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Publicise services to increase footfall

Recent national campaigns have helped to highlight the role of community pharmacy to the public. Chris Rose explains how his team raised awareness

The recent “Now or never” report from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society emphasises the lack of public knowledge about the services community pharmacies offer.

Woman with microphone

Source: Arne9001/Dreamstime.com

Media training was given to regional contacts so that they were able to do radio or television interviews at short notice

The report states that “the public seems to be largely unaware of the broader range of services they should be expecting to be offered proactively in their community pharmacies” and adds that “for this to change, pharmacy must act as an advocate for itself, building and disseminating a powerful narrative about the services it can deliver and doing all it can to put these services into practice and demonstrate to patients and the public what is possible”. The report makes clear that there will be “no new money” for pharmacy to make this happen.

Essex local pharmaceutical committee (LPC), of which I was communications officer, had discussed this public awareness problem as early as 2007. Medicines use reviews (MURs) were introduced in 2005, but two years later the public was still largely unaware that this service existed. We discussed ways of improving the situation in support of our contractors. I wondered if were overlooking the fact that many of the people who came in to our pharmacies were well and were only in need of symptomatic relief from over-the-counter remedies. I believe we should consider educating healthy people, including teenagers, about the services available from community pharmacy so they are more aware when they need to take advantage of them. How could this be achieved?

In 2007 “tweeting” was only for the birds. For promotional purposes, the main emphasis was on printed media in the form of local newspapers. This required building up a network of contacts and writing articles that were both newsworthy and informative, highlighting what pharmacy could offer. The results were patchy. Some editors were more enthusiastic than others, which meant that some areas of Essex received much press coverage while others received practically none. In January 2007 we decided to commission a public relations company to work with the committee to promote pharmacy in Essex.

Using PR companies

We identified two local PR companies and invited them to prepare a presentation to support their bid for the work. We chose Mosaic Publicity because it demonstrated a wealth of experience in the fields of journalism, media and public relations.

The brief was simple: “To publicise the services available from community pharmacy across Essex” with an initial emphasis on MURs.

The company’s links with local news agencies and media were extensive and this gave us access to local newspapers and radio stations that we would not have had without it.

As a large LPC with 280 contractors, we were already organised into area groups with committee members responsible for communicating with the contractors in their region. A key contact from the committee from each area was given media training by Mosaic so that they were able to do radio or television interviews at short notice.

Increased awareness

The commission with Mosaic was on a £500 monthly retainer basis. The committee had the dedicated use of an experienced media expert for five hours per month and this expert was retained for one year at an annual cost of £6,000. There were 280 contractors in the Essex LPC area. So each contractor was paying £21.43 (or 5.8p per day) for publicity, to improve footfall and awareness of the services available from community pharmacies across Essex. The committee decided which services it wanted to be publicised and Mosaic liaised with the local pharmacists to produce local newspaper and radio stories.

We found that from February to April the number of MURs completed had increased by 20% from the previous three-month period.

Additionally, there were a number of success stories highlighted in the press. One example is of a grandmother who, with the help of a local pharmacy, quit smoking after 56 years.

Raising our profile

The project resulted in the nominated area pharmacists making so many contacts with local media organisations that the committee decided not to extend the commission after the first year. For the next few years we continued to have excellent media relations and did not believe it was necessary to commission any extra resources.

Media campaigns conducted after the successful MUR campaign, including those for smoking cessation, repeat dispensing, waste medicines, travel medicines, pharmacy consultation rooms and emergency hormonal contraception, were not monitored or measured and, although the committee thought they were successful anecdotally, a lack of data made it difficult to measure the overall success of the initiative.

If this project were to be replicated today, it may have been even more important to commission media support, because of the advent of new forms of communication and more extensive use of the internet.

There is no doubt that the profile of the new advanced services introduced over the past few years, such as appliance use reviews, stoma appliance customisation services and the new medicine service, would have been higher if supported by this type of local media coverage. The list of services community pharmacy provides is increasing and differs by area — perhaps another reason to promote services locally.

The recent “Dispensing health” campaign from Pharmacy Voice (PJ 2014;292:35) attempts to raise awareness of the profession at a national level and urges individual pharmacists to promote services to the public in their own areas. LPCs could consider adopting the initiative outlined here to support their local contractors and reinforce the national “Dispensing health” message.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 11139040

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