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What changed in The Pharmaceutical Journal and what we are going to do next

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It has been over a year since we relaunched The Pharmaceutical Journal in print and online. Over the past year, we have been constantly monitoring the way our readers use our content, what matters to them most, and what they would like to see changed. This has informed and helped us decide the next steps for our product development programme.

By the developments in the past two years, we aimed to increase member value, engagement and satisfaction. A year after our first phase of relaunch, the traffic on pharmaceutical-journal.com has increased six-fold from 36,000 unique visitors per month in 2013 to 230,000 in June 2015. We also received an award of excellence for our overall ‘redesign’ of The Pharmaceutical Journal and our Features editor, Dawn Connelly, won the Data Journalism Award at the Medical Journalists’ Association winter awards.

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB) was both the regulatory and professional leadership body for the profession, and it was compulsory for all 70,000 pharmacists and pharmacy technicians throughout the country to register with the Society — and to pay an annual fee for the privilege of membership. In 2010, however, this safe, secure environment came to an abrupt end. The regulatory function of the RPSGB was transferred to the newly created General Pharmaceutical Council, with which all pharmacists were compulsorily required to register. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) was left with its role as a professional leadership body for pharmacists — but, crucially, membership was now voluntary. 

The pressures on professional societies today are mounting. The world and members which they were set up to serve have often changed beyond all recognition. Members are no longer satisfied only with the status of being part of a society — they want a return on their investment.  And if they are not satisfied, it is increasingly easy for them to turn to other sources of information and to use social networks to communicate with their peers. For a society, as providers of information, advice and support, technology became a crucial component for relevance. This was what could provide societies with the framework they need for their future.

In common with many other societies, the RPS has a dedicated publishing arm, Pharmaceutical Press, responsible for publishing major reference works such as Martindale, BNF, Stockley’s drug interactions, as well as periodicals and journals such as The Pharmaceutical Journal, Clinical Pharmacist, and Tomorrow’s Pharmacist.  Despite a long history, with some titles dating back to 1841, the position and direction of Pharmaceutical Journal publications needed to be reviewed. Readership was no longer secure, dropping from 70,000 to 30,000 as the print magazines became regarded as a luxury, rather than a must-have. On top of this, the publications had virtually no online presence, no strategy to tackle this and no means of attracting new readers.

However, the RPS was committed to offer the best products and services to its members and, therefore, a major investment was approved in 2013 to redevelop The Pharmaceutical Journal both digitally and editorially.

We had to discard the previous PJonline.com website. In the online world, the ‘silo’ approach we had simply didn’t work any more: it is the relationship between pieces of content which needs to take priority. Looking for an article needs to be straightforward and simple and not require the visitor to understand your individual approach to navigation and categorisation. We had hundreds of article types, many of them just carrying new labels to other existing article types (eg. comment, commentary, opinion, view, etc. all performing the same function). It is only by making an online platform accessible, easy to navigate and semantically meaningful that you can hope to convert members, who may well be ‘non-engaged digital users’ to this new online environment. We launched the new online platform, pharmaceutical-journal.com, in July 2014, and our data is only encouraging us in what we have achieved and what we can achieve. The results for the Society to date have been very good and have certainly endorsed our decision to invest in a digital first strategy.

We also appreciated the fact that what mattered most for the Society strategically was expanding our influence, representing pharmacy in healthcare. Our articles needed to be read by a wider audience of healthcare professionals and scientists, if pharmacy teams were to join the wider conversations in healthcare and science. Therefore, we implemented a metered access model, which, while retaining full access and exclusive premium access for our members and subscribers, allowed non-members to use our content.

But this was not all that changed. No matter how good your delivery and presentation is, if you don’t have high quality content that people want, if you don’t fulfill the needs of your audience and its expectation for high editorial standards, you have achieved nothing. Therefore, underpinning all the technical changes, we established new editorial standards for quality and universality.

Without a doubt, our most important challenge was cultural. We had to make our teams more courageous in changing our editorial direction and help them believe we can trust our audience as we seek to create a dynamic, interactive community. We had to stretch our teams’ ambitions, so they no longer wanted to produce a B2B trade magazine, but a high profile and global player in all matters related to pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences. 

We looked very carefully at what our readers wanted to read, the evidence for which we collected from surveys, face-to-face discussions, and most importantly, by carefully monitoring the way our readers used our content in real-time — what interested them, what most engaged them, and what was of less importance to them.

We know our readers care about developing their clinical knowledge and skills in various therapeutic areas the most. They also want to know about the latest developments in drug discovery and they care about resources that help them develop their careers as healthcare professionals and scientists. Our readers want us to meet their expectations and provide them with what they are looking for. But they also want us to provide them with the serendipitous opportunity to read about things that are relevant to them but they do not already know about.

Over the past year we have developed our content and applied our new quality standards. Our features, in-depth reports on significant topics within the scope of pharmacy and science, are already becoming points of reference for specific topics they cover. For example, we have had the following encouraging unsolicited feedback from Adrian Hutber, Vice President of the Exercise is Medicine initiative at the American College of Sports Medicine on our feature ‘Tracking down the optimum dose of exercise’: “Congratulations, you’ve done a really great job here! I believe that the article has highlighted exactly the right elements, not an easy task if you are not a subject matter expert in an area, Well written and nice flow. I’ve sent this out to several of my colleagues, who are some of the leaders in physical activity and NCDs in the US and the early feedback is similar to mine — that this is a great article.” Our feature, ‘A visual guide to the Ebola virus epidemic’, won the Data Journalism Award at the Medical Journalists’ Association. 

Our opinion articles are contributing to ongoing conversations or even starting new conversations in healthcare and science, and our career articles have attracted thousands of readers and encouraged them to look beyond their predefined boundaries for launching their careers into the next stage.

Our readers have also told us about their other expectations: they want peer-reviewed CPD and Review articles and also a forum to publish their research. They want us to rethink our ‘print’ strategy because they find a weekly thin print journal unnecessary. They have told us that they would find a substantial, monthly print journal with variety and in-depth journalism more useful. They have shown us that probably time for weekly journals has passed, because news has become a real-time online thing and cannot wait for a week, and our in-depth articles are more suited to be read over a period longer than a week.

So, this is what we are focusing on next. You will hear more from us soon.

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