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Some Simple yet Sage Advice on Communicating

Yesterday’s Xconomy Forum “Tomorrow’s Biotech: Innovators and Innovations” featured a first-rate slate of speakers and case studies. If you didn’t attend, Luke Timmerman’s Xconomy post provides a nice recap.

The afternoon concluded with an engaging “fireside chat” keynote between biotech founding fathers Walter Gilbert and George Church moderated by Boston University Biomedical Engineering Professor Jim Collins. One of many issues discussed during the conversation was the pressure on early stage biotechs to quickly demonstrate proof of concept—particularly given the challenges of securing funding in today’s market.

Church made two points I thought particularly instructive to anyone managing a communications program for a biotech company.

The first is simple yet incredibly prudent advice: build and communicate value. Sounds obvious, but in today’s environment cash-strapped startups can fall into the trap of setting their sights on a short term milestone to demonstrate proof of concept for a technology that will not provide real value in the long run.

This is often where business and development strategy and intersects with communications strategy. Are you communicating something of value to your key constituents or are you generating hype merely to get the attention of potential and existing investors?

The second point that resonated with me: biotech businesses have a tremendous opportunity to educate. Whether it is clinicians or consumers, the biotech industry has a responsibility to inform people who use their products about how they work and about the diseases they treat. This will be increasingly important in the realm of personalized medicine when a growing number of diagnostics will be targeted directly to the consumer. (Church practices what he preaches–check out the Personal Genome Project he’s leading to help make personal genome sequencing more affordable, accessible and useful).

Often an effective communications program has nothing to do with promoting a product, a company or a technology and everything to do with conditioning or educating the market.

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