Communicating Effectively and Persuasively to Mixed Stakeholder Audiences

In most industries – and especially when dealing with health and science innovation – it’s critical for communicators to reach an array of stakeholders: investors, business partners, consumers, regulatory agencies, the media and advocacy groups. Whether a company is privately-held or public, building branding and messaging that resonates across all stakeholder audiences is essential.

On August 2nd, LaVoieHealthScience (LHS) explored these issues when our founder and CEO, Donna LaVoie, moderated a panel discussion at The Writing for PR and Corporate Communications Conference, presented by Ragan Communications and held at McDermott Will & Emery’s Boston office. The heavy-hitting panel included Sharon Correia, VP, Integrated Communications, LHS, Matt Osborne, VP, IR and Corporate Communications, Voyager Therapeutics, Inc., and Stella Lin, senior healthcare marketing leader, formerly with Sanofi Genzyme.  These communications experts discussed the importance of differentiating and prioritizing stakeholder audiences, balancing messaging to address individual stakeholder needs, mapping out a communications plan with aligned messages, and persuading management to think more broadly – and strategically – across the audience mix.

Key panel takeaways:

Sharon Correia explained how stakeholder prioritization and messaging alignment is core to LHS’ approach to strategic communications. Starting with a proprietary methodology called LHS Immersion®, Sharon explained how, “we work with internal and external client stakeholders to help establish the groundwork for key messages…then we take each message pillar and stratify those against the audiences they are trying to influence, creating topline and secondary messages.” The goal is to establish clear, differentiated positioning pegged to each stakeholder audience and ensure messaging alignment across all channels. Once a messaging strategy is developed, it’s pulled through to overarching themes for story development, news flow, paid, earned, shared and owned (PESO) content distribution, thought leadership and social campaigns.

Matt Osborne of Voyager Therapeutics further broke down the importance of effective, targeted communication to key stakeholders. “You could be a $500B company or a $500M market cap company….60% of your stock price is usually based on the product you have, how you’re competing in the marketplace, another 20% of stock price is due to things beyond your control, but the remainder is absolutely in the control of corporate communications or IR: It’s what you say, how you say it, and when you say it. Companies that do that really well, capture that 20% of value all the time.”

Matt believes the key to effective messaging is to “understand all the functional stakeholder groups, understand who you’re speaking to, simplify the messages and get agreement for those messages.” He went on to discuss how his communications team develops simple, concise statements that apply to all audiences and that everyone internally can agree on. “Sometimes it’s not until you boil messaging down into two or three simple statements that people all agree…and if it’s not clear internally it won’t be clear or resonate externally.”

 

On the same thread, Stella Lin emphasized how important messaging alignment is during a fire drill situation, coming down to two simple ideas: commonality and preparation. “When you’re in a crisis, trying to get the communications out, [you] have so little time to try and align…start with the commonality – we all want to do disease awareness, right? Start there, whether you’re a doctor or a patient or communications professional.” As a best practice, Stella would meet regularly with different departments and share the market research and stakeholder feedback she was receiving to make sure everyone was on the same page. Further, when Stella looked at her positioning and messaging the first step was to decide what she was trying to communicate – what type of news, is there a call to action – and who her consumers are. Scientific information and complicated concepts need to be transformed into easy-to understand messages if the audience includes more than health care professionals. In healthcare, her consumers could be essentially anyone. Patients, patient caregivers, families, patient organizations, even the general public — all need to be taken into consideration when messages are being formed. Having a team that is aligned and prepared can help make that process easier.

 

Crossing the Data Desert: A How to for Pre-Commercial Biotech IPOs

For pre-commercial life science companies, clinical trial data is king.  There may be other members of the court – regulatory decisions, business development and corporate updates – but trial data is clearly king.  Yet clinical trials take time, and there can be long stretches between data.  These data “deserts” can be especially trying for pre-commercial public companies who are, by definition, in the public eye.    How can a company best cross the data desert?  At LaVoieHealthScience, we recommend a financial communications strategy that includes thought leadership in the foreground while data is in development; a reinforcement plan once data is released; and ongoing visibility along the way.

