When will we be back to normal?

The definitive question of 2021, whether you’re a homeschooling parent, a homebound professional, a wanderer with nowhere to go… or all three at once.

And as a parent of two school-age kids who likes snow under his skis and sand between his toes, I’m certainly hoping the answer is as soon as freakin’ possible.

But only as far as home life and travel are concerned.

Because as someone who works in pharmaceutical marketing, my answer to ‘when will we be back to normal’ is ‘hopefully never.’

Don’t get me wrong, I can’t wait to be face to face with my team and my clients again, to be working on live events again, to be filming real people in real places again. And those days will come. Maybe even soon.

But let’s be honest, the pharma industry wasn’t the most agile of beasts before the world went weird. But when 2020 happened, and millions of lives were on the line, a planet of people asked pharma to change.

And it did.

It is impossible to understate what a phenomenal achievement the vaccine programs against COVID-19 have been. Accelerated drug development, faster trial recruitment, nimbler peer review and, yes, streamlined regulatory processes.

And it’s had a halo effect downstream, with comms and marketing functions thinking on their feet as news breaks, stories develop and landscapes change. We moved from not knowing about a disease to having multiple medicines for it within a year. That’s astonishing. To the lab teams, the investigators, the manufacturers, the regulators; take a bow.

This is a thrilling time to be a creative professional in healthcare. There is a growing recognition that being conservative around claims and diligent around standards doesn’t mean being slow-moving or innovation-averse. While therapeutic production is as safe as ever, pharma is taking risks within itself, accepting that trying and failing beats not trying at all.

There is an appetite for creative expression and novel storytelling that simply wasn’t as pronounced a year ago.

Let’s celebrate having learned we don’t need to be in the same room to share in decision making. Let’s be thankful that pharma has embraced digital channels more openly than ever. Let’s enjoy this moment when patient-centricity has moved from a box-ticking exercise to a genuine influence on decisions.

And above all, let’s not go back to normal. Let’s go forward, to better.

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