The life sciences industry is burgeoning, attracting bright minds and ideas, and the level of competition is increasing accordingly. In this thriving industry, a well-organized PR campaign can be invaluable in helping a company communicate its mission, goals, and solutions.
Today I will share my personal experience and strategy for doing this effectively in such a complicated and sensitive area of business.
Some facts & numbers about the current industry
Due to the current global pandemic, there has been a visible period of growth within the medtech and biotech industries. And the numbers back this up: VC investment into both healthtech and biotech startups achieved a new record this year compared to 2020. Healthtech startups have already raised $44.6B, which is 1.3x more than the previous year’s funding total.
According to the latest CB Insights State of Healthcare report, this record-breaking number of venture deals in healthcare — 1,904, to be exact! — took place in the third quarter of 2021. Moreover, the volume of investment into Digital Health startups in the first three quarters of this year is 27% more than it was in 2020.
At the same time, the global biotechnology market was valued at $752.88 bn in 2020 and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 15.83% from 2021 to 2028, according to Grand View Research. Research from McKinsey also confirms a period of intensive growth within the biotech industry for 2019–2020 due to VCs and deals. This trend continues in 2021, as data from the UK biotech and life sciences sector and the German authorities demonstrates.
Why PR is beneficial for medtech & biotech companies
It empowers a company to stand out from the crowd. PR helps your business to differentiate itself from competitors, enabling you to assert your position in the market.
The data has already proven that investors are becoming increasingly interested in life-saving solutions, while the number of companies that want to get a slice of this cake is increasing. By identifying a company’s key competitive messages, and building a media dialogue with its scientists and technologists, a PR specialist can help to shape the market need for a company’s solution. This is especially valuable when that solution is a complex technology/B2B or hybrid offering that is challenging to explain.
For example, to create a trustworthy and also clear positioning of BestDoctor — one of the fastest-growing medtech companies in Russia — we focused on communicating three things: what Voluntary Medical Insurance (VMI) is, why telemedicine can be trusted, and why it is client-centric and safe. We did this through articles, by attending conferences, and by organizing interviews with the company’s founders in both business and general Russian media outlets. Now BestDoctor is well-known in Russia as one of the top-3 national MedTech companies by its revenue growth, with more than 175 publications in the national business, tech, and general media.
However, these are not the only bonuses that a well-planned long-term PR strategy and media outreach can bring.
It helps to educate people and lower mistrust. From a social point of view, public relations can help to educate people in the complicated and thorny matters of disease treatments, vaccines (nothing can be as current as of this topic right now!), and attitudes towards health.
For pharmaceutical companies, announcing the results of clinical trials and discussing the potential risks and clear benefits of medicines can lower levels of mistrust and fear among the target audience. It also teaches laypeople how to ask the right questions when being prescribed a particular medication.
For this reason, we see value in placing news related to medicine and biotechnologies not only in specialized media, such as MedCityNews, BioWorld MedTech, Labiotech, or Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News but also on the web pages of news agencies and general media. That is one of the reasons why, at the beginning of November, news hit Reuters that Biogen’s Alzheimer’s drug not only reduces amyloid brain plaques but also lowers levels of a second protein accumulated in the brains of patients with the disease.
It helps to unite people seeking solutions to challenging medical problems. Talking about medical technology and drugs that can fight incurable or complicated diseases is always a difficult and controversial topic. Nevertheless, active media communication with the medtech and biotech projects that are working on these themes helps to remove unspoken stigma, promote the topic’s importance, and ultimately find new ways to solve existing issues. The opportunity to be understood and also to learn more about different solutions from public sources stops those seeking such solutions from giving up and pushes companies and charitable foundations within this field to help them.
For example, one possibility for the treatment of cancer patients could be complex genetic reporting (not to be confused with genetic tests for parentage and ancestry) with its interpretation by the physician. This is a rather unusual and expensive method, and it’s not always easy to find reliable information about it. However, Latvia-based biotech company Smartomica published an easy-to-understand explanation in the media of how genetic material analysis can be used to determine potentially effective treatment regimens, and why such an approach is needed. Using the media in this way makes the company more visible for potential partners, hospitals and laboratories, while also helping to fight prejudices against genetic reporting as a clinical tool.
What are the key elements of great medtech & biotech PR?
A deep understanding of the market. Pitching cannot be separated from its industrial context. In other words, you cannot talk about telemedicine trends without understanding the number of players in the market, the specifics of their products, the demands of the audience, and the level of investor interest.
Neither can you talk about the situation in the DNA and RNA sequencing market without knowing and following the activities of Illumina, Thermo Fisher Scientific, and BGI Genomics (these are the top 3 sequencing companies, according to Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News).