Thought Leadership:  A thought leadership program is a way for a company to differentiate itself by helping audiences understand its science and strategy.  Components of a thought leadership program include first understanding the target audience – do you want to reach advocacy groups, prospective partners, etc.  Then selecting the appropriate channels – is this a story best told through a by-lined article?  Maybe a round-table discussion that is then summarized and pulled through your social channels and website.

Post Data Reinforcement:  Once data is released, be it a poster or a plenary session, a press release is an obvious delivery channel.  However, to reinforce the data, one approach is a KOL event to tie the data to the marketplace and help audiences understand the real-world implications.  As to what type of KOL event – anything from a luncheon to a full-day program could be considered, depending on the phase, data and indication

Ongoing Visibility:  Of course, it’s also important to maintain corporate reputation on an ongoing basis.  That’s when news posts, white papers and webinars can come into play.  News posts include news that is not quite worthy of a press release, but nevertheless of interest – events such as attendance at an invitation-only conference or re-appointment as an adjunct professorship.  White papers, self-written reports that focus on a specific topic, can be made available on your website and/or available on demand.  Webinars, and more recently podcasts, are meaningful channels to engage in conversation that showcases your expertise on a given topic.  Last, and certainly not least, social media is becoming standard for all companies as a means toward initiating conversations as well as inserting into others. You should work with partners who understand the industry to ensure compliant programming.

Crossing the Data Desert:  In sum, there can be a lot of communications desert in between data releases.  However, with a “canteen” of communications strategies, pre-commercial life and health science companies can ensure the success of the journey.

Want to learn more?  Connect today at ldescenza@lavoiehealthscience.com

 

$462 Million to Ensure the #StateOfPossible

The Massachusetts biotech world was abuzz on June 14 as Governor Charlie Baker visited Bunker Hill Community College to sign into law a bill that will provide continued investment into the Commonwealth’s life sciences industry. The administration’s commitment to this initiative will help further secure Massachusetts as the world’s premier hub for innovation in medical care advancements.

The bill will ultimately grant $462 million in bonds to the Massachusetts Life Sciences Investment Fund (MLSC) with the purpose of doling out grants to increase diversity and opportunity in Massachusetts’ life sciences and biotech industries.

Here are a few key takeaways from the announcement:

Renewing Deval Patrick’s Plan

The bill renews then-Gov. Deval Patrick’s initiative put into place in 2008. That program cleared the state to invest up to $1 billion over 10 years into the life sciences sector. That bill needed re-authorization this year to continue.

Major Tax Incentives for Boston Businesses

The bill authorizes the state to provide tax credits of up to $150 million over five years, creating greater incentive for industry-leading businesses and promising start-ups to move to or set up shop in Massachusetts, producing economic growth and fueling the already strong job market.

As such, the tax incentive program is designed to provide a cost-effective way of attracting new start-ups and relocating companies to the Commonwealth.

Big Benefits for UMass and other local institutions:
The continued push to fund the UMass Medical School and other sectors demonstrates the robust local commitment to prepare young people to join and contribute to the life sciences workforce.

-$150 Million will be allocated across the five campuses of the University of Massachusetts.

-$50 Million for UMASS Medical School and UMass Lowell
UMassMed says this legislation “will advance neuroscience-related workforce training, translational research, and commercialization of devices and image-based diagnostics across the state.”

-$6 Million for UMass Medical School will support Center for Data Driven Discovery and Healthcare. A center designed to enhance health care though digital technologies and mobile health. Funding from this legislation will also contribute to the creation of the Massachusetts Living Lab.

-$5 Million for MassBiologics of UMass Medical School to support the development of a new biomanufacturing platform for cell and gene therapies.

-$47 million to UMass Amherst to build and equip a Biotechnology and Precision Manufacturing (BPM) research and training facility.

#StateOfPossible:

This bill ensures that Massachusetts remains the number one location for life science innovation. The bill highlights a priority of investing in workforce development, biomanufacturing, convergence, and research & development for early stage science. The investment in UMass Medical School has tested to be beneficial, a UMass Donahue Institute report, estimates that each $1 invested by the federal government into the current Sherman Center has a multiplier impact of 2.3X [$2.30]. State officials like Travis McCready, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, are promising a push to spread the funding throughout the state at large.
All funds will be monitored by the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.

What’s on Your [social media] Bucket List?

