I recently heard from a former colleague who said her client was looking for a writer to help develop a manuscript. I replied that my plate was pretty full at the moment, and I couldn’t possibly take on any new assignments for at least the next few weeks. Today I heard from her again, and she said every writer she’s reached out to responded that they were too busy to accept the assignment. She asked if I might be able to help if the project started later this month, and I replied with what I hope was a very encouraging “maybe.”
My online chat with my former colleague confirms what I’ve felt these last few months: These are extremely busy times for those of us who work in healthcare communications. There have surely been times in my career when I have been as busy as I am now, but I don’t remember being this busy for such a sustained period of time. Since November, the pace has been unrelenting, right through the holidays and into the new year. Rare is the day when I don’t receive an inquiry about my availability for a new project. I’m not only hearing from current and former clients and colleagues; I’m also hearing from people I’ve never heard of!
I have to keep reminding myself that being in demand is a good problem to have, especially given how so many people are struggling during the pandemic. And yet, the pace is exhausting. As the holidays approached I decided to take the last week of December off. I didn’t have anywhere to go; it was a true stay-cation. I found I really needed the time off, and I was largely able to keep my mind off work. Yet even then, the requests for my services kept rolling in, and I had to tell clients I wasn’t taking on any new projects over the holidays. They were very understanding, but the requests resumed after New Year’s, and whatever salutary benefits I derived from my holiday break started to dissipate.
Why, I wondered, were things so busy at a time when much of the industry normally quiets down for the holidays? I came up with a rather cynical theory: These busy times were due to the preponderance of type A personalities at pharma and biotech companies, health systems, medical professional societies, and related entities. Ordinarily, many of these type A personalities would go away for the holidays, but with the pandemic keeping most people at home this year, these individuals spent the months of November and December coming up with ideas for new projects. They then asked their agencies to help execute these projects, and the agencies were loath to say no, but suddenly realized they needed help, and so reached out to people like me.
I recently explained my theory to an acquaintance who runs a small agency that mostly serves clients in the CRO and CDMO categories. He responded with what I think is a better theory, which I’ll call the inverse COVID theory. Under normal circumstances, his clients would attend a lot of medical conferences and trade shows, where they would network and focus on nurturing customer relationships. However, because of COVID, they haven’t been able to travel for almost a year. Instead, to keep themselves visible, these industry folks have fallen back on generating content that they can post and share with clients and prospects. That has jacked up demand for content across the industry. Clients now are brimming with ideas for new content, and sharing these ideas with their agencies. Many of these agencies are finding that they lack the time and the bandwidth to generate all this content by themselves, and are scouring their virtual rolodexes to find writers help them meet this skyrocketing demand for content.
And here I find myself, with my cup running over. I wonder if this is the new normal, or a trend that will recede once the pandemic fades and we are once again able to travel freely. Again, I need to remind myself that I’m extremely fortunate to have so much business while so many are struggling, but I’d prefer not to have to deal with so much stress all the time.
Nevertheless, I’d venture to say this is a very good time for the medical writing profession, not only for experienced medical writers, but also for those new to the field. With demand for content at a seemingly all-time high, the supply of available veteran writers must be contracting, creating abundant opportunities for newbies to get some valuable experience. If you’re reading this and you’re either a working or an aspiring medical writer, what’s your take? How has the pandemic affected your business, your health, your sanity? Perhaps you have a perspective that can help us all deal with these very demanding times.