The great showdown: Medical writers vs. Copywriters (what’s the difference?)

Liz Inskip | 22nd March 2016

One of the things that really sets Blue Latitude Health apart from other marketing consultancies is our creative services studio. Our creative services team crafts the assets and campaigns that bring a brand’s strategy to life. From leave pieces to eDetails, interactive touchscreens to mobiles apps – as well as congress and internal event presence – we bring everything together with full multichannel campaigns.

What this means is that we have a full service creative execution capability in house. The team includes designers, art directors, project managers, creative directors, a resource manager, and our crack team of writers. Which brings me to the next thing that sets us apart: we have both medical writers and creative copywriters on staff. To better explain why it’s important to have both, and what the difference between the two roles is, I interviewed our writers so they could explain it in their own, well-crafted words.

 

What is the difference between medical writing and creative copywriting for the healthcare industry?

Medical writers are responsible for communicating the substance of scientific and medical claims, and for accurately representing clinical data in a way that is clear, concise, and engaging. They will start by reading clinical data reports, analysing the data, and extracting the relevant information. From there, a medical writer will check that all medical claims and statements about a drug are supported by the clinical data and are not misleading in any way.

Creative copywriters working in a healthcare context work on the more conceptual side of writing. They’re the people responsible for how to communicate what you want to say effectively, and develop creative concepts with an Art Director. They’ll work with strategic planning teams and medical writers to develop the messaging for a brand, then take that messaging and turn it into a creative concept that can be rolled out across all campaign assets – from eDetails through to congress booth design.

Something all the writers mentioned was that at Blue Latitude Health, these roles don’t necessarily exist as entirely separate positions. There’s a lot of fluidity of role here when it comes to writing, and about 75% of our copywriters can move between creative copywriting and medical writing. And they do move between them – it’s very common for a medical writer at BLH to work alongside a copywriter for one project and then trade roles around for the next one.

They do require different mind sets though, so while they might shift from one to the other when changing projects, they wouldn’t shift mid-project. As Damien put it, it would be like “changing horses mid-race”.

 

How did you get into medical writing or copywriting?

"I have a PhD in Pharmacology, and I spent a year doing post-doctoral research. While I enjoyed the science, I didn’t like the repetition of performing experiments because it was quite mundane. So I phoned up a recruiter, explained my situation, and he told me about medical writing. There’s a real need for science grads who like writing, but it wasn’t mentioned as a career option while I was at uni. I had no idea the industry existed!

I got my first position at CDM London (a healthcare advertising agency) as an editor, then moved into medical writing as needed, and eventually started doing some creative copywriting as well. And the rest is history!" – Andy James

 

"I started out in healthcare PR after graduating university with a Biology degree.  Five years in, a leadership course prompted me into making a my first real career decision: continue progressing down the client services route in PR or step across into Advertising to dedicate myself to the development of creative content and a specific craft, copywriting. 

For me it was an easy decision, so I got a bit of advice from other copywriters at that agency and started to pull together a portfolio (don’t worry – at a junior level, this just means stuff that shows you can think creatively and write coherently). It didn’t take long to land my first copywriting role after that." – Philippa Barratt

 

"I studied Biomedical Sciences at university, and due to chance, I came across a proofreading position for a translation company, which helped me develop a really good eye for detail. At uni, we were told that the routes we could take post-graduation were research or publication, and I opted to build on my experience in publishing while still using and building on my scientific knowledge. 

My first job was as an Associate Production Editor at a journals publishing company, and through that, I discovered medical communications (med comms). From there, I moved on to a med comms agency, which allowed me to stay in science while doing a lot of editorial and project management work. Through my work there, I came across the medical writing sector. Our company didn’t have a medical writing division yet – we did bits and pieces of it, but it wasn’t established. When the company divided the capabilities, writing and project management split apart, I applied to do the writing." – Sarah White

 

What do you like about working in the healthcare industry?

"I come from a more traditional advertising background, and healthcare feels like an industry that’s ripe for fully branded communications. At the moment, it tends to be more reactive, not very boundary pushing (largely because of regulatory concerns), and is right on the edge of really ‘getting’ branding.

Like a lot of niche industries, pharma has made the mistake of assuming traditional branding rules don’t apply because it’s so specialised. That because the customers are often from scientific backgrounds, that it’s a totally rational decision-making process they’re tapping into. But emotion and ideas are key. Every decision you make is emotional – and the people who think they’re immune are actually the most susceptible!" – Damien Parsonage

 

"I really like the challenge. There are so many restrictions in healthcare and pharma that it creates a very interesting creative challenge. It’s also really satisfying to work with products and services that actually improve and save lives. Communicating the benefits of those products and services to healthcare professionals is a good thing, and it makes a difference to their patients." – Andy

 

"I like turning complex scientific information into something engaging and succinct. And finding where the idea of understanding how medicine works biologically translates into real world applications. For example, expressing how HCPs use treatments differently with different patients or how branding differs across specialties. These are all quite complex, and it’s an interesting challenge bringing it all together in a way that is accurate and accessible." – Sarah

 

What’s your favourite project been so far at Blue Latitude Health?

"We created a digital app for a congress to convey patient quality of life data to healthcare professionals (HCPs) using our client’s drug. What was really interesting about this project was leveraging key data to highlight information for HCPs in an engaging, interactive way. We did this by creating an interactive quiz that prompted HCPs to guess what percentage of patients felt a certain way during treatment, and showed them how their answers compared to the average response and the actual data. The app also used the brand imagery we created, which was very visually engaging, and helped to prompt HCPs to play with the app." – Sarah

 

"It will sound cheesy, but I really enjoyed doing our own Blue Latitude Health brand repositioning! Much like cobblers, we in advertising are notorious for not doing our own branding. What was interesting about the BLH repositioning was that we had a lot of key stakeholders, all with strong opinions, but also with a collaborative nature. When you’re working with that many stakeholders, it can go very wrong and get very complicated quickly. But because our team worked in a collaborative way, we were able to create a distinctive brand that really represented company and made everyone genuinely happy without getting diluted." – Damien

 

"There was a pre-launch leave piece we had to develop for a brand’s new indication, and because there was great concept and visual identity behind it I was able to have a bit more fun with the storytelling. Sometimes ‘smaller’ tactical items like leave pieces and emails can get rushed and aren’t given much thought, but they’re important communication tools. So it’s really satisfying to create something that actively supports both the campaign identity and more strategic objectives." – Philippa

 

 

Hopefully, we’ve shed a bit more light on what it’s like to work as a medical writer or creative copywriter at Blue Latitude Health. If you’d like to have a more in-depth chat about our writing team and where you might fit, get in touch with Priti, one of our Talent Managers, at priti.breakey@bluelatitude.net

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