We hear it all the time – my company wants to start a social media program, but we’re concerned we won’t have the content to maintain the program. To address this concern, LaVoieHealthScience recommends a two-tiered structure. First, develop three categories to “bucket” content, and use this framework to develop evergreen posts. Second, be prepared to initiate news or insert your company into ongoing conversations as topics arise. With this structure in place, not only will you have an ongoing program of social media news, but also you will establish your company voice.

Establish Themes, Develop Baseline Content
For example, your categories could be “Disease Awareness and Developments,” “Therapeutic Approach” and “Industry News.” With these themes as a guide, write five evergreen posts per week for starters, one per weekday. Evergreen content can be posted at any time. For example, a “Disease Awareness and Developments” post may cover estimates of those affected, or advocacy group news. The “Therapeutic Approach” post could include advances in immuno-oncology, small molecules, implantable devices or whatever your company’s focus area. An “Industry News” post can showcase what is happening in the life science industry – ideas include an exciting speaker, book or conference.

There are different tools you can utilize to schedule posts and track industry leaders and news. One commonly used dashboard allows for the pre-scheduling of posts, including customization of the time and social media channel[s].

Initiate News; Insert your Company into Conversations
With a baseline of evergreen content developed, you’re free to spend some time on real-time company news and engage with other thought leaders. Not sure where to start? Of course, press releases will be pulled through your social channels. Whether the news is regulatory, clinical, corporate or commercial, company news is a must for social distribution. Beyond press releases, however, companies also have less obvious news. Sometimes it is a corporate event or support for a local non-profit or advocacy group.

Social platforms also offer an opportunity to insert your point of view into ongoing conversations. Part of establishing a social platform is determining who to follow. With other thoughts leaders in view, you can comment, repost and/or like others’ conversations. You can also start a conversation with a White Paper or other “point of view” collateral.

Social platforms are built to foster conversation so on top of sharing your news you should be interacting with other people/companies in that industry. Commenting, liking and reposting shows you are actively engaged with industry events, while ensuring regular, relevant content.

Evolution of the PR Landscape: A Journalist’s Perspective

There’s been lots of talk lately about the changing PR landscape. Evolutions in digital technology, data and analytics, the growing importance of social channels and a media industry that’s been turned upside down, are all factors that have caused disruption in health and science communications. At LavoieHealthScience, we think it’s important to also maintain a focus on fundamentals. In fact, we believe more than ever in the importance of developing strong relationships with relevant journalists and fully committing ourselves to understanding their work and their business.

On April 25th, our founder and CEO, Donna LaVoie, moderated a lively panel discussion at MassBio entitled “How to Engage Busy Biotech Reporters” where a packed house of communicators heard from some of the most important journalists covering the life sciences scene today. Panelists included Gideon Gil, Managing Editor, STAT, Lisa Henderson, Group Editorial Director, Applied Clinical Trials and Pharmaceutical Executive, Lisa LaMotta, Senior Editor, BioPharma Dive, Angus Macaulay, Chief Revenue Officer, STAT, and Max Stendahl, Biotech Reporter, Boston Business Journal.

With their help, we got the inside scoop on how to build meaningful relationships that benefit both our clients and these important publications. Here’s what we learned:

A Day in the Life of a Journalist

It’s no secret that journalists are very busy. As such, PR professionals need to develop a keen understanding of their targets’ day-to-day schedules and take a mindful approach to outreach. This will allow you to capitalize on opportunities to reach a given reporter, pitch an idea and help establish a long-term working relationship that is beneficial and productive for both sides.

For Lisa LaMotta of BioPharma Dive, “crunch time” is between 8:00 AM and noon every day, as the team works to finalize their daily newsletter. In the afternoon, they typically work on longer-range stories, and may have opportunities to discuss ideas and consider pitches from communications pros.

Max Stendahl of the Boston Business Journal has a more unpredictable schedule given that the BBJ publishes daily on-line newsletters at 7:00 AM and 3:00 PM and their print issue goes out every Friday. Wednesday afternoon is deadline for the print issue, so this is not a good time to try engaging in a conversation or sending over a pitch. Sometimes, timing is everything.

