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Making it in Massachusetts?

At the recent Massachusetts Biotechnology Counsel annual meeting, there was a lot of talk about what it will take for the industry to “Make it in Massachusetts”—a nod to a famous gubernatorial campaign slogan during the era of the state’s massive technology boom. Today, the Boston walls once plastered with “Make it in Massachusetts” bumper stickers are covered up by Shepard Fairey graffiti and similarly, the DNA of the state’s economy has changed.

The technology companies that fueled the Massachusetts Miracle have been superseded by burgeoning biotechs like Biogen, EMD Serono and Genzyme. With its elite universities, leading research hospitals and strong venture community, the state’s biotechnology cluster has been an engine of growth, but like all industries, it faces considerable challenges in the face of recession. There are lessons to be learned here in our back yard that can be applied across the industry.

According to the Massachusetts Biotechnology Counsel 2015 Strategic Report, almost 50 percent of public biotech companies in the state risk running out of cash by the end of the year while one-half to one-third of private biotechs in Massachusetts will look to raise funds this year. A precarious position—particularly for early stage companies just bringing new innovations from the bench to industry.

I’m not smart enough to develop novel antibodies that could change the way we treat cancer like some of my clients, but I do have some thoughts on where biotechs—particularly clinical stage companies—can concentrate their communications efforts in this difficult environment. In this economy, securing financing, attracting partners and continuing R&D is more difficult yet more critical than ever. Whether your company is based in Massachusetts, Montreal or Munich, determining where to dedicate your communications resources in this environment can be daunting. Here are a few ideas:

Leverage your thought leaders—What do your internal and external key opinion leaders have to say about industry trends? Look for ways to strategically package their expertise to select media for thoughtful commentary.

Pick your PR battles—When you have constrained resources or budgets, it’s often better to maximize a specific event, like the release of data in a peer reviewed publication—than to spread your program too thin. Core audiences like media, analysts and potential partners would rather hear about one substantial piece of news than three pieces of fluff.

Don’t wait to communicate until you have a major announcement—Are your news and publication pipelines thin? Think about what issues your audiences care most about then focus your efforts there. It may be months before you have data or hard news to release, but don’t be afraid to capitalize on other industry milestones. Do you have a unique perspective about a newly released study or trend that is getting lots of attention? Let people know about it.

Maximize your exposure—Don’t stop communicating when you’ve captured the headlines. Are you distributing positive media coverage to investors and partners? If you have a company blog, are bloggers linking to media coverage of your company in the context of their posts? In today’s on-line, on-demand media world, stories still have value (some may argue more) after the paper or magazine hits the recycling bin.

The road ahead is challenging, to be sure, but those who communicate effectively during the down market will reap the benefits of being top of mind when recovery strikes.

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