Coffee Break with Pippa Bourke

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John Pinching meets recruitment specialist Pippa Bourke. 

What have you been up to, Pippa?

Watching a lot of rugby – I married an Australian and, if you marry an Australian, you have to like rugby. We went to the Millennium Stadium recently to see England against Australia, in the Rugby League World Cup. The atmosphere was amazing, despite Australia winning!

How did you get involved in the cut-throat world of recruitment?

After two years working in a high street-based position – where I was recruiting pickers, packers, drivers and care workers – I wanted to pursue a more specialised area of recruitment.

I started doing some research in the local area, looking for a company that wasn’t just a typical agency. Star came up, so I applied for a job, went to an interview and secured a position with the team specialising in pharmaceuticals. For the last year, however, I have worked exclusively within the healthcare communications team, honing my knowledge and experience in a growing sector.

Did you know anything about pharma?

Almost nothing, apart from what my dad told me; he’s a dentist and taught me a bit about healthcare. During the school holidays I used to be a dental nurse, helping him out.

So when other kids were doing paper rounds, you were looking in people’s mouths?

It was great. I still remember seeing the reps coming in and out – some were clearly very good, but some were not so good! When my dad didn’t need me, he’d recommend me to one of his dentist friends, and I’d work for a couple of weeks with them.

Jaw dropping! Where were we?

I learnt very quickly from the people around me, the wider industry, and through a lot of reading and researching. The sector itself is always evolving, learning and developing too – digital and social media is relatively new to pharma.

It’s an exciting place to be and I believe this is the best industry to work in, bar none.

That sounded pretty sincere to me, Pippa! Tell me, what makes a really good pharma candidate?

It’s someone who can combine the organisation’s priorities and goals, along with the customer’s needs, in a meaningful and dynamic way. It’s also about the ability to thrive during change, particularly at a time when customers are experiencing more changes than ever before.

In changing times, how important is the relationship between healthcare practitioners and reps?

It’s vital that a representative continues to improve the supply chain, but that task has become increasingly difficult, given the limited access they have to customers. Every interaction needs to be worthwhile, as diminishing returns will see the door close on industry.

In the future there is bound to be stronger partnerships between NHS and industry – is that positive?

It’s time for a new era where we don’t just talk about partnerships, we make them happen! We need to see relationships that embrace openness and work on transparency. With the development of CCGs, the NHS is now operating at a different level, with different drivers, and this should provide the opportunity for industry to engage differently.

Is reform encouraging pharma to modernise?

Reform could be seen as a great opportunity. I’m told that the Chinese symbol for ‘change’ is a combination of the symbols for ‘chaos’ and ‘opportunity’; those that can make sense of the chaos NHS reform has created, will seize the opportunity!

One of the key ways pharma can modernise in this way is to embrace new ways of communicating with their audience, for example, effective use of social media, digital and all that goes with it. It’s fascinating to see how social media is impacting on everything from advertising, brand campaigns, and PR, right through to the tools used by representatives in the field.

Virtually all pharma companies around the globe now use Twitter as part of their communications strategy. Twitter is not just there to find out where Miley Cyrus has been twerking – it’s also a hugely influential business tool.

I must admit, I had no idea it was called twerking until Miley did it.

She is very talented and doesn’t need all this other stuff. Is it her fault, or is it the society we live in and what she thinks she needs to do? Mind you, there were many attempts – impressive and otherwise – to twerk at our recent AGM, from men and women!

Well, I can’t say I fancy her. Talking of talent, what is Star’s philosophy and what sets it apart?

The Directors at Star are an absolute inspiration to work for. The values on which the company was founded 11 years ago – unity, fire and a winning mentality – haven’t changed. We’ve managed to hold on to those core values through significant and sustained organic growth, and secured our position as a leading provider of talent in the healthcare space.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

Within the healthcare communications business unit we are exceptionally busy fulfilling a number of assignments with our clients, including an exclusive team build for Remedy, taking Home Group’s digital strategies to European and global pharma.

Do these modern technological developments give people new career options?

The pace of technological development has created potential career opportunities for all; we have already seen the early adopters, who’ve learnt ‘on the job’, to become specialists and really make a name for themselves.

Unlike most consumer-led brands, pharma must comply with industry regulations, which means there will always be specific considerations in their digital strategies. There is no doubt that pharma is really switching on to the possibilities of digital, learning from even the strongest consumer brands, like Coca-Cola.

What did you think of the PM Society Digital Media Awards?

It was a brilliant celebration of innovation. It’s great to see how digital strategists and talent from blue chip pharma companies have combined to create ground-breaking products. When PM Society first started doing the awards, a few years ago, the same companies were winning, but this year there was a real mix – from right across the board. That diversity is absolutely fantastic, and a real reflection of how, as an industry, we’ve developed and are really going places. The trend is moving away from investing in traditional print campaigns and towards a digital future.

How do you get away from it all?

After meetings with clients and candidates, I kick back on the train with my Kindle and, when I get home, pour myself a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. The other day I watched five episodes of Celebrity Juice back to back, via the ITV iPlayer, while second screening my social media accounts! I also love Downton Abbey, but it’s the same old story in the new series – Lady Mary and a never ending influx of rich male admirers.


I’ll take your word for it, Pippa, toodle-oo!