Personal Relationships are the Key

Developing a personal rapport with editors and reporters is key to success, and every panelist commented on the importance of building relationships based on mutual trust and respect. In a world where journalists are inundated with emails and phone calls, all agreed that they are much more likely to open or answer a pitch if they recognize the name on their phone or screen. Lisa LaMotta from BioPharma Dive explained that she has come to depend on a growing network of trusted sources that she can consistently rely on. Max Stendahl at the BBJ also appreciates getting to know his PR counterparts at a personal level. “Never underestimate the importance of getting coffee with someone,” he said. Lisa Henderson (UBM) reiterated the importance of personal relationships, stating, “Face to face contact is important. Networking is important. Relationships matter.”

Angus Macauley (STAT, Boston Globe) concluded by reminding the audience that all media outlets put on events and networking opportunities where you can meet with reporters. He encouraged everyone to take advantage of this as it’s a “golden opportunity to build relationships and differentiate yourself from the sea of anonymous PR people out there.”

Media Research & The Art of Pitching

No matter how strong your relationship, your story idea needs to be on point. Communications pros must be up-to-date on the latest trends, issues and storylines that matter to each media outlet they are targeting. The question then should be, “How can I insert my client into the conversation?” Lisa LaMotta at BioPharma Dive also stressed the importance of having a strong subject line in your email and encouraged the audience to make their pitch titles “snappy.” As an example, she referred to a recent pitch she received entitled, “Cambridge Analytica’s Effect on Boston Biotech Marketing.” It was catchy, relevant and left her curious.

Gideon Gil, Managing Editor at STAT also stressed that “strong, unique ideas are as good as gold to reporters and editors,” as are fascinating personalities to profile. “Bring interesting people to us as we want to hear from experts who are doing innovative work in the field,” he said. Max Stendahl added that the Boston Business Journal doesn’t necessarily cater to a scientific audience, so he likes to hear from C-level executives who can give him a very high-level explanation in simple, relatable terms. (Think describing a biotech innovation to your uncle at the Thanksgiving dinner table).

Most importantly, all panelists underscored the importance of demonstrating a true understanding of their publications and the types of stories they cover. This will give you credibility over the long-term and can only be done through reading and researching.

It’s Not Just Earned Media

In addition to earned media, the panel also shifted discussion toward paid opportunities which, in many cases, have become more readily available as major publications focus more and more on their digital platforms. A few of our panelists encouraged the audience to explore these options, citing their distinct benefits.

Angus Macauley, at STAT, discussed how paid opportunities enable you to tightly control messaging and distribution. He also mentioned that they have a strong network of freelancers who can produce strong, on-message copy – or repurpose existing content for you so that it fits their publication from a user experience standpoint.

Lisa Henderson mentioned that Pharmaceutical Executive is branching out to a broader biotech audience, and offers Webinars, whitepapers, eBooks and other paid opportunities. She often consults on these projects, helping clients from a strategic messaging standpoint.

The team at LavoieHealthScience would like to thank our panelists and everyone who came out to participate in the discussion. We hope it was an informative experience and we look forward to hosting similar events in the future. For any immediate inquiries, please contact Doug Russell, SVP and General Manager at LaVoieHealthScience at drussell@lavoiehealthscience.com.

Listen Up! Using Radio as Part of a Communications Strategy

Often overlooked, radio is a great channel to get a message out. With the ability to reach audiences both locally and nationally, radio can be an effective way to narrate news or share a success. Radio allows for the broad reach of television, as well as the selectivity and targeting that comes with a multitude of stations. Best of all, radio can accommodate earned and sponsored content.

Radio is best used as an earned media channel with news that is hyper local. For example, when LEO Pharmaceuticals established their LEO Science & Tech Hub in Cambridge, MA office, we secured a radio interview on WBZ Radio, a news and talk radio station covering the Greater Boston area. The radio interview, which leveraged a press release announcement, in turn garnered additional coverage. This is a great example of informing the local community, including a wide range of members of the life science ecosystem, of something happening in their backyard.

Radio can also be used as a paid media channel with broader news such as scientific success and/or clinical trial recruitment. For the former, an example could be a minute-long radio spot where the narrator provides an overview of the disease, followed by the CEO with a brief overview of their scientific success, and concluding with a reference to the company’s website. For clinical trial recruitment, a one-minute spot is created as well. The recruitment trial spot starts with a narrator going over the disease, the doctor conducting the study is introduced, the doctor gives a broad overview of the study, and it concludes with how to find more information on the study. With sponsored radio content, there is an opportunity to target by geography and/or demographics.

