Have you ever worked on a project that’s given you a warm glow? I’ve been fortunate to work on several, but one in particular came from a very unusual place. It was a tricky project about a difficult subject, but one that has to be tackled head-on for many, however hard that might be.


Yes, the ‘Big C’ that dreadful, debilitating word that patients don’t want to hear and oncologists don’t want to say. So, it must be addressed with great thought and sensitivity.

The project began as a pitch. At the time I was with a London based healthcare advertising agency better known in the US than Europe and the client had picked us as a sort of wild card, along with ‘big boy’ London agencies. We immediately felt like the underdog.

The brief was straightforward. The client had a very effective drug on the market for the treatment of breast cancer. They had published information for patients starting or undergoing treatment on a simple website. Problem was, nobody was reading it. There was more traffic on the moon.

After reviewing what had already been published we realised why it was a flop. It was written by medics for medics, in a language that most people couldn’t fathom. The design and UX were ditch-water dull. It just wasn’t fit for purpose and to their credit the client knew they needed to do something if it really was going to help people.

So, we burned through the hours, days, and nights leading up to P-Day. We took the brave approach of only moving forward with one solid idea. It was a very simple idea that centred on ‘support’ but in a completely human way. This allowed us to talk about the client supporting oncologists, healthcare professionals supporting patients, carers, friends and family members supporting people with the disease.

All to make the point that this was a difficult journey for sure but one that patients are not alone on.

Because this was healthcare and bound by strict codes of compliance, only when medication was actually prescribed would patients receive a unique login. For healthcare professionals login was available using professional identification. In terms of search and Google the site was off the radar.

Content had been simplified but made easily digestible with real insights to give it value; not just dumbed-down. Patients were taken on a journey from diagnosis to recovery. With relevant support available at every step. Information is conveyed sensitively using different media from text to film, and more interactive formats, makes sure there is content of value for everyone.

The usefulness of content is graded on the page by the user, bringing truly useful content up higher in the site with less relevant content pushed back ready to be rewritten or changed entirely. Local support groups and charities are flagged, depending on the geographic location of the person logged in. Challenges for families and carers are also considered and catered for.

As a pitch team we felt extremely passionate about our answer to the client’s problem. And it showed. We won.

The site won an internal award for the client in best practice for patient support websites and became their benchmark. But more importantly it became a hugely used resource for people undergoing treatment and all those connected with them. Traffic shot up, bounce rates reduced and dwell times increased.

So, the answer to the headline ‘When is a website not a website?’ is when it becomes something that’s genuinely useful on a very human level.

And because of this project I learned how much I love writing patient support material. It just feels good to be able to create something you know is going to give someone an insight, maybe some glimmer of hope, a shoulder to lean on. I don’t want to get all evangelical and I still love writing for consumer, B2B, etc. but there really is something that gives me that ‘happy inside’ feeling when writing for patients as people.