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Pharmaceutical Marketing Awards Analysis 2020

2020 has been an extraordinary year for healthcare. Presented with challenges, our agile pharmaceutical marketing industry has responded exceptionally to remain a driving force behind society and ensure patients receive the valuable care they need/require.

Award ceremonies have provided an opportunity to celebrate this outstanding work, showcasing the high-quality healthcare projects across the industry. This got us thinking… what did the 2020 healthcare award winners do to succeed, and what can we take away and apply to our own healthcare work in 2021?

To answer these questions, we analysed the winners across four high-profile healthcare award ceremonies to identify 6 key themes for success in 2021.


In an unprecedented and challenging year for all industries, the COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the healthcare industry in particular, strained our resources, and made our teams even busier than usual. It is therefore more important than ever to celebrate our industry’s outstanding work and achievements in 2020 that reflect our dynamic healthcare environment.

This analysis will provide a summary of and the key learning themes from four 2020 virtual healthcare award ceremonies:
 – The Communique Awards
 – The PM Society Digital Awards
 – The PMEA Awards
 – The Pharma Times Awards

Theme 1 – Integrated, immersive, engaging multichannel learning and communication.

In an ever-increasingly digital world, a key theme amongst winners in 2020 was the use of integrated, immersive, multichannel learning. Top performers used technology and e-tools to engage audiences, such as immersive apps, social and digital media, and other non-traditional communication channels within the healthcare landscape.

Furthermore, the PharmaDoctor digital pharmacy service ecosystem, winner of PM Society’s Market Access award, provides a digital channel that improves patient access, by supplying a solution and connecting pharma companies, pharmacists and patients to health services. PharmaDoctor enables pharmacists to directly offer prescription-only treatments to their patients without the wait for a GP appointment (PM Society, 2020) – a service particularly welcomed in the COVID-19 era, taking the strain off overwhelmed doctors and health services. We expect to see themes from this innovative entry continue in 2021.

Standout Example: LARC Patient Counselling Tool by Cognitant Group for Bayer, winner of the PM Society Patient Programmes award.

This avatar-led education experience about contraceptive choices allows patients to view the tool, once prescribed by their doctor, in their own time via smartphones, tablets, or VR headsets (PM Society, 2020). With a 5-star rating by users, a 101% increase in knowledge, and a 71% increase in likelihood to choose LARC, this integrated, digitally focused programme was a well-deserved winner.


Additional examples of immersive multichannel communications include the Cutimed® Facebook page, winner of PM Society’s Brand Promotion award. The Facebook page was developed to build a new channel for communications with the healthcare community using data analytics to provide a tactical approach to AB testing, messaging, and approvals. The success of the channel allowed a pivot of Cutimed’s messaging overnight at the beginning of COVID-19, maintaining and building an important communication and support channel for nurses (PM Society, 2020).

Standout Example: Maybe Baby campaign by Woolley Pau for UCB, winner of PM Society’s Integrated Channel award (PM Society, 2020)

The use of another non-traditional marketing channel that stood out was the clever combination of standard digital media and influencer marketing. This integrated campaign delivered a cohesive, effective and far-reaching multichannel.

Whilst we do not predict influencer marketing to become as prominent as in other industries, we expect it will appear in specific and relevant healthcare communications in 2021 and beyond.


Theme 2 – Agile and flexible capabilities

2020 has required healthcare teams, more than ever, to be agile, pivot, remain authentic, and to deliver competitive value. Leading teams in 2020 have demonstrated innovation and speed to adapt their brands, service offerings, and operational models. Our industry’s resilience and ability to adapt to a year of unconventional working environments, increased workloads and strained resources has been remarkable – qualities and skills to be expanded on in the future.

Standout Example: Takeda, winner of the Communique Awards In-House Team of the Year

Strong company culture was more important than ever in 2020 with winners all having this in common. Takeda consistently demonstrated a supportive, collaborative culture with a focus on authenticity and trust, which subsequently delivered outstanding results (PMLiVe, 2020).


Distinguished examples of this in 2020 include those such as OPEN Health Medical Communications, winners of the Communique Award for Medical Affairs Agency of the Year. The team demonstrated it was an evolving and cohesive group with a strong culture and ethos of staying true to itself as a business whilst continuing to diversify.

Agile and flexible working with a focus on wellbeing has also been particularly important in a year of uncertainty as businesses react to the COVID-19 pandemic. Accord, winner of the PMEA Agility Award in Pharma Market Excellence, was one of those recognised for their quick and forward thinking in reaction to the COVID-19 Pandemic. AstraZeneca, the PMEA Company of the Year Winner, was also noted for not only their central innovation but for their swift and effective response to the pandemic (PMLiVE, 2020). The ability to flex, be agile and pivot is certainly another theme we expect to be taken into 2021 and beyond.