Although not the first thing you turn to when thinking about communication channels, radio is a spot-on way of getting your company’s news to a broad audience.

Want to hear more? We would be happy to discuss how LHS can help you find new and creative ways to reach your audiences.

Taming the Trolls: Tips for Social Media Engagement

Social media can be a useful tool for a health and science company – everything from raising the company profile and connecting with advocacy groups, to offering another channel for disseminating news and updates. However, social media can also be a forum for naysayers to spread rumors, speculation and inaccurate interpretations.

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With LaVoieHealthScience’s expertise in the management of life science IR, PR and social platforms, here are four tactics to tame the social trolls.

1) Be Disciplined. The first rule is do not engage. A disparaging comment may be difficult to ignore, especially if assumptions are incorrect or quoted data is inaccurate. However, getting into a social media debate is unnecessary, unprofessional and rarely works out for the company in question. Take the high road. You may address the issue, but not the person.

2) Kill Them with Science. There is no such thing as perfect data. This, of course leaves room for speculation. In these situations, simply reiterate the facts and science that got you where you are in the first place. Is your data positive? Did the FDA review your trial design? Is there precedence for your endpoints? Were the side-effects tolerable? Another way to deflate speculation is to acknowledge any inconclusive outcomes, followed by the facts and data that lead to the path forward.

3) A Little Help from your Influencers. If an item has a substantial impact on share price, you might want to call in the big guns, the covering analysts or the key opinion leaders. Chances are they have already read the piece and have been receiving investor inquiries. A rebuttal from analysts and key opinion leaders will reach your institutional shareholders and can go a long way in refuting the inaccurate interpretation.

4) Be Consistent. Having an active social platform can convey the perception of “business as usual.” Don’t let negative messaging derail the flow of news, advocacy and education. Reiterate facts, science, indication and support.

We would be more than happy to discuss your company’s needs for health and science strategic communications.

How to Channel Video Success

LaVoieHealthScience: How to Channel Video Success

Lights, camera, video! More and more life science companies are offering videos because video allows viewers to literally see what your company is all about. Strategic communications for health and life science innovators means having a message that is both differentiated and approachable. This is true across collateral – website copy, press releases, Fact Sheets, etc.; and also across media – written, spoken and visual. As such, a video allows for easy access and engrossing delivery.

Creating a biotech public relations video may seem daunting, but with a few basics in hand you’re well on your way.

1. Lighting Matters, But Background Matters More

Lighting is important, but it doesn’t have to be perfect. Beginner videographers need to pay more attention to the background. Is there a messy desk in the frame? What about that window in the background? Video favors a spare setting, and windows often cause people and objects to reflect off the glass, making for an awkward video.

2. Smartphones are Fine for Starters

Something as simple as a smartphone will work for a classic home-video look. If you want to upgrade your audience’s viewing experience, you’ll need to upgrade to a real video camera. Of course, the person behind the camera should have steady hands, or plan to use a tripod.

3. The Buzz You Don’t Want

When reviewing your video, you may notice a light buzzing noise in the background, also called white noise. Whether it’s wind blowing into the microphone or too much background noise, bad audio can ruin a good video. If your camera has a headphone jack, plug in and do some sound checks. Make sure you can clearly hear what you want your audience to hear, and film in a quiet space to ease the intensity of white noise.

4. Keep it Short

People want to watch videos, but they have short attention spans. Your video must start strong to keep your audience from skipping to the next item on their ‘to do’ list.

5. Edit to Your Audience

If you’re shooting a one-take video, be prepared to shoot more than one time until you get it right. If you’re not shooting in one take, allow sufficient time for editing. Think carefully about the audience – who are you trying to attract, what is message you want them to remember? Rarely will someone watch a 5-minute plus video all the way through if they don’t know what it’s about. Keep it short precise to the message you’re trying to get across.

6. Upload and distribute through social networks

Once you’re satisfied with your piece, export the video and upload it onto YouTube. You can’t expect the world to fall in love with your video if you just let it sit there; so, tweet out the link to all your Twitter followers, post the video on your Facebook page, and email it out to anyone who you know would be interested (no spamming!).

