Vol. 19, No. 2, 2010The Write Stuff
The Journal of the European Medical Writers Association 115
by Anders Holmqvist
Expanding your market by involving graphic design
Experience and competence are probably the two major qualities that you will have acquired after some years of medical writing. On the other hand, there is a risk you may get stuck in the same old rut, by habit or because business has been successful so far, so Ill carry on as usual. And this I say from my own experience: there are quite a few of us who have taken one or more blows as a consequence of the ongoing financial crisis. In order to continue making a living in our chosen field, we may have to widen our per-spective and maybe even take the plunge into the unknown.
When I started my career as an art director/illustrator, pho-tographer and project manager within the field of medical communications in the early 90s, my clients in the pharma-ceutical industry appeared to have inexhaustible supplies of cash. Collaborating with medical writers I produced ads, leaflets, brochures, booklets, books, monographs, ed-ucational items, branding, exhibitions, newsletters, sym-posia, conference reports etc. In addition to our scientific productions, clients also seemed to be able to afford ex-pensive travelling and hiring posh advertising agencies for flashy campaigns, exhibitions and events.
Mini agenciesToday the situation is somewhat different. Our clients still have the desire to commission agencies, but the budget has become limited despite an unchanged need for scien-tific copy writing. What can we as freelancers do to meet this need? My answer would be: transform ourselves into mini agencies.
By writing about scientifically complex medical topics you will already have created a unique personal image for yourself which allows you to stand out from the face-less crowd of agencies. But do you ever concern yourself with what happens to your text once its delivered and paid for? Well, typically somebody else is supposed to edit the text, choose adequate typography, perhaps add (in an ideal world) explanatory illustrations and graphs, and finally present your text in print. Your influence on (or for that matter, responsibility for) this process is zero. Is this sce-nario desirable to you? By taking an interest in matters further down the line you may be able to make your text more interesting and comprehensible, as well as making your own contribution more worthwhile.
Whilst we will all of us be aware of the importance of graphic presentation for the overall message, it cannot be reiterated often enough to our clients: a piece of text may
be magnificently written, with exhilarating contentif its not presented in an appropriate and attractive way (that is, with adequate typography, layout, and illustrations/pic-tures) there is a huge risk that it will remain unread by most of its intended audience. So, what has your client gained by ordering this job from you in the first place? You may be thinking this has got nothing to do with me, its my clients problem. But many pharmaceutical clients are unaware of these mattersthey are so in love with their subject or excited about their presented scientific data that they completely overlook the fact that typography and layout matters have the potential to give the text a much greater impact. If you were able to persuade your clients (and prospective clients) to pay greater attention to these aspects, and if you could include these services as part of your core services, it is likely that youd be increasing your chances of landing a wealth of interesting new free-lance projects.
Ad hoc partnershipsOk, sounds fair enough, but Im not interested in these sorts of thingsI prefer to focus my time and effort on medical writing, as this is what I specialise in, you might think. Point takentheres no need to abandon what youre good at. But allow yourself to consider teaming up with a partner who can assist you with the other bits. Being a freelance medical writer is often hard, lonely work. Ex-changing thoughts and ideas with another person from a slight different field may generate fruitful discussions and ideas. Here I speak from experienceI have worked in this way for a long time, and oddly enough, there have been times when I, the graphic designer, have come up with a suitable headline, whilst the writer has had a clever idea for a smashing illustration! The beauty of working in these ad hoc partnerships is that you retain all the ad-vantages of working on your own, whilst at the same time you are able to reap the benefits of being part of a well-established professional team. Not everyone is thrilled by the thought of procuring these services from the graphic designershould this be the case, it is perfectly feasible for the two of you to invoice your client separately, thus removing the risk-taking aspect of forging a new business relationship and allowing you to proceed with the commis-sioned writing work with complete confidence.
Let me conclude by illustrating this type of collaboration based on my own experience. Once the medical writer and myself have been commissioned to produce a report or >
The Write StuffVol. 19, No. 2, 2010
116 The Journal of the European Medical Writers Association
Expanding your market by involving graphic design
newsletter from a symposium or conference things usual-ly proceed as follows: we attend the congress/symposium together; I take pictures of the slide shows, the lecturers, various posters etc, whereas my medical writer colleague records the sessions using audiotape, takes notes and makes any speaker interviews required. Back home in our respective offices (which may be in different countries), we collate everything into a brochure of typically 8-16 pages (although this will of course be customised to the clients requirements). My medical writer colleague pre-pares the copy (with the help of audio recordings and my photographed slides) and I do the layout, the graphs and any other illustrations and photos. Following copy approv-al and final sign-off from the client, I attend to things like printing and delivery. Feedback from a long line of phar-maceutical clients in a range of therapeutic areas supports my notion that this way of working provides the client with the major advantage of getting the whole package in one hit: text, photos, accurate graphs and references in a design and format that is fit for its purpose, without the additional hassle of commissioning and managing a full agency.
Benefits of the whole packageTo be even more specificwhat did our last client gain from working with us? Well, in my view, the ad hoc
team of myself and an experienced medical writer with specialist knowledge in the therapeutic area concerned was able to deliver a professionally written report from an international conference, to an extremely tight dead-line andfrom the clients point of viewa very limited budget, and with a minimum of admin and overheads for ourselves.
I suggest that you as a freelance medical writer ask yourself if one or more of your clients might benefit from working with not only an experienced writer, but with a tight team capable of offering the whole package, including texts, graphs, illustrations, an appealing layout, and the project management involved as well. Sometimes the whole is in-deed greater than the sum of the parts. And the fun you have along the way is for free!
Acknowledgements Thanks to Maria Dalby for constructive comments on this manuscript.
Anders HolmqvistArt director, illustrator, photographer, project manager (freelance)Holmqvist AD & BildLund, Swedenadobild@yahoo.se
FIG 2 Transmitters controlling Onufs nucleus
Sacral Spinal Cord
Illustrations such as these from the areas of urology, neuroscience and genetics (the mouse represents similarities between the human and mouse genome) will enhance the presentation of a text and promote the delivery of key messages