Let’s start by getting one thing straight: medical communications (or “med comms” as it is often affectionately called) and healthcare communications are the same thing. Yes, really! Healthcare public relations; however, is a different beast.

In this post, we’re going to unpack both types of agencies:

  • Healthcare communications vs. healthcare PR
  • How to choose a medical communications agency
  • Medical communications agency capabilities
  • How to choose a healthcare PR agency
  • Healthcare PR agency capabilities
  • Agencies for the pharmaceutical industry vs. biotech/medtech

Healthcare communications vs. healthcare PR

Medical communications (aka healthcare communications) is focused on scientific exchange and medical education for healthcare professionals (doctors, clinicians, nurses, etc) and regulatory documents and real world evidence for health economics/market access focused stakeholders.


Reaching doctors with a medical communications agency

Healthcare public relations generally focuses on media driven strategies regardless of the key audiences and is generally more promotional in nature even if the content is technically “unbranded” (i.e. no product mentioned).

There tends to be a thin line between medical communications and healthcare PR with the former supporting a company’s medical affairs function and the latter supporting communications or the brand team. Patient advocacy and disease education tends to fall somewhere in between with both types of agencies supporting on different facets of this type of work.

Even though medical affairs, communications and brand mangers are all working toward commercialization of a treatment, often there is seperation between medical affairs activities and promotional activities such as PR.

How to choose a medical communications agency

If you’re looking to publish data, educate healthcare professionals or produce training materials for medical science liaisons (MSLs) or a company’s sales force, then you’re probably looking for a medical communications agency.

Healthcare provider education through a medical communications agency

The next section contains a fairly comprehensive list of what a medical communications agency can do for clients. Medical communications agencies often specialize in specific subsets of these services so make sure you pick one that matches your specific need.

Sure, you can do a request for proposal to kick the tires, but it is so much better to do a strategy day or trial project instead. This way you can experience firsthand if you have chemistry with the agency team, how they think and if you like their work styles and personalities. Many agencies would also be open to discounting rates if they didn’t have to pour resources into pitching.

Alternatively, engage a freelance medical writer or freelance medical communications expert which may be faster and more cost-effective. However, trying to find an expert with experience in your company/brand’s disease area or therapeutic area may leave you feeling like you’re looking for a needle in a haystack.

At PR-it, our proprietary web app matches freelance medical writers and independent healthcare communications experts from our invitation-only collective to client briefs based on disease and therapy expertise to ensure the most qualified fit. We are also a cost-effective alternative to traditional medical communications agencies in that we curate virtual flash teams from our members to service clients like an agency even though we’re all freelancers. If you’re interested in learning more, please get in touch.

Medical communications agency capabilities

Strategy and planning:

  • Strategic data interpretation
  • Scientific platform development
  • Publication planning
  • Competitive landscape analysis
  • Competitive intelligence gathering / reporting from scientific congresses
  • Key opinion leader (KOL) engagement
  • Advisory boards


  • Manuscripts, supplements, journal articles
  • White papers and case studies
  • Posters and abstracts
  • Monographs

Medical education:

  • Materials for CME (in-person or online courses)
  • Satellite symposia presentations and brochures
  • Mechanism of disease (MoD) and mechanism of action (MoA) videos
  • Preceptorship documents
  • Training materials for medical science liaisons (MSLs) and affiliates
  • Patient education materials

Promotional materials:

  • Detail aids and training modules for the sales force
  • Messaging platforms and objection handlers
  • Website content, brochures and leave behinds

Regulatory writing

  • Clinical trial protocols
  • Investigator brochures
  • Informed consent forms
  • Clinical study reports
  • Common technical documentation
  • Lay summaries

If this all sounds like a bunch of jargon to you, the best thing to do is to get on an exploratory call with an agency and tell them your goals and what success looks like to your organization in plain language. They will help guide your thinking.

How to choose a healthcare PR agency

Most medical communications agencies are not healthcare PR agencies; however, many healthcare PR agencies have a healthcare communications team. This can be really useful if you’re looking for creative integrated communication strategies to reach physicians and/or patients such as a product launch or to raise awareness of a specific disease.

Strategy brainstorm at a healthcare PR agency

If you’re looking exclusively for media-driven creative programs, then a healthcare PR agency is your best bet. There’s SO many agencies to choose from, but answering these three questions proactively will guarantee that an agency generates a relevant proposal:

  • Why are you looking for PR now?
  • What does success look like at the end of the campaign?
  • What is the budget?

We know clients like to be coy with the budget, but that really doesn’t help you because programs can be scaled up or down. It’s better to just tell us vs. experiencing sticker shock after you ask for a proposal for the sun, moon and stars. Needless to say, the smaller the agency, the bigger the bang you’re going to get for your buck.

PR-it is unique in that our collective members have deep experience and skills in all areas of healthcare communications and PR so you never have to choose between the two types of agencies. We can add/subtract experts on-demand depending on your company/brand’s goals to remain cost-effective while delivering impactful campaigns and ultra high quality deliverables. Sound ideal? Yes, we thought so too. If you’re interested in learning more, please get in touch.

Healthcare PR agency capabilities


  • Campaign strategy: Integrated communications, media, disease awareness, product launches, mature brand lifecycle management, thought leadership and reputation management
  • Messaging/storytelling
  • Workshops


  • Earned media: Press releases (e.g. data communications, corporate announcements, regulatory milestones, etc), media targeting, pitching stories to journalists, coordinating interviews and media appearances, op-eds/bylines and media analysis/monitoring
  • Paid media: Paid social media, influencer marketing, contributed articles, advertorials, editorial integrations
  • Owned media: Blog posts, white papers, videos, infographics, website content, organic social media, content marketing and email marketing
  • Media training
  • Media metrics: Share of voice, message pull-through, coverage analyses, earned media value, etc

Issues management

  • Horizon scanning for potential issues
  • Issues management and/or scenario communications plans
  • Issue briefing documents
  • Issue monitoring
  • Crisis management

Similarly to medical communications, if this all sounds like a bunch of jargon to you, the best thing to do is to get on an exploratory call with an agency and tell them your goals and what success looks like to your organization in plain language. They will help guide your thinking.

Agencies for the pharmaceutical industry vs. biotech/medtech

Pharma lab


Big pharma often goes with big agencies in holding companies. No one ever got fired for hiring IBM, right? With that said, if you’re looking for a more cost-effective or agile partner because you’re a start-up or your company/brand is life sciences, biotech or medtech, it’s better to go with an independent agency that can move as fast as you.

With that said, big pharma has been making moves and shaking up their ecosystems by looking at boutique, specialist agencies that offer more seasoned professionals at a more competitive price point (like PR-it).