Videos are a guarantee that through social media distribution, people beyond your current base will hear about your business and actually see what your company is all about. Plus, your audience will appreciate you switching things up (and, hopefully, entertaining them!). Once you understand a few basics, you can produce a great-looking video on your own.

Top Ten Tips to Optimize #JPM18

Top Ten Tips to Optimize #JPM18

Check out the tips below and for even more information, check out Big3Bio’s Guide to JPM Week.

1)   The time is now.  It’s not too early to start outreach to those with whom you want to meet, and it’s never too late to stop. While some will fill their calendars early, others know to leave some slots for late-breaking requests (see tip 10)

2)    Extend your Reach.  Target 20% new names.  Not sure how you’ll find them?  Use the resources of a third party, be it a high-tech platform or a high-touch agency.

3)    Refresh your pitch. Some things never change, but others should. Make sure your message and positioning clearly articulate your current vision and opportunity. Need help? Refer to LHS Immersion™.

4)    Divide and conquer.  Don’t do every meeting with every co-worker. Branch off to different meetings and events to ensure full value for your time in San Francisco.

5)      Disconnect and conquer.   Try turning off your phone.  Really.  This will force you to focus on the people in front of you.

6)    Know Your Audience.   It’s tempting to tell your audience everything you possibly can about your product, platform or service. Don’t.  Fifteen slides are plenty.  Check out The LHS Fifteen-Slide Presentation™ for insight.

7)    Don’t go too green.  It’s easy to forego hard copy collateral however a hand-out can support the real-time conversation, while ensuring an imprint beyond the meeting itself.  Paper or pixels?  Both please.

8)    Consider an Infographic. Pictures are really worth 1,000 words, so there is no need to overwhelm your counterparty with text. Use infographics to depict your companies story in a creative and informative manner.

9)    Have (most of) a plan. Things get changed and rescheduled quickly in San Francisco; leave some holes in your calendar for impromptu meetings and on-the-spot networking. You may miss an at-hand opportunity if your scheduled is overbooked.

10)   Follow up.  Schedule time after you’re back in the office to follow up with the contacts you made in San Francisco.  Nothing is easier than getting jammed back into your day-to-day work; ensure you’ve penciled in time to debrief.

First-time attendee or long-time alum, at LaVoieHealthScience we help our clients optimize business opportunities.  Click, call or email to learn more.   crusso@lavoiehealthscience.com

 

Multi-Party Communications

Multi-Party Communications: Four Keys for Success

As life science companies continue the trend toward partnerships, communications challenges can multiply.  Partnerships help companies to enter new markets, continue niche research and introduce innovations sooner. But even though they are joining forces, each company will have a unique, and sometimes competing, set of communications and business goals.

While it’s easy to default to the needs of the larger company, strategic communications entails finding ways to balance the needs of all parties.  A solid communications strategy conveys a clear and consistent message to stakeholders of all companies in the partnership, and also paves the way for patients, advocacy groups, media and investors to learn more.

The following are four key issues to consider for multi-party communications:

  • Audience Identification: Ensure that both companies clearly establish the key stakeholders for their news, as well as the appropriate digital, print and broadcast media.
  • Consistent Messaging: While the key messages should be tailored to each company’s audience, the underlying theme must be determined up-front and in conjunction with both parties, to ensure there are no surprises in how each are represented to various stakeholder audiences.
  • Internal Communications: Coordinating among internal parties is key.  The science, strategy and financials must be in internal alignment.  Therefore the process for developing expectations and timelines goes a long way toward ensuring a smooth liftoff.
  • External/Social Media Communications: Develop specialized pitches whenever possible. While based on similar underlying message, the outreach should be tailorable to the varying kinds of media outlets each company seeks to attract.  Identify and train key spokespeople in advance so they are at-the-ready for media outreach.  Consider videos and/or podcasts that may be uploaded to social media, and monitor discussion across both companies’ social channels.

The idea of coordinating communications between partners can be daunting.  But with the right preparation and forethought, it can be an exciting time for a strategic communications program to cultivate trust with each company, and deliver results that meet the needs of all parties.

An in-depth version of this article was featured in O’Dwyer’s October 2017 Healthcare & Medical PR Magazine.