Month: March 2021

Groundhog Day and Gratitude

by Louise Sharp |

Tuesday 23rd March 2021 was National Day of Reflections and I find myself looking back over the year which, in a nutshell, has been a year like no other. Back in March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic was taking grip and the first lockdown was announced, I was sat at home in France, where I’d been living for 4 years. As an agency-owner and leader, an uncomfortable sense of panic gripped me as I sat writing a business contingency plan and wondering what on earth was happening in the world and would I have any agency anymore. My norm was to board a flight every Monday or Tuesday and head off to London or Zurich or to a host of other client destinations as my week would then unfold amid client meetings, hotels, new business meetings, quite literally every day was different. Boy has that changed.

As agencies we embrace difference, and in fact the Makara model of agile working has become the new normal for everyone as we have all embraced new and flexible ways of working when we were asked to stay at home and stay safe.

Do I miss my old norm. Yes, definitely, absolutely. Agile working for me has never been about staying at home, in fact it has been about freedom of choice, ability to flex the system to best meet our personal needs. So, whilst we continue to work in a similar manner, to comply with the important stay at home and stay safe messages, the restrictions on us change our options. The sense of Groundhog Day with a diary full of Teams, Zoom, WebEx, virtual catch-ups, virtual drinks etc, is commonplace to many of us. When life in theory slowed down with less places to go, less things to do – work life just got faster with our ability to port ourselves from one client meeting to another in 30 seconds as we zoom into one room, then 59 minutes later, smile and wave as we zoom out and back into another room, with little time to mentally close down from one meeting before shifting gear and mental space to another project.  No time to walk down a company corridor with some pleasantries as we pass people to just say hello.

Having said that, the year has not been without its high points of achievements, gratitude, growth and challenge.

For Makara it has been an award-winning year. I am truly thankful and delighted for the incredible team at Makara to be recognised as PMEA Support Agency of the Year, along with other winning accolades at the PMEAs in Patient Education and Support and Rare Diseases. Shortly followed by PharmaTimes International Communications Team of the year, and most recently the two silvers at the PM Society Awards.

And who’d have thought that celebrating my big ‘five oh’ would delight me by putting me in Group 9 for the vaccination program to receive my first jab on super Saturday.

So, for me, a big year; a year of two house moves and my return to the UK, many dog walks in the forest, a pure and total focus on well-being and mental wellness, many weekend cycles (definitely my happy place), discovering new crafting skills, making time to connect with people to just say hi, and maybe notice those who are having a more difficult time and lending a helping hand. My heart goes out to all families who have suffered or lost loved ones during this year.

As we step closer to a little more freedom as lockdown eases, I am curious as to what we have all learnt from this year. What do we want to keep, what do we want to leave firmly behind, and what do we need to change to make our world a better place?

Embracing creative communications to tackle vaccine hesitancy

by Gurjit Chahal |

The challenge is underway to vaccinate people against COVID-19 and we’ve seen great strides made in the UK, with the government pledging that all UK adults will be offered the vaccine by the end of July this year, which could be met even sooner. While we have demonstrated we can meet this huge logistical challenge, the impact of vaccinations will only be effective if we have high uptake rates.

A key barrier to uptake and a major public health concern is vaccine hesitancy. UK research shows high levels of mistrust about vaccines. For example, 14% of people have reported unwillingness to receive a vaccine for COVID-19, whilst 23% were unsure. Reasons for hesitancy include safety concerns, preference for natural immunity, concerns about commercial profiteering and general distrust in the benefit of vaccines[1]. This is likely to be compounded by recent coverage from Europe and beyond, raising doubts around the Oxford vaccine.

The levels of distrust are even higher among ethnic minority groups1. Growing up in an Indian family I know first-hand the number of times I’ve had to explain to elderly relatives the importance of following the latest scientific evidence in medical care.  Addressing these issues is critical since ethnic minority groups are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and many are working on the frontline.

