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5 Questions All Pharma and Biotech Companies Have About Public Relations

June 11, 2024 - by Jennifer Ringler, MS

 

After taking 35 meetings in four days at the 2024 BIO International annual conference last week, I’ve noticed several common themes and questions that come up in my conversations again and again. Whether I’m talking to a founder/CEO, a microbiologist or genetic engineer (who is often, but not always, also the founder or CEO if I’m speaking with a startup), or someone in business development, operations, or sales, the questions I’m getting from early- to mid-stage biotech and pharma companies all tend to fall into one of five categories. So, let’s lay it all out on the table.

Q: “So, you do press releases, right?”

A: Yes. We do. But if you hear PR and you only think press releases and media coverage (which is a shockingly common misperception), you’re missing out on an entire world of strategy, tactics, and possibilities.

Media outreach is only one part of an effective, integrated communications strategy – one that should also include thoughtful, intentional social media posting, thought leadership content like blogs, white papers, and webinars, executive visibility in the form of speaking opportunities and conference presence, and possibly even paid efforts such as sponsored content in trade publications and banner ads on the right websites and newsletters where your target audience is spending their time. Public relations is about reaching your audience where they are – and honestly, they’re not spending their days reading press releases.

On behalf of all the PR and marketing specialists in the known universe, we beg you, please consider other tactics in tandem with press releases.

Q: “When is the right time for us to begin PR and marketing efforts?”

A: It’s today. Actually, nope. It’s yesterday. Even if your pharma or biotech (or med device, or diagnostic, or digital health, or CMO…) company is not commercial, not at Ph 3, or in some other way not 100% where you want to be yet, there is a job to be done in terms of brand awareness and public perception. 

If we ask our robot friends over at ChatGPT, “What is public relations?”, this is the response: “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their target audience. Key objectives of public relations include building trust and credibility, managing reputation, media relations, community engagement, and employee communication.”

 

I challenge you to find an organization that is not ready to work towards at least two of those objectives.

The time is now, friends. And again, if we broaden our expectations of PR beyond securing press coverage, we can see that the job of building trust and credibility must start at day one and be top-of-mind every day thereafter.

Q: “We’re finally ready. How do we let the broader world know about our incredible story?”

A: Though I do speak with a lot of companies who are stuck on the previous question of when to begin, I encounter at least as many who recognize that they’re ready to take the next step. These are often startups or mid-stage companies who tell me, “Our science has been proven, our tech is ready, we have an incredible story. We’re ready to take lots of meetings with potential investors or partners/collaborators and we know we have to put our best foot forward in order to land those meetings and get the right attention. How do we start?” Or they’re even later-stage companies – CMOs or CROs who’ve been around a few years and already have customers, or biotechs heading into pivotal trials – whose word-of-mouth approach has taken them as far as it can go, and who recognize that they need to up their game to get the attention they want from the stakeholders that matter.

In either case, the journey towards brand recognition, trust, and credibility starts with a single step: a strong story. Companies need to take a hard look at their messaging, and the narrative or theme that wraps around it, to make sure it is understandable, compelling, and addresses the audience need. From there we can start to think about all the tactics to get your story out there – sponsored content, earned media, catchy LinkedIn posts, conference speaking opportunities, blogs, webinars, and on and on.

There are tons of ways to get your story out there, and your PR team can work with you to create the best plan for you. But any agency that jumps right into tactics without first helping you identify and solidify your core story is just doing busywork.

Q: “What should we be doing on LinkedIn?”

A: If you're looking to raise awareness, build credibility, and become an active part of relevant industry conversations, there’s no doubt that LinkedIn needs to be part of your overall comms/PR strategy. Most CEOs and organizations have – reluctantly or otherwise – come to terms with the fact that they need to have a presence on social media. But what does that mean? What should we post? How often should we post? How do we create content that people will actually see and then engage with?

The key, again, is to start with a strong message. Begin with determining your “content pillars” – three to five industry issues or subtopics that will be interesting to your audience and are not just opportunities for you to talk about your company, science, or products. Examples of content pillars, depending on your company’s focus, might be things like health equity, patient outcomes, market access, cost efficiency, AI in drug development, medication adherence, and so on. Once you determine what broader topics your prospects and peers care about, you can build a monthly calendar of thoughtful, intentional social posts, where each post is built with both a specific content pillar and specific sub-audience in mind.

It's also important to vary the format of what you post – consider infographics, survey questions, bold images, video clips, text-only posts, company photos, science/biology graphics, quote cards, and more.

There’s a lot of noise out there, and your goal is to pull people in with relevant content, not just push sound and images out at them until it gets so intrusive that they’re forced to pay attention.

Q: “I’ve worked with other PR firms before … and they weren’t very good.”

A: Okay, so this isn’t a question, but it is something I hear in 25-50% of meetings I take with companies interested in discussing their communications needs. There’s no doubt that the PR industry has a certain reputation (justified or not) and has left some companies feeling jaded.

Common complaints I hear about PR/marketing agencies vary, but include:

  • Poor attention to detail – spelling executives’ names wrong, poor grammar, typos, etc.

  • Lack of expertise – too much “hand holding” and onboarding before the agency understands the company’s complex science or technology

  • No concrete deliverables – a lot of promises up front that don’t match up with the quality and quantity of work delivered

  • Lack of communication – infrequent phone and email check-ins, leaving the company/client to either wonder or repeatedly ask for information on status of projects

  • Bait and switch – agencies that bring their best, most senior people to the pitch, only for those experts to be MIA once the contract is signed

 

It’s a shame that previous encounters with PR and marketing agencies have left a bad taste in the mouths of many, but with transparency, proactive communications, and diligence, I’m confident that those of us who hold ourselves to a higher standard can turn these perceptions around and raise the bar.

Final Thoughts – What PR Is Not

PR is not sales. It is not business development. It is not a magic bullet. It is not a genie in a lamp. It is not a “one-and-done” or “set-it-and-forget-it” effort. It is not the solution to all a company’s challenges. But, if used effectively and built on a philosophy of true partnership and mutual respect, it is the top of the sales funnel, the foundation on which a company’s entire identity is built, and an invaluable tool that can have a significant impact on helping a company reach its strategic and business goals.

To learn more about what an effective PR and marketing strategy can do for your business, contact us today.

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