are fiercely loyal to. Can that be applied to medicine? VORN/Hirschen Group Head of Strategy Vincent Schmidlin explains:


The doctor makes the decisions – not the patient. Is a prescription brand really important? Brands are crucial for prescription medicine: all those who manage to make a brand out of a formula are able to give the prescriber an even better feeling. In doing so, a dialogue is established and simplified, trust is won and profits are retained – even despite patent protection. But, of course, the first thing that doctors look at is efficacy. Only healthcare markets who respect and value all those involved, from distributor to patient, will be able to convey their message in a unique and believable way and with a deep understanding of the disease and what it means for the patient and those who care for them.


Can medicine be a love brand? The common compliance deficiencies demonstrate that the relationship of a patient to their medicine is rather complex. This said, most patients value their medication – even despite potential side effects. Although one can’t talk about true love – so to speak – in this context, one can lay down the foundations for a genuine relationship to prescription brands through honest communication and marketing that optimally balances empathy and performance. In this way, relevance leads to preference. And when that happens, even prescription medicine can attain an emotional connection.


How does one make brands out of medicine? With every job we get, the first thing we do is to examine the attitude, behaviour, condition and psychological expectations of the patients and carers. We also take a brutally honest and emphatic view of the situation regarding the sickness and its effects on people, their daily surroundings and healthcare professionals. We then take all this and create convincing arguments, which are given in selected doses all along the patient journey.

Lobbyists are the better doctors

Lobbyists are the better doctors

They don’t diagnose or prescribe anything, yet they are the ones who give many patients the chance to better health. Antonia Meyer and Dr Daniel Wixforth from the 365 Sherpas/Hirschen Group explain public affairs and policy advice within the healthcare field:



Political work within the healthcare world has a negative reputation. Are lobbyists bad people? There’s no such thing as good or bad, only professional and unprofessional. All professional interest groups know the particular interests they are representing. This said, they should never lose track of the common good that they are supposed to stand for. They don’t want to put pressure on their target group, but rather convince them by using sound reasons that set them apart from those of the competition. They have very high standards in terms of transparency and their ethical code of conduct, and are forward-thinking. And that’s why they have a good reputation.


Can public affairs and policy advice have positive results for patients? The most important target group is the political decision makers. And they have a simple equation: patient = citizen = voter. All those who go by the survival-of-the-fittest rule are either cast in a negative light or, in other cases, regulated by policies. One must know the political thought processes and anticipate decision-making patterns. That means placing the patient at the heart of one’s decisions in order to get the attention and trust of politicians. That’s what helps form a foundation for creating new therapies.


What role does courage play in this area? Courage means withstanding resistance, possessing debating skills, believing in one’s own arguments and standing firm, even when a light breeze turns into a storm. Courage is action. There’s a saying in political consultation: ‘If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.’ It means that one must be present when relevant social and political issues are being debated in order to help shape them. It’s something that is expected and rewarded.


Are there examples one can learn from? NGOs do a lot of good things here, even when one doesn’t always agree with their position or tactics. A good example is the German Environmental Agency’s influence on the automotive industry. NGOs are able to get their position heard with a maximum amount of attention. This is achieved through their use of the media, through staying on course in spite of conflict and through being flexible. What’s interesting is that they have created optimal tools and channels in order to mobilise their base and multiply their position’s reach. The pharmaceutical industry can do this as well.

Irrelevancy is the leading cause of death

Irrelevancy is the leading cause of death

There are numerous diagnoses when a second option can’t hurt. Irrelevancy isn’t one of them. Because irrelevancy leads to a communicative dead This might not be a problem for some product ideas, but in the healthcare sector, it’s a different story. Here, the role of what people are offered and their personal situation are crucial and unlike that of any other branch.


That’s why we must seek out relevant communications solutions: not only ones with the well-being of the patient in mind, but also ones for the entire healthcare system – especially because of healthcare’s continuingly rising importance and value. This is demonstrated by a US poll that found staying healthy now has a higher ranking than affluence and financial security.


In order to create sound solutions with a high degree of relevance, we have to move away from one-dimensional thinking. That’s why we bring relevant sources and people together: experienced doctors, key opinion leaders and patients and their families. Together, we identify all relevant dimensions. ‘Digging deeper’ is our maxim. With the results, we create empathy and patient-centricity, instead of just communicating numbers and facts. This is especially relevant in times when doctors see their patients for an average of seven minutes.


We have to offer more concrete and more intelligent added value, tools, as well as communication solutions for doctor–patient consultation and the care thereafter. In doing this, we prevent mistakes being made in medication intake that can lead to the discontinuation of therapy; this also protects our healthcare system against additional future costs we are not able to cover.


We are convinced that only a radically relevant, consistent and holistic communication approach can lead to future success. It forms one of therapy’s most important pillars. / Daniel Hoffmann, Malte Ploghöft, managing directors Zum goldenen Hirschen Alster/Hirschen Group