My view is that a major part of vaccine hesitancy is due to these groups hearing misinformation through word of mouth and non-scientifically supported sources. This is driven by cultural factors including strong community interdependence among the older generation. To address this problem I think we need more creative communications which connects in the best possible way with the target audience and inspires change for the better. Putting it simply it’s not what you say but how you say it.

It’s great to see creativity being applied to the challenge in mainstream media. Firstly, last month the UK’s major broadcasters aired a #TakeTheVaccine campaign encouraging ethnic-minority communities to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The video united prominent figures, including Adil Ray, Moeen Ali, Denise Lewis, Romesh Ranganathan, Meera Syal, David Olusoga and Beverley Knight, who address vaccine hesitancy among ethnic-minority communities and debunk myths about the vaccine.

Secondly, we can incorporate more fun and humour into communications. For example, in addition to the comedians featured in the #TakeTheVaccine video, there is the potential for other influencers to deliver impactful communications that can go viral. For example, Dolly Parton who reworked Jolene after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

Finally, in addition to the top-down approaches above, we need grassroots campaigning by collaborating with local religious leaders, community groups and influencers who can deliver authentic, empathetic, and trusted messages to a wide audience. This work started last year when Adil Ray created stay-at-home videos tailored for British Asian audiences.

Vaccine hesitancy is not a new issue and we’ve seen the impact on key vaccination programmes such as MMR and HPV. However, if we look beyond boundaries and limitations, we can counter-balance misinformation with creative and relevant content like the #TakeTheVaccine campaign. This cut through the noise and did a great job of building an emotional connection with audiences and has the potential to help change beliefs and, through them, behaviours.


  1. Paul E, Steptoe A, Fancourt D. Attitudes towards vaccines and intention to vaccinate against COVID-19: Implications for public health communications. The Lancet Regional Health – Europe. doi: 10.1016/j.lanepe.2020.100012.

From Guinea Pigs to Guinness – how do we rise to the challenge of meaningful engagement?

by Diana Evans |

When you say the word ‘engagement’ everyone thinks about it a bit differently, probably because it is a totally subjective matter in the first place. I get immense joy from watching someone feeding 50 squealing guinea pigs on Facebook while my husband looks on emotionless, not a flicker. However, there’s no denying that mass engagement is possible, look at Handforth Parish Council, their December meeting’s ‘best bits’ has now had over 3 million views on YouTube and sparked renewed interest in local politics.

So what is it? What makes something engaging and ultimately memorable. When I thought about articulating this for a workshop I was running recently, I was swiftly taken back to the Guinness ‘Surfer’ advert, (some will remember). I was 19 at the time and utterly mesmerised – I think it was a mixture of powerful music, crazy creative and passion – I was young and full of energy and it made me want to get out there and take on the world. Interestingly the creative for that advert didn’t do that well in focus groups but the team had such a ‘profound belief’ in what they had created that they took a leap of faith and it went on to win more awards than any other commercial in 1999 and in 2002 was voted the “Best ad of all time” in a poll conducted by Channel 4 and The Sunday Times.

So what do the Guinness ad, guinea pigs and Handforth all have in common? It’s all about emotion. When we are engaged, we have an emotional response, be it happiness, sadness, frustration or anything in between. It’s not just that, it’s a clever balance of emotion and relevance. Something that presses up against our own beliefs and experiences. The Guinness advert was exciting, I was a bored teenager, ready to take on the world. Handforth….well I have actually been a Parish Councillor so enough said there, but I suspect for many the heady mixture of  Vicar of Dibley style local politics alongside the shift we’ve all had to make to online meetings made it funny and relevant across the board for so many. Not to mention the plain fact that right now, we all need a good laugh.

