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In the hot seat: Petra Gelb, MD, Grayling Health, META

Petra Gelb of Grayling Health chats with us about changing lives through her work in healthcare comms

Managing Director of Grayling Health META, Petra Gelb, joined Grayling Croatia in 2006 from a background in Government public relations, previously being communications assistant at the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Physical Planning and Construction. She joined the Grayling team in Qatar in January 2013 as a member of the senior management team and Head of Healthcare for META region. Petra has extensive experience in development, coordination and implementation of communications strategies, including awareness campaigns, HCPs outreach, reimbursement campaigns, crisis communication and CSR. Tamara Bullock, Director at Hanson Search, sits down with Petra to find out how she made it in the industry.

Why did you choose a career in healthcare communications?

I could say healthcare communication chose me. As a university student, I was looking for a part time job and was employed by the Secretary General of the International Federation for Medical and Biological Engineering, supporting him with congress and publication activities. Being surrounded by researchers, scientists and medical practitioners and the amazing things they were doing for the advancement of medicine, I couldn’t sit still. The more I read and learned the more I wanted to be involved. A few years later, when I started working for Grayling back in Croatia, I was drawn to healthcare clients in our portfolio. Within the agency, I have worked in every industry sector, but only while working on numerous projects in the healthcare sector I saw the direct impact we had on people’s lives. You truly have an opportunity to change lives.

What skill set does it take to advise the C-level executives of leading hospitals or pharma companies?

Apart from in-depth knowledge of the complete healthcare environment, advising C-level executives of hospitals or pharma companies is the same as in any other industry sector. By the time you get to that advisement position, all your skills - professional and interpersonal - should be at the highest level. C-level executives will expect that you have ‘passed all necessary tests’ before meeting them. However, in order to build a relationship that will bring fruitful cooperation, there needs to be a TRUST – personal trust, trust that you understand their business and professional objectives, trust you understand them as a person, and trust in the outcome. Without it, no skill up your sleeve will help you achieve success.

What is the most remarkable project you delivered in the region?

I think that would be the roll-out of the National Health Insurance Scheme in Qatar. It was a mix of stakeholder engagement, disease awareness, policy making, and most importantly continuous education of the general public. One of those projects that you get to do once in your lifetime, a transformational opportunity that not only changes business, but changes the nation. Moreover, it provided us with the opportunity to show the true power of fully integrated communications.

What are top 3 issues of the healthcare industry in the Gulf?

One of the biggest issues is the dominance of curative medicine over preventive medicine. Governments have recognised that such an approach is not sustainable or beneficial for the health of the nation. However, progress could be ramped up though the inclusion of multi-sectoral players. We can see this approach adopted in the fight against diabetes, but it was adopted only once the issue became an epidemic of gigantic proportions.

The second issue is a shortage of qualified medical doctors and nurses to serve the existing population. For example, according to statistics, only Abu Dhabi will require 2,000 additional doctors and over 5,000 new nurses by 2022 if turnover remains the same. This means recruiting 1,500 doctors and over 2,000 nurses annually. Therefore, promotion of the medical/clinical profession within schooling system and training of local talent is imperative to address this issue long-term.

Third would be the lack of civil society organisations (CSO). They are an important player in the healthcare sector in developed markets and one of the key drivers of interaction with governments around health goals. There should be more support in the region for the establishment of CSOs as a source of experience, expertise, and information. But most importantly they would provide a missing link in a patient treatment cycle which is trust, openness, communication, and support.

How can the healthcare sector embrace integrated communications and conversion to digital?

Today integrated communications should be a standard, not an exception. We bring unparalleled medical excellence to develop integrated solutions that help our healthcare clients educate and engage stakeholders. Therefore, we're building positive emotional experiences and powerful brand value. We focus on high-quality, relevant communications that brings real benefits to clinical practice and patient outcomes, based on the needs of the healthcare community. Only through integration of all stakeholders’ touchpoints will we be able to ensure full engagement and the best user experience.

However, the situation is different from market to market and the utilisation of digital tools unfortunately depends on the client’s knowledge and budget. Even if a company is digitally savvy on a global level, it doesn’t always translate to market level. Last year Grayling and Huntsworth Health, the major divisions of global communications consultancy, Huntsworth plc, have created a unique, integrated health and wellness communications offering tailored for the Middle East, Turkey and Africa – Grayling Health. Our integrated service offering is digitally-driven with science and medicine at the core. We are supporting strategic marketing and communications initiatives implemented by government health authorities, hospitals and medical centres, pharmaceutical, biotech, diagnostic and device manufacturers and other wellness and well-being stakeholders.

What is your advice to young people desiring to work in healthcare communications?

Don’t be scared! You don’t have to be a doctor, but you need to commit to life-long learning and be open to new experiences, such as observing an open heart surgery. Once you get hooked, you will love it and all the hard work will pay off. —

How can we help?

If you are looking for the best C-Suite talent for senior corporate roles, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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