Working in partnership – a recipe for success

16th November 2020

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

On 12 November, Stempra joined forces with the Healthcare Communications Association to look at the ingredients that make a successful communications partnership.

Co-hosted by the HCA’s CEO Mike Dixon and Stempra Chair Rob Dawson, the event brought together a panel of five communications experts.  Their experiences of partnerships ranged from intensive local campaigns to encourage participation in clinical trials to international private-public partnerships to drive policy and behaviour change. 

The work that you do at the start of a partnership is critical.  David Kyne (CEO of communications agency Evoke KYNE) says that establishing clear governance from the outset is key.  Sustainability is also vital – too many partnerships don’t have a plan for how they’ll be maintained or an exit strategy.  Partnerships should also have a clear, transparent understanding of why they exist, how they are funded and the role that different partners play, a theme that was echoed by the other panellists.

All of the panellists were strikingly positive about partnerships.  While they can have their challenges – with sustainability and decision-making being common difficulties – there was consistent agreement that partnerships are powerful and an essential way to make sure your voice is heard on important issues.

Beth Baker is Senior Media Relations Manager at PLOS and a Stempra committee member.  Citing her experiences working with the UK and international Science Media Centres, she pointed out that partnerships enable amplification – put simply, you can do more with more people.  They also drive better quality communication due to the diversity of skills you can access.

For Liz Burtally, Senior Manager for the Science Media Team at Cancer Research UK, learning from other organisations has been a major advantage of working in partnership.  Liz also reminded us not to neglect internal partnerships, especially in larger organisations.  We’re often quite careful about handling external partnerships, but clear communication and gatekeeping are just as important when handling internal partnerships.

Trust, creativity and reliability are key for Harry Brady, Director of Vaccines Policy and Communications for pharmaceutical company MSD.  In line with the rest of the panel, Harry emphasised the importance of getting the agreement right from the beginning, understanding what your respective roles are and how decisions are made.  Doing so will allow you to make the most of the fresh ideas and perspectives that a successful partnership makes possible.

In his work as Research and Innovation Communications Lead for Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Joshua Gardner (also a Stempra committee member) has been at the front line of rolling out a major programme to drive record levels of participation in vaccine trials for COVID-19.  Meaningful community engagement has been absolutely critical to the success of that campaign, a theme which the other panellists reinforced.

For many organisations – including those of our panellists – COVID-19 has opened up new partnerships and ways of working which they hadn’t necessarily considered before.  Partnerships are being driven by the necessity of tackling major, complex issues such as vaccine hesitancy or how scientific findings are disseminated. 

While partnership working may sometimes be challenging, the experiences of the event panel suggest that by paying attention to a few key themes, we can all make them work for us.  At their best, they allow us to gain new perspectives, become more agile and achieve extraordinary things together.

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