Today’s biotech firms are creating some of the most complex and interesting news in the market. Promoting that news, however, comes with a series of unique challenges very few other industries face.

In Business Wire’s recent webinar, Eric Endicott, Senior Director of External Communications, Illumina, Inc.; Liz Wolffe, Head of Investor Relations and Corporate Communications, Synlogic, Inc.; and Kari Watson, Co-founder, and Managing Partner at MacDougall, spoke with Hinda Chalew, Business Wire’s Vice President of Product Marketing, about the challenges of telling complex stories to a broad audience.

Click here to listen to the replay.

Eric Endicott Liz Wolffe Kari Watson
Eric Endicott
Senior Director of External
Communications, Illumina, Inc.

Liz Wolffe
Head of Investor Relations & Corporate Communications, Synlogic, Inc.

Kari Watson
Co-Founder and Managing Partner, MacDougall

“Biotech PR pros’ skill sets must include integrity, adaptability, creativity, organization, and knowing how to tell a complex narrative in a digestible way.” – Liz Wolffe, Synlogic, Inc.

Managing the Internal Process

A highly regulated industry often translates to a very long approval process. To streamline the internal process, our panelists recommended several great tips, including:

  • Build a good relationship with your legal team
  • Keep teams lean when drafting content. "The smaller number of people to change things in a release, the better," notes Endicott.
  • Planning can help reduce time crunches later. Sitting down and plotting out your communications cadence and programs as far in advance as possible – a year or more – can help ensure a smoother approval process.
  • A disclosure committee can also help when crafting news releases, suggests Watson.
  • With joint announcements, take into account that any partners have their own internal approval processes. Aligning calendars and processes early can help set expectations when the time comes to secure approval.

The Subject Matter

Watson points out that day-to-day biotech stories are often more technical than the average PR person usually handles, and Endicott adds that there is a level of gravity when stories are tied to hope, life, and death, which requires delicate handling and appropriate communication.

Wolffe sums it up best: “You have to convey the hope without the hype. You must tell a compelling story without overwhelming or losing your audience.”

Diverse Audiences Affect Storytelling

Biotech communicators speak to a very wide audience base with differing levels of scientific knowledge.

“We are a global platform, and the story is pretty high science, and we have increasingly sophisticated analysts, but we are also talking to patients and the media and the general public,” says Wolffe. “You have to be able to generate a compelling story that brings your analysts, audiences, and patients along with you without overwhelming them or losing their interest.”

“You may have a target audience in mind, perhaps a highly scientific one,” notes Watson, “but your news will be read by reporters, patients and more.” This means you have to simplify your writing style. Once you build your simplified story, you can always add more information to enhance it. Creating simple base content to work from ensures the final product can appeal to all audiences.

Global Audiences

Another feature of biotech PR is its global nature, which can create another layer of work around content launches. Biotech PR communicators must understand what is important to every region and produce customized content, translated into local languages. This means factoring in extra time for language adjustments, storytelling style, and translation reviews. Careful planning is a crucial part of ensuring smooth launches.

Today’s Media Landscape

With today’s shrinking media landscape, reporters in the biotech space get hundreds, if not thousands, of pitches per week so developing relationships with media professionals becomes paramount. For those who do not have such relationships, Wolffe advises hiring an agency that does. This is especially important for early-stage biotech companies who need to get the media's attention without the traditional deals and dollars storylines.

The panel’s overall suggestions to increase media coverage:

  • Simplify your content to a high school student’s level
  • Use analogies, especially visual analogies, as a great way to show a complex story
  • Avoid jargon, which may be part of your daily lexicon but not useful for storytelling

“And don’t forget to add multimedia to visualize the story you are trying to tell and to make it easy for reporters to cover you,” Wolffe adds. “The more the reporter has to do to cover your news, the less likely they are to do it.”

The Role of Creativity and Clarity in Biotech Communications

Data charts, graphs, and even video and audio assets make resources easier for media to find and, Watson says, “gives you a little more punch on the messages you're trying to convey."

At Synlogic, Wolffe adds multimedia to as many news stories as possible and Watson stresses how useful this can be for reporters. She finds that reporters want photos and images to increase impact. This is especially true for personnel releases: a photo is the most requested item from media with such announcements.

“The breadth of materials and the ability to create an entire journey in one asset is why Interactive media is garnering better engagement and reach,” points out Chalew. “Business Wire’s interactive news releases are increasing news release active engagement up to 50%.”

Social Media Amplification in a Regulated Industry

Social media channels provide an opportunity for biotech communicators, but our speakers advise caution. A few of their tips to make the best use of social media:

  • Social channels are a terrific vehicle for multimedia, but you still must follow your regulatory rules.
  • Expand your content to include material that is not subject to so many regulations such as thought leadership, employee spotlights, and more.
  • Create a team and review committee to get faster approvals for new content launches, as well as industry partner retweets.
  • Social media followings take time and strategies to build. Watson reminds, “The day you launch your content should not be the day you launch your channels.”
  • Use a thoughtful approach to your social media programming and goals and use a calendar to stay organized.

Endicott points out that not every social media channel should be a part of the strategy. Instead, start small and resource appropriately.  Wolffe recommends Twitter and LinkedIn as great engagement platforms. Watson explains the easiest way to identify your best platform is with social listening.

Additionally, Wolffe cautions that while social media is a great avenue to highlight your company, it also requires careful planning to create enough content and push it through the approval process.

Another tip provided by our panelists? Maximize your online newsroom. Use this to highlight science, thought leadership, great content, and more. Your online newsroom is the one content repository you control.

Metrics and Measurement

Metrics are vital for measuring success and, as Endicott points out, they serve two purposes: to validate the value of the communications department and program, and to inform strategy.

“If we're out there driving a message that's not gaining traction, what do we need to do to change it?” notes Endicott. The value of a metric is that it gives you input on how to change your strategy. Without that ability to pivot, you may be spending too much team time and money on the wrong programming.

What are the key metrics for today’s biotech PR firms?

  • Industry sentiment and news, plus specific product monitoring
  • Impressions and reach
  • Watson points out that you must look to see if your message integrity was pulled through in coverage. Look at your messaging, see what actions they generate, and then use that data to revise and relaunch.
  • At Illumina, tracking includes the share of voice across their industry and competitor set, as well as product set. This allows them to track how their strategies are influencing the entire industry.
  • Tracking inbound traffic to your core website by time, starting the day before your launch and extending to the week after it ends, will help you capture traffic generated from media outlets that do not provide inbound links.

The Future of PR

In wrapping up the webinar, Chalew asked each panelist what the future is going to bring to biotech PR. It is no surprise that their answers focused on multimedia and amplification.

  • More multimedia! New tools on the market make it easier to create unique content. SEO optimization of that content is also an important part of setting yourself apart from your competition.
  • New visual tools are going to provide ways to enhance and increase textual content consumption. Interactivity will bring conversion + editorial closer together.
  • There are new and better ways to get the story out, and while the press release will always have a place, we need to be able to adapt to new ways to disseminate information.

Today’s biotech firms face unique challenges when it comes to creating and promoting their company information and content. Each content piece must serve to educate without hype, be accessible to technical and non-technical audiences, and consider the complexities of globalizing communications to resonate with worldwide audiences. Multimedia provides an avenue to humanize the story, without violating regulations, making it a key component of the communication function.

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