National Institute for Health Research

Communications strategy creation & change management

Research engine optimisation

The NIHR is the engine-room of vital research within the NHS.

It has greatly increased the volume of health research since its launch in 2006 accelerating the translation of science into real patient benefits – and engaging many more healthcare professionals and patients in trials and studies.

Our mission

In 2016 the NIHR called upon Admiral to develop a communications strategy.

After a decade in operation, a “step change” in brand awareness was needed to support its essential work in the years ahead.

The strategy had to encompass every part of what is a highly complex, multi-site and multi-disciplinary organisation. Its many stakeholders also had to be considered.

In-depth research and analysis was initially required to establish the baseline on which the organisation’s reputation could be built.

Perceptions audit 

We carried out an extensive perceptions audit, using qualitative and quantitative evidence gathering methods. It involved:

  • Over 40 in-depth interviews with stakeholders;
  • Four focus group sessions; and
  • Engaging 1000’s of staff members via a quantitative online survey.

Our findings were analysed, divided into key themes and used to form strategic recommendations.


The subsequent strategy covered all aspects of internal and external communications, addressing challenges and maximising the opportunity to build brand awareness and reputation.

We presented it multiple times to various stakeholder groups to encourage engagement and adoption of the strategy. It was also uploaded online, giving it essential exposure to public scrutiny.


  • The communications strategy was approved by the Department of Health & Social Care
  • We devised a detailed delivery plan setting out functional changes and a 12-month PR and corporate positioning campaign schedule.
  • Admiral oversaw the recruitment of key personnel to support the communications strategy.
  • A budgeted business plan was drawn up for NIHR management outlining the case for investment in a sustained communications function. We successfully oversaw the recruitment of a communications director and completed a smooth, carefully managed handover.

“Admiral thinks big. The team understood the wider context and were able to visualise where NIHR should position itself within healthcare. They quickly identified the weaknesses in our communication and engagement approaches, our structure and where there were gaps in expertise. They had a clear vision for NIHR and its communications goals and were persuasive with their proposals for radical change.”

Director, NIHR Trainees Coordinating Centre