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European Biopharmaceutical Review

Write on Target

Outsourcing scientific writing to a third party can bring expertise and fresh ideas to a company’s print and web publications. But for a project to be successful, it’s important to start by identifying your communication needs.

Global biopharmaceutical companies face a two-fold challenge when producing printed and online publications. First, the scientific content must meet high academic standards. Second, the message must reach an ever wider range of target groups, often in different geographical markets. These include distribution partners, end-consumers, health authorities and interested members of the public.

Clear production processes and communications specialists both have a crucial role to play in ensuring that print and online publications have the desired impact. But before deciding to outsource specialised language services, such as medical writing and translation of scientific content, the organisation’s management must be clear about the benefits and reasons for outsourcing. Awareness of best practice is also key in assessing potential outsourcing partners.

Case Study One: Medical Writing for the Internet

Anyone considering outsourcing might find it interesting to look first at real life examples where biopharmaceutical companies have worked with third-party language specialists. The first case involved a medical writing project for a non-profit nutrition institute. The institute was looking for a partner to help with the writing of abstracts for scientific articles published online, and to produce teaser texts for ‘webinars’ – webhosted conferences.

Reaching Out to a Wider Audience

With the article summaries, the institute wanted to reach out beyond the circle of high-profile medical specialists to a new target group. This was made up of people with a professional interest and involvement in nutrition, such as dieticians, nurses and general pharmacists. To appeal to this readership, the writers of the abstracts had to avoid making the subject too dry and academic, taking a more journalistic approach. At the same time, they had to maintain the standards required for a scientific publication. Meanwhile, the aim of the webinar teaser texts was to provide a short introduction to each module – giving potential participants a quick, straightforward overview of the content.

Finally, the writers needed to keep in mind the overall objective of the institute’s online communication strategy: namely to raise awareness of the institute’s work and activities. The institute was essentially looking to address a broad readership, including not only healthcare professionals, but any member of the public with an interest in nutrition – in other words, all visitors to the institute’s website.

Picking Out the Key Messages

This was the challenge facing the third-party language specialist’s writers. To meet it, they worked according to a structured approach. For the article summaries, this involved:

  • Conducting background research into the therapeutic area
  • Identifying and correctly placing the key references cited in the article
  • Writing up the summaries – placing the authors’ key messages into a broader medical context so as to make them relevant not only to medical specialists, but also to the nurses, dieticians and pharmacists reading them 
Industry Insider Expertise

The project proved a success. Working closely with the third-party language services provider, the institute was reassured that the writers had sound industry knowledge – and so could get its message across clearly and accurately. At the same time, the outsourcing partner was able to look at the institute’s website with fresh eyes.

This outside perspective helped the language service provider to see beyond the confines of the brief, and to consider the overall communication objective. The provider identified a way to let visitors navigate the website more easily and efficiently. This involved giving the website a new structure, with all articles available online put under one or more main topic headings.

The institute took on board the provider’s proposal and entrusted it with this critical communication project. This is a good example of a third-party provider taking the initiative, and sharing the objectives of the organisation it is partnering. It also shows that more can be achieved in an outsourcing situation, when a true partnership with open communication and full confidence is established.

Case Study Two: Medical Writing for a Printed Training Manual

The second case involved a global healthcare and medical research company with market-leading products and an industry-leading pipeline. The company’s new sales representatives needed to quickly acquire in-depth expertise in the company’s products on the market and in the pipeline, but the existing training materials had flaws. Consisting of various documents in different formats, the language of the materials was inconsistent, while the illustrations and images were outdated. What the company needed was a single, coherent training manual written in language appropriate for the target readership.

The Solution: A Dedicated Team of Specialists

The company decided to hand the task of recreating the training manual to a single outsourcing partner. The thirdparty language services provider began by building a team of specialists to work closely with the client on all aspects of the project. The team included: a copywriter to oversee the editorial side; a medical writer with scientific qualifications; an experienced graphic designer; and a project manager to coordinate the entire production process.

A Flexible Addition to the Client’s in-House Team

The project was brought to fruition with the publication of a new 100-page training guide. Throughout the process, the healthcare company had access to the wide-ranging skills and expertise of hand-picked specialists.

Close cooperation between the healthcare company and outsourcing partner meant that the outsourced specialist essentially acted as an extension to the company’s team. It gained a close knowledge of the company’s internal needs, yet at the same time had enough distance to be able to approach the project with a fresh perspective – and to create a new document from the existing materials.

The healthcare company commented in particular on the flexibility that the outsourcing partner had shown on cost and timings, and was impressed with how quickly the medical writer got to grips with the company-specific training material.

Best Practice: What Makes a Successful Communication Project?

The two case studies provide a useful illustration of how best to approach a communication project. To make an outsourcing project a success, there are five crucial factors to consider:

Target Audience

You can only decide the content and style if you have clearly identified the readership from the outset. The message needs to be pitched right.

Academic Knowledge

Whoever the readership, a writer needs to have a complete understanding of the content. Specialist academic knowledge is vital, whether writing for experts or making technical concepts understandable to a broader target group.

