A good night’s sleep

Those people who think that people who work in agencies would rebrand their own grandmothers, with a view to marketing do have a point. But the surprising fact is that many people who I’ve worked with have strongly held ethical principles.

And there are certain sorts of writing that can give you a moral sheen of superiority. Writing for charities is always one of these. As a scribe you can sleep happy in the knowledge that your efforts have gone directly to raising money for a charity, and this is invariably a good thing.Writing for pharmaceutical companies may seem less noble. But I would argue it has its ethical satisfactions too. Many patient support programmes are designed to help people to talk to their doctors about their medical conditions.

Even in the UK, where people have access to a national health service free at the point of delivery, still manage to avoid talking to medical professionals about serious problems. And we are also lousy at taking the pills we have been prescribed. Astonishingly, even people who have been prescribed medication to prevent the rejection of a transplanted organ will neglect their medications.

Most patient support programmes I have created or been part of aim to support people in following their doctor’s advice – by taking the treatment prescribed for them. And from an ethical perspective I find this easy to live with.

In fact getting people to talk about the very things they least want to talk about, and encouraging patients to get the treatment they need is something I feel quite proud of.

And if you want to be really contentious… Just compare the spend that a major pharmaceutical company puts into – say – cancer research, versus the many very well meaning cancer research charities around the world. We are talking billions versus millions.

stand back – there’s still a pulse!

Day three of working on an immense website to do with cholesterol. I have spent a huge amount of time this year getting my head together with designers to create animations, writing scripts for possible video content with an interactive film maker, driving with strategists the overall messaging, not to mention planning the structure of it with an oddly volatile and passionate information architect.

But when your client is a massive international pharmaceutical company there are many hoops to squirm through. The sign off process is very lengthy. Marketing people have to okay anything you’ve written, as do the medical people and, of course, the legal people. Unless you know exactly what you’re doing, your copy can come back clinically dead, with any signs of life carefully excised from it.

Then there are the dreaded words “let’s put it into research”. This sounds very scientific, but it what this means is your work gets discussed in a room full of people who are intent on scarfing free biscuits, and will base their opinions on the fact that someone doesn’t like blue. And there is always the dreaded person in a focus group who will steamroller everyone else into agreeing with their own randomly derived opinion.

Research can also induce narcolepsy, or worse. After the 6th hour of watching people through a two way mirror discuss incontinence, for example, you find that you would rather stick your head into a blender than hear another word on the subject. This is when after checking that your client is safely asleep, you turn to the trolley of drinks, look at your watch (which is telling you it is only 4.00pm) and chug down anything with alcohol in it.

Eventually though, you develop predictive skills, and use the copywriter’s black arts to avoid the whips and scorns of lawyers, and medics and marketing people, and those willing to take a quick £25 and all the crisps they can eat to give you an opinion.

Ultimately there is nothing like getting your work back in something like the shape you sent it off in: alive, warm and decidedly human.