CommonTime and the value of research driven PR


CommonTime worked with Highland Marketing to secure unprecedented coverage of a report on the use of pagers in the NHS; and the benefits of shifting to modern, mobile solutions. Dan McCarthy explains why it took a research-led approach to PR, and how this success was achieved.

CommonTime builds intelligent messaging systems that create better communications for public and private sector organisations around the world. Its customers include the NHS, for which it has developed an instant messaging product to complement a custom-app development platform and services.

CommonTime has worked with Highland Marketing since it commissioned its sales acceleration service to help it to build a sales pipeline of qualified leads for its app development products. The success of first a trial and then a full sales acceleration campaign in 2017 encouraged CommonTime to ask Highland Marketing to help it with PR activity.

Initially, this meant writing press releases and case studies to showcase its work with NHS customers. For example, Highland Marketing was able to highlight work by Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to combine some of its core patient and clinical systems into a mobile app.

The trust used the CommonTime Infinity low-code development platform to integrate its Silverlink patient administration system, its document management system, and more than 40 clinical applications into the Hillingdon Care Record.

It’s launch and take-up by clinical staff were well-covered by healthcare IT publications; including industry-leading website, which sent a reporter to see it in action.

‘Ten per cent of the world’s pagers in use in the NHS’

Dan McCarthy, marketing manager at CommonTime, says the case study approach generated a good level of interest. But the company wanted to follow-up with industry research that would have a longer shelf-life and more directly support sales efforts for its Clinical Messaging product.

“We decided to undertake some research on pagers,” he says. “We used secondary data, from NHS Digital and other organisations, on the extent to which they are still being used in the NHS. Then we wrote a report in-house, after which we engaged Highland Marketing.”

Highland Marketing reviewed the findings, helped to structure the report and press release, and then handled distribution.

The work brought out some striking statistics. The final report estimated that 130,000 pagers – or one in ten of all the pagers still in use around the world – are being used by the NHS. It calculated that these devices are costing the NHS £6.6 million a year; when replacing them with mobile software could save it £2.7 million a year.

This proved to be a compelling story for journalists. Highland Marketing’s press release secured well over 130 pieces of coverage, in publications ranging from national newspapers to major regional publications, and from specialist health tech websites to political journals.

The story was also covered by broadcasters, including the BBC, and eventually acquired a momentum of its own; even US magazines picked up on the story.

McCarthy says: “Highland Marketing was able to place this in some great channels for us. That first piece of research and PR support exceeded all our expectations.”

‘Doctors turn to commercial messaging apps’

CommonTime decided to follow-up with a second piece of research, looking at the work-arounds that clinicians have put in place to try and overcome the limitations of this old pager technology. “There were reports that staff were using commercial messaging apps for clinical tasks, such as handover, or to discuss the treatment of patients,” McCarthy says.

“We decided to do some research to find out if that was the case. We found it was not possible to use secondary data because, for obvious reasons, the NHS doesn’t collect figures on whether clinicians are using apps like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.

“Instead, we went to a third-party research company, which took a survey to NHS staff.”

Highland Marketing helped to formulate the questions for the survey, bringing in clinical expertise from its partner Abed Graham. It helped to analyse the results, pick out key themes, and work them up into another strong release.

The findings of this research were also notable. It not only confirmed that commercial, unauthorised messaging platforms are being used in the NHS, but that as many as 500,000 health service staff – or 43% of the total – are using them. Also, that 29,000 staff – one in 50 – have faced disciplinary action for using instant messaging apps.

Highland Marketing advised CommonTime that these striking – and controversial – aspects of the report should feature highly in the press release. This was widely covered by the health and tech press.

Benefits of research led PR

McCarthy says that taking a research led approach to content generation and PR has worked for CommonTime. “The pager research is being mentioned in reports that are still coming out now,” he says.

“For example, [health and social care secretary] Jeremy Hunt recently sponsored a report from the Centre for Policy Studies on paperless technology. That report contained 30 or 40 references; but one of them was to our report. So, we are still getting that long-tail of coverage.”

Indeed, references to the pager report crop up frequently. Chris Smyth, health editor of The Times, asked NHS England’s director of digital transformation about it on the stage of the 2017 Health and Care Expo. The Wikipedia page on pagers was recently updated to include that 10% figure.

As McCarthy says, the report has become part of the zeitgeist; and that has put CommonTime on the front-foot. “You establish yourselves as the thought-leaders in the sector,” McCarthy says, when asked about the benefits of this kind of activity. “You establish yourselves as the experts.”

Crucially, this has made it easier to take the Clinical Messaging product to market. “We have been going into hospitals, and we have found that lots of people have seen the story,” McCarthy says. “They may have left a comment on a website about it; and we have been able to discuss how our solution can help.”

Why work with Highland Marketing?

When CommonTime engaged Highland Marketing, McCarthy says it was looking for market knowledge. “It was important for us to engage with a PR agency that understood the health tech market, both technically and clinically,” he says.

Over time, though, he came to appreciate Highland Marketing’s “personal touch”, research, writing skills and media contacts “Highland Marketing took some quite long reports and turned them into excellent summaries and press releases. In fact, we have used some of his approach internally,” he says.

“The team also gave us lots of advice, and some very good recommendations. The people we worked with at Highland Marketing really went that extra mile.”

Key points:

  • CommonTime has created a low-code enterprise application development platform, Infinity, that enables users to create and deploy apps with ease. Its Development Services team provides expert consultancy. For the NHS, CommonTime has created Clinical Messaging; a secure communication channel for frontline staff.
    CommonTime ran a successful sales acceleration campaign with Highland Marketing in 2017, and has since worked with it on highly successful PR campaigns.

Services and value:

  • The Highland Marketing services that CommonTime used for its PR campaigns were: research, content creation, press release writing, press release distribution, media liaison and media monitoring.
  • The PR campaign on the obsolete use of pagers in the NHS generated more than 130 pieces of coverage in national newspapers, the specialist and medical press, and broadcast outlets. This was widely referenced in conference presentations, reports, and online resources, such as Wikipedia.
  • CommonTime has been able to use this coverage to secure the attention of influencers and potential customers, and to establish itself as the thought-leader in its sector.

Highland Marketing is an integrated communications, PR and marketing consultancy supporting UK and international health tech organisations. Over 23 years we have built a reputation for being the go-to agency for vendors and their customers. Talk to us about market strategy, research, branding, messaging, content marketing, PR, social media and sales acceleration.

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