Finding the Right Words for Pharma
"We take drugs, seriously."
That was the headline on the winning concept when Intouch Solutions decided to redesign its homepage a few years ago. An animated red pen marked out the comma and corrected the sentence to properly read: "We take drugs seriously."
It was tongue-in-cheek, but the concept made a good point. A comma can make a big difference in the meaning of your message. So can the right words. It’s up to copywriters (as well as editors and proofreaders) to make sure that the message you want to get across is the message your audience receives.
Being a copywriter in pharma is one of the toughest writing gigs around. It combines the complexity of using medical terminology with the hair-splitting nuances of writing a legal document. Add to this mix the numerous challenges that any marketing agency encounters on a daily basis.
What you get is the most likely candidate for a high-stakes, high-pressure reality show. Forget about The Apprentice or Cake Boss. This is Pharma Copy.
Writing for pharma is about understanding what the client needs to say, considering the confines of how they can say it, and finding a way to say it to people who didn’t go to medical school. It’s about knowing the audience, and choosing which words to use — and which to avoid. And it’s about listening to the audience, and learning how to reach them.
Any copywriter must be a stickler for detail, but in pharma the details are everything. I’ve had hard-fought battles over hyphens. I’ve questioned the use of quotation marks. And when a drug name is mentioned on a website, it’s up to me to make sure that word — usually something like "Quaphromynitzakoxene" — is spelled correctly. (There are some things I can’t expect Microsoft Word spellchecker to catch.)
In order to write about a drug, it’s important to understand the disease and its effect on the patient. So I’ve learned to put myself in patients’ shoes, to see through their eyes. I read their personal accounts, and listen to what they are going through. Sometimes that leads to heart-breaking, first-hand stories. But those stories only fuel my determination to keep helping.
Understanding the patient is at the heart of being a “pharma copywriter.” Because in the end, writing for pharma is more about people than punctuation.
Writing for pharma is more about people than punctuation.
Creative folks may be notoriously sensitive about their work, but being in pharma keeps everything in perspective. The work is challenging, but we’re changing lives.
That’s why we take drugs seriously.