What is the tip? Understandably it can be challenging to dive into a new field. To make the process go smoothly, I suggest you sign up for newsletters that are relevant to you (from more niche newsletters like MedCityNews or Statnews, or tech or business newsletters like Quartz, Wired, and GritDaily). What’s more, to save time and to get to grips with the landscape more quickly, you can also set up your custom news digest through Mailbrew. In addition, it’s equally important to make lists of high-profile journalists (not just their emails, but their Twitter accounts) who write about the industry in the media and carefully examine the “angles” they use when presenting the information.
And don’t forget: you have access to a real insider in the marketplace… your client! So make sure you have regular calls, and talk not only about new product features but also about the state of the industry as a whole.
Knowledge of the HIPAA and FDA rules. Working with data, particularly sensitive personal information, always requires greater attention to detail and the formulation of certain messages in media material. For a PR specialist, this means above all allowing more time for legal/general approval of particularly sensitive topics and materials, and taking more care with communications between speakers and the media.
It’s also important to bear in mind that some PR techniques (such as the use of client stories, for example) may work fine for classic B2B and B2C products, but in the case of medical and biotechnological businesses they may result in deanonymization and violation of client privacy.
What is the tip? It is crucial to not only work out the optimal communication strategy, speaker profiles, and PR plan, but also to carefully study internal documents, and keep communications open with the company’s lawyers (incidentally, this department can be the trickiest to navigate when coordinating materials!). What’s more, try to estimate in the first month how much time it will take to produce and coordinate materials, and set realistic deadlines for meeting your KPIs.
A clear definition of your goals. The business goal always drives the PR strategy, and dictates which media outlets will enable that goal to be achieved successfully. For example, if a company wants to raise investor interest and make itself known among other entrepreneurs, then publications in TechCrunch or brand image op-eds in Entrepreneur are ideal for these purposes. By way of example, the news about a new investment round into BestDoctor, and an expert column by AIBY health tech ecosystem founder Olga Osokina on ‘how startups solve the anti-aging problem’, demonstrate the way business PR can be used for medtech companies.
Nevertheless, if a company wants to reach scientific leaders, doctors, and laboratory owners, the choice of target media should be different. Communications should be placed in niche industry-specific online and print media, podcasts, and maybe even informal professional communities.
What is the tip? Set aside an hour with your client, and identify what they expect from your PR activity and which audiences you need to target. Then create a communication strategy that focuses on those specific audiences and goals. And don’t let it scare you that in niche media, MUV (Monthly Unique Visitors) is many times smaller than in general or business ones: if your goals are to appeal to a narrow group of people and decision-makers, then this is the best and most targeted strategic decision.
Your speaker’s readiness for media communications. Neither science nor business journalists are interested in two categories of people: those who advertise their product, and those who spout unnecessary scientific terms and professionalisms, making communication difficult while adding no value to the reader. That being said, journalists are always looking for people who can share insights from the industry, and explain complex concepts simply and understandably. They are always grateful to speakers who are truly willing to share their expertise, and they come back to them again and again when creating new features.
What is the tip? Don’t scrimp on time for quality media training with your speaker: work together to consider what topics and directions they could cover other than the company’s activities. In addition, monitor the news, and share your findings with your client. It will help them to understand the global or local agenda, and will also help them to formulate their opinion on any market situation in advance.
Another important rule: don’t write to a journalist about a company whose activity you haven’t had time to fully understand (you need to develop your media elevator pitch!). The fields of medtech and biotech certainly require immersion, especially if you don’t have a scientific background. Only after you have thoroughly studied a company’s activities should you tell a journalist about its specifics and share an interesting story (never a complex scientific pitch).
A clear mission- and data-driven approach. According to writer and public speaker Simon Sinek, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. The same thing can be said about journalism, especially when it covers human health issues and socially responsible businesses. Even though you represent a commercial organization that works to generate profits, both you and your speakers must understand its social mission and the bigger story behind it. Moreover, strong addition to the pitching of biotech and medtech stories is the presence of statistics or actual research, which should support the company’s storytelling with impressive numbers.
What is the tip? Answer these questions: what social goals does the company have? How does it help its users? And what is its mission? To dive into this topic you could conduct an anonymous user survey, and talk to the customer care department to better understand both the specifics of the business and how it affects society.
To implement a data-driven approach to PR communications, initiate surveys on topics related to the current agenda of the biotech and medtech industries. For example, you could explore why people don’t trust technology that combats aging; why they choose Voluntary Medical Insurance; or why they treat all issues relating to genetics with apprehension. This kind of large-scale research, with a sample of at least 1,000 people, will be of real interest to the journalist’s typical audience.
And, of course, don’t be afraid to experiment. Even though the biotech and medical industries are more regulated than retail or education, in this area there is also plenty of room for imagination and creative approaches to PR!