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If someone asks me about the skills required in my profession, my first answer is always "patience." That's not because wheels turn slowly in public relations, or because one's own pattern of work has to be adapted to those of clients and service partners. It's rather due to the need to explain why I came up with the idea of studying dietetics--a programme most people never have heard of before.

Following Your Instincts Is Important

Usually, clients are completely swamped when they try to comprehend my career path: My internships in a hospital kitchen, at a bank, and at the International Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg hardly compose a coherent picture. If I continue, mentioning my professional career after my studies--working for an advertising agency and being involved in politics in Rhineland-Palatinate--I usually overwhelm my listener. Does it really make no sense? Not for me; everything's worthwhile and logical. Without one thing, the other wouldn't have happened: Without the bank, no film festival; without politics, no decision to undertake additional training. And this additional training has led me to where I secretly always wanted to be: in public relations. It is truly worthwhile to stick with your values even if other people around you have difficulty understanding certain decisions.

A Little Luck Is Necessary

In the summer of 2001, I was 30 years old and knew what I wanted. The only thing I needed for complete personal contentment was a suitable employer--preferably one with a good reputation that would allow me to do a 1-year, day-release training course to become a PR officer. Was I demanding a great deal? Certainly--but it turned out that I got lucky and these demands were met. Surfing the Internet, I came across the oeffentlichkeitsarbeit.de site, a PR training provider that offered a promising programme and help with the job search. In my situation, that was exactly what I was looking for. After a few weeks, I was pointed to Circle Comm, an agency that specialises in health communications. My manifold interests and diverse prior jobs were a plus from the agency's view. But one has to be careful: Manifold activities are not unconditionally positive. You have to be able to account for them, but I seem to have achieved this--since October 2001, I have been working for Circle Comm. Since it was founded in 2000, Circle Comm has been continuously growing. Its success has been based on three elements: competence, integrity, and vitality--three guarantors for a high-quality, and fun, work environment.

Health Communications: Concepts Come First

Hardly ever before have I found work as diverse as it is in public relations. This doesn't mean that the job is all carefree razzmatazz. Successful PR is based on a high level of conceptual design. Every project requires a preceding analysis and research phase. Every bit of information about a topic and relevant target groups is of interest to us. The more we know, the more likely it is that we can precisely align our communication strategy with the needs of the client. This requires talking to experts, using databases or scientific studies, and browsing the Internet. In this phase, I also rely heavily on my scientific background. Health communication topics usually involve a great deal of medical and scientific issues.

As soon as we get a sophisticated picture of the baseline, we approach the creative phase of the project. We start by defining target groups that we would like to reach with the campaign and by identifying specific messages. Additionally, we select the best communication methods to reach the target audience. All in all, these three steps may sound trivial and self-evident, but they require a lot of detailed work. Only when this work has been completed do we get to the next step, which from the outside appears the most attractive: planning activities. Generally, everything that fits the communication strategy and will be paid for by the clients is allowed. Last but not least is evaluating the campaign. How successful was it? Which parts were good, and which ones didn't work so well? This is not always easy to conclude, but it is essential to optimise activities and maximise the project's success.

A Practical Example: "Fit and Vaccinated," a Co-operative Effort Between Aventis Pasteur MSD and the State Sport Federations of Rhineland-Palatinate and Thuringia

The starting position: How do we get the message across to 60+ year olds and chronically ill people that they should be vaccinated against pneumococcal bacteria? This type of vaccination is officially recommended to these groups, but only about 15% of all potential recipients actually get the jab.

Our idea: We will collaborate with the state sport federations, which are already engaged in health issues in a number of other ways. A co-operation means advantages for both partners: The sport federations will broaden their work and show involvement, responsibility, and competence. And our client (mainly through the PR agency) uses the federations' internal structures and communication channels to spread the messages to the relevant target audience.

This is being done by educating trainers and coaches and by jointly developing information material that will allow them to deal with the topic not only in a theoretical way, but also by practical methods. The result is a guidebook that contains a number of games and exercises emphasising the importance of getting the shots. By means of surveys, we keep in touch with individual sports club members to find out their opinions, which enable us to evaluate our set measures. In order to maintain awareness about "Fit and Vaccinated," we place articles in the federations' media and send out press releases to regional media. On top of this, we are also in close contact with other organisations such as the state medical associations. This contact provides a broader basis for the campaign and also means additional channels for communication and media presence. Last but not least, this step links the campaign with doctors' specific medical communications. With this, we are building a bridge to the overall concept, which only partly consists of the "Fit and Vaccinated" campaign and also aims at specific target groups such as medical associations and practitioners.

Health Communications: A Rich Source for Lateral Entries

Almost any degree programme, including a scientific degree, can be a solid base for a successful career in public relations. Combined with additional training, candidates have good opportunities on the job market. Training providers such as oeffentlichkeitsarbeit.de offer a variety of courses that enable interested people to find suitable offers.

Maintaining relations with relevant stakeholders is becoming more and more important for all kinds of companies and organisations from different backgrounds. Especially in the health sector, brand communication for pharma companies is increasingly important. These potential working fields for PR specialists make the outlook for those with a scientific background positive in spite of otherwise difficult times for the PR sector. There's a lot to do if you sort things out!