Theme 3 – Relatable, empathetic, and patient-centric initiatives

Relatable, empathetic, and patient-centric initiatives have been another key thread amongst this year’s winners. The ‘In My Shoes: 24 Hours  by Mearns & Pike and Electric Putty for Crohn’s & Colitis UK and Takeda, winner of three Communique Awards, used an immersive app experience to allow doctors, family members, and friends to understand what life is like for a Crohn’s or Colitis patient.  Takeda’s ‘Stories that Never Stand Still’ book, for people with ADHD by people with ADHD, winner of the PMEA Patient Centricity Award, stood out on an emotional level as it changed perspectives and smashed the stigma on ADHD diagnosis (PMLiVE, 2020).

Standout example: AstraZeneca, with support from Uptake Strategies and EY, winners of the PMEA Excellence in Capability Development award.

Recognised for their design and implementation of their marketing capability development programme to ensure their teams were equipped to deliver the future patient-centred, digitally enabled vision of the company. Using a range of channels, spanning many different elements, the project was unarguably patient focused and their honesty was praised.


Theme 4 – The use of artificial intelligence and data insights to enable quicker and wider diagnosis and treatment.

A standout example of this is AstraZeneca’s Emerging Markets Health Innovation Hubs, winner of the PMEA award for Excellence in Innovation. AstraZeneca leveraged an unlikely alliance, demonstrating innovation and collaboration to improve patient outcomes in markets with limited healthcare infrastructure, using artificial intelligence to gain quicker diagnosis and treatment for heart attack patients (PMLiVE, 2020).


2020 has been an extraordinary year for healthcare. Presented with challenges, our agile industry has responded exceptionally. Award ceremonies have highlighted key themes that articulate elements of outstanding performance in healthcare projects.

Firstly, the use of integrated, immersive, multichannel learning using technology and e-tools to engage audiences, such as immersive apps, social and digital media, and other non-traditional healthcare communication channels. Secondly, in the COVID-19 era, top performers in healthcare demonstrated an ability to be agile and remain authentic whilst delivering value that differentiates, and evolving their brand offerings to the challenges presented. Strong corporate cultures also stood out in 2020, with success coming to those who live out their values and vision.

Empathetic and patient-centric campaigns had a huge impact in 2020, a trend that will continue to expand into the future of healthcare. Lastly, the use of data insights and artificial intelligence is something that has largely improved patient outcomes and expanded diagnosis and treatment in 2020. As a goal of all healthcare markers, this theme is certainly one we can expect to see more of in the future of our programmes.


What did the 2020 winners do to succeed? What can we take away and apply to our own healthcare work?

1 – USE OF DATA INSIGHTS AND AI – Making use of robust data insights and visualising them to enable quicker and wider diagnosis and treatment

2 – RELATABLE, EMPATHETIC AND PATIENT-CENTRIC INITIATIVES – Emotive, empathetic and visual campaigns, through digital channels that create impact using a deeper understanding of what it is like to be in the patient’s shoes, to create more patient-centric campaigns

3 – INTEGRATED, IMMMERSIVE, ENGAGING MULTICHANNEL LEARNING – Using technology to engage audiences with an integrated, multichannel experience

4 – AUTHENTICITY AND REMAINING TRUE TO CORE VALUES – Be different, brave, and bold

5 – AGILE AND FLEXIBLE WORKING MODELS – All businesses have had to adapt on a week-by-week basis to the changing environment in 2020 and demonstrate agility, innovation and speed to adapt their brand / service offering and operational model

6 – WIDER SERVICE AND SYSTEM SUPPORT – To ensure the whole team are focused on tackling the real challenges facing customers


At Uptake Strategies we are a team of industry experts, with services in planning, capability, and launch. If you would like to talk to us about how we can help your team implement any of these industry-leading trends in 2021, please do get in touch at


REFERENCES: 2020. Communiqué Awards 2020: Results – Communiqué Awards – Pmlive. [online] Available at:  (Accessed 6 January 2021). 2020. PMEA Awards 2020: Results – PMEA – Pmlive. [online] Available at: <> (Accessed 6 January 2021). 2020. Digital Awards 2020: Results – PM Society. [online] Available at: (Accessed 6 January 2021)


The author Mollie Robinson, a Graduate Marketing and Project Management Assistant at Uptake Strategies, would like to thank Maxine Smith and Stephanie Hall for their strategic input into this article.


If you would like access to the PDF version of this pharmaceutical marketing healthcare awards analysis report, please contact for your copy.