So we need to generate an emotional response and connection but what then? Ultimately as communications professionals we are trying to effect change or action.  When we consider engagement in the healthcare setting we face even more challenges, the behavioural intricacies and beliefs that sit around our individual health are layered and complex – look at medication adherence, a global issue that WHO has claimed may ‘have a far greater impact on the health of the population than any improvement in specific medical treatments’. Adherence is a hugely complex behavioural challenge, it’s not just about ‘forgetting to take a tablet’, it is a highly individualised, multi-faceted picture. Engaging a patient to create an environment for belief shift that could lead to a change in behaviour involves a matrix approach that takes into account their own personal experience and beliefs as well as external influences. For example, suffering myself from migraines, I’m more likely to engage on an emotional level as a working parent than a ‘migraine sufferer’ because I feel most frustrated about suffering from migraines when it renders me unable to play with my children or finish some work.  We recognise this and factor it into the approach we take at Makara. Taking the time to benchmark our audiences at a deeper level and using this to inform our craft.

The reality is, when it comes to healthcare, if we really want to effect change we need to be a bit more honest….are we really exploring deep enough to make a difference?

Makara bolsters leadership team on back of award wins


Salisbury, 09 February 2021 – UK-based international healthcare communications agency,
Makara Health, has appointed 11 additional people to its rapidly growing team, including Diana Evans who joins the leadership team as Director.

Diana comes with both agency and in-house experience, including her latest role at Napp Pharmaceuticals as Head of Communications. Diana will spearhead Makara’s patient engagement offering.

“Having started my healthcare communications career in agency and then moved to  in-house pharma roles, I’ve seen the challenges on both sides. I chose to join Makara because I know they give their clients unrivalled expertise and creativity in a collaborative way and that’s how they have become a multi-award winning agency. Leading our patient engagement offering is both a privilege and a challenge – effectively communicating with and learning from patients to deliver truly patient centred programmes should be at the core of everything we do,” comments Diana Evans.

“I wanted to deliver top quality, engaging and intelligent communications with like-minded individuals – and that’s what you get from Makara.”

Other additions to the team include Gurjit Chahal, who joins from 3 Monkeys Zeno as an Associate Director, a new digital designer and three further members of the senior writing team, amongst others.

The recruitment drive follows a successful run of award wins at the end of 2020 for Makara, including three PMEA Awards, one of which was Support Agency of the Year, and the PharmaTimes Communications Team of the Year (International Challenge).

“I am so proud of our growing team and excited about what 2021 has in store for Makara,” comments Louise Sharp, Founder and Managing Director of Makara. “Diana’s significant experience within the industry, coupled with her focus on patient engagement, puts us in an even stronger position to support our clients in meeting the evolving needs of patients during this period of rapid change.” 

Full list of new team members:

Account team:

  • Diana Evans, who has held in-house roles at both Napp and GSK, worked in agencies including Ogilvy and Cohn & Wolfe and started her career at a charity The Patients Association.
  • Gurjit Chahal, joins the PR and comms function as Associate Director. She has over 10 years experience and has previously worked at 3 Monkeys Zeno, Clark Health, Red Consultancy and Tonic Life Communications.
  • Johanna Leifland, brings her advertising experience to the agency having worked at Woolley Pau Gyro and DDB Remedy.
  • Kunbi Ayo-Okanlawon joins the medical educational side of the business as Senior Project Manager.
  • Sarah Bundock who joins as Project Manager, bringing a focus on patient engagement.
  • Mary Fraser who joins as Project Manager, supporting Makara’s Learning and Development work.

Digital, creative and scientific services:

  • Peter Davies joins the team as Creative Projects Manager.
  • Coleen Cahill joins as Digital Designer.
  • Jennifer Tasker joins as Senior Medical Writer.
  • Jacqi Pan joins as Senior Medical Writer.
  • Gemma North joins as Scientific Coordinator.
  • Becky Pamplin joins as Senior Copywriter.


About Makara Health

Makara Health is an international healthcare communications agency delivering innovative, creative and inspiring engagement solutions that change minds and behaviour.