Mix of Skills and Expertise

Of course, even if the content is fully understood, the writer still has to be able to identify the key message and communicate it in a way that is as simple and straightforward as possible. But writing is just part of the process. The outsourcing partner must have expertise right across the value chain, and this also includes areas such as graphic design and project management.

Efficient Processes

Managing the project is another of the keys to a successful project. A good project manager with in-depth experience of similar projects will steer the client through the entire process. This typically begins with the briefing, before moving on to the different stages of production. Even when the writing part is finished, the process is not over: debriefing and a follow-up review of the project are particularly important. After all, building the relationship between client and outsourcing partner means building on each project to ensure that the process is constantly honed and that quality standards are maintained.

Global Reach

As discussed, the outsourcing partner needs to reach out to target groups with different levels of expertise. Equally important, though, is the ability to communicate with different geographical markets. An outsourcing provider with global reach and writers who are based in – and know – local markets across the world can offer clear advantages here.

The BPO Solution: Key Reasons to Outsource

Business process outsourcing (BPO) is a term generally used to mean contracting operations and responsibilities for specific business processes to a third-party provider. In other words, replacing in-house services with services from an outside firm. BPO can also mean a partial or complete transfer of a company’s language experts (writers, editors, translators) to an outsourcing partner. The stages of the process are shown in Figure 1.

So why use business process outsourcing? Here are some of the arguments for a company to opt for a BPO solution with a specialised language services provider:

Organisational Benefits

By concentrating on its core business and outsourcing non-core activities, management can make the organisation more effective. It can increase flexibility by choosing a provider offering scalable services and a modular service portfolio. Management can also use outsourcing to transform the organisation: so if it wants to enhance end user communication for instance, it can use an outsourcing partner with global reach that can offer a round-the-clock writing service.

Improvements in Performance and Access to Fresh Knowledge and Ideas

An outsourcing partner with high performance standards (workflows, professional quality management, vendor management and IT security for instance) can in turn help bring improvements in the client’s operating performance. The client also enjoys access in the necessary languagerelated expertise, skill, experience and technologies offered by the outsourcing partner.

A third-party language services provider offering a broad range of services, can be a source of new, innovative ideas, offering services such as SEO optimisation for the client’s website, and readability testing for its communications.


By transferring staff to an outsourcing partner, a company can turn its fixed costs into variable costs. For instance, the company no longer incurs operational IT costs. And high fixed labour costs become a thing of the past, as the client only pays for ‘real work’ carried out according to this business model. By providing reports and benchmarks, the outsourcing partner can also increase cost transparency for the client.


A transfer of a company’s language experts team to a specialised language services organisation with international operations can lead to greater career opportunities for the employees in question. In moving to the outsourcing partner, employees go from working in a non-core business area to being part of the core business. As a result, the transferred employees find themselves working in a more stimulating and motivating environment.

Revenues and Profits

The earlier a client can release new products, the faster they generate profit. An outsourcing partner with large capacity and high-quality processes and systems can ensure that the documents accompanying a launch are ready more quickly – accelerating time to market. The client can use the outsourcing partner to expand its sales and production capacity during ‘peak times’ (for instance ahead of a new marketing campaign or product launch).


Biopharmaceutical companies considering outsourcing services such as medical writing and translation of scientific content to a third-party language specialist may decide to do so for a number of reasons, applying criteria relevant to their own business. But the crucial questions for any management team when weighing up the decision criteria are: what communication objectives do we want to achieve, and how can I achieve these objectives with limited resources? In other words, how can I make more efficient, flexible use of the resources at my disposal?

A BPO solution may appear a radical step, and many companies are put off by what they perceive to be a loss of control: over quality, over security and over the staff being transferred, for instance. But a company with the courage to take this step into the new territory of a BPO could find that they reap benefits in many areas – including revenues and profits, organisational improvements, cost savings, improved performance and a new challenge for the people in their in-house communications team.

Of course, much also depends on the choice of provider – which is why an awareness of best practice is crucial. You must have complete confidence in your outsourcing partner, particularly where they are writing your flagship publications, for instance, or structuring your website. And that confidence has to be earned, with a proven track record and demonstrable quality standards on the part of the thirdparty provider.

But ultimately, if your organisation outsources to a proven specialist language services provider with an intimate knowledge of your business and communication objectives, you could end up benefiting twice over. The outsourcing partner could become a flexible extension to your team – while at the same time bringing the fresh perspective of a third party, and breathing new life and innovative ideas into your communication strategy.

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After having lead the Life Science team at CLS Communication AG for four years, Simone Lamont currently heads up the company’s Business Development for Central Europe and the Benelux region. Prior to joining CLS, Simone held managerial roles in sales and operations at TRADOS GmbH/SDL International Ltd and at Lionbridge Technologies Inc in the US. She holds an MA in Linguistics from Kent State University. Email:

Reto Schlegel has led the writing services department at CLS Communication AG for four years. He is also responsible for business development in the French speaking part of Switzerland, namely in the life science sector and Financial industry. Prior to joining CLS, Reto managed his own language services company. Email:
Simone Lamont
Reto Schlegel
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