Curious by nature, we constantly ask ‘What if…?’ to explore possibilities that might otherwise be missed and create the right environment for belief-led behaviour change.

Thanks to the range of specialisms within Makara, we are able to offer our clients bespoke programmes combining brand advertising, medical education, patient engagement, PR and training. We find the right solutions for your brand or challenge then tailor our senior team to your needs, objectives and vision.

Makara is a certified WEConnect International women’s business enterprise. WEConnect International is a global network that connects women-owned businesses to qualified byers around the world.

Want to find out more? Email us at or call +44 (0) 23 81 247 327. For more information visit

For further information contact:

Chrissie Hartgill +44 (0) 23 81 247 327

The Room Where It Happens – What I’ve learned from bringing my home and work life closer together

by Vicky Laker |

It’s a Thursday afternoon and I am on a Teams call doing some internal training.  The front door opens with a gust of wind and rain. It’s Mr B and the dog returning from the park.  I mute my microphone, so my colleagues won’t hear the sound of man and dog shaking off wet clothing and signal to Mr B to hold the dog up so I can see her belly. She is presented to me like the newborn Simba at the beginning of The Lion King and, as I thought, she is filthy. She needs washing off in the kitchen sink, located directly in the line of sight of my laptop camera. I switch the video feed off as nobody needs to witness this, or the inevitable escape of the dog and the ensuing chase around the house.

Whilst this is small fry compared to the man who was gatecrashed by his kids whilst live on the BBC, the fact remains that we are nearly a year into our intermittent lockdown, and home and work life have become inextricably combined. So how do you keep the balance between the two when living in a small two-up two-down terrace in the middle of Salisbury and your dining table-turned-desk dominates the downstairs living area?

As a senior project co-ordinator within the Makara client services team, I have always worked from our base in Salisbury, unlike many of the account-handling team who are more used to agile working. If anything, I have really enjoyed being able to move seamlessly from home to work and back again.   There’s no forgetting your lunch. No last-minute dash to the office. No realising that you have put on completely inappropriate shoes that you are now going to have to struggle through the day wearing. But how do you put structure back in a day where you may be spending 24/7 in the same set of four rooms? 

I have given myself a schedule, which means having to leave the house every morning before starting work. I have tried to implement some of the office routine into the home space – screen breaks are still important but instead of checking the stationery supplies, I can fill up the bird feeder or put away the remaining bits of last night’s washing up. On my lunchbreak, instead of walking through town, I pass the hour enjoying one of my favourite hobbies – cooking.

Filling the gap created by the hum of the office has been harder. I’m a bit of an introvert, but as much as I like my own company, it is hard for me to work alone.  I miss the chit chat, the spontaneous conversation, the background noise. Some of these gaps are now filled with an early morning coffee with a colleague over Teams, while others are filled with podcasts, or listening to the Hamilton soundtrack… AGAIN (my poor neighbours!).

And sometimes work life bleeds into home life.  But I am a multi-tasker, and it is not unusual for me to be checking my emails whilst simultaneously feeding the dog and warming up for my run. Occasionally I work later than I may have done if I was still in the office but there’s no more getting hangry! I can still have my dinner at 6pm, even if it is being eaten “al desko” whilst Mr B watches the news on the sofa next to me.

Will I miss working from home when this is all over? Yes, a bit. All those funny little pockets of time throughout the day when you are waiting for the kettle to boil or for the microwave to ding have been filled up with small tasks – emptying the bin or putting the laundry away. Incorporating them into the gaps in my workday have meant that they are not there waiting for me when I clock off.  My home life has been enriched by the coexistence of my work life. And in the evening, I can shut down my laptop and segue from desk to sofa in five short steps. However, there will come a time when it will be good to have our living room back – and maybe even eat a meal at our dining table. And it will be good to get back into the office again – I miss laughing so loud the Finance team can hear me in the office next door. Perhaps I’m not so much of an introvert after all.