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Being Seen and Heard

The cell therapy sector is widely recognized as having moved from a state of promising, fledgling future ambition to achieving real therapeutic potential – all thanks to brilliant science, major clinical results and key regulatory approvals. Many individuals have played a role in developing this exciting sector, including communication professionals like me, whose work is often in the background.

It wasn’t that long ago that many people, including journalists, investors and analysts, considered cell therapies as medicines of an idealistic future rather than a potential reality. And so it’s taken a great deal of hard work, science and public relations (PR) efforts to prove that cell therapies are here and now – and ensuring that this message was heard has helped generate greater collaboration, investment and funding for the field.

For some companies, the overall success of the sector has a downside from a business perspective. The big headlines – and subsequent industry, investor and media attention – are taken up by the companies making the biggest noise (which at the moment is Novartis and CAR-T therapies), and it’s easy for smaller voices (particularly those of suppliers and support partners) to be lost amidst the clamor. Many companies have exciting propositions and promising clinical data; unfortunately, if nobody knows about them, they aren’t much use...

If you want to be successful in this sector (or any other sector for that matter), you need to build long-term communications into your business plan to be seen, heard and noticed by the market. That includes the companies developing therapies, the suppliers, the investors, the grant and fund providers, the potential academic or commercial partners, and, last but not least, potential pharma buyers inundated with offers when investors seek an exit.

But what is “effective communication”? Contrary to the belief of some, a communication strategy is not just distributing occasional magnolia press releases. Business revolves around competition – you need to compete for investment or the best research partnerships. And it’s the same with communication. In key publications, there is limited column space written by a limited number of journalists with a limited number of hours in the day. And social media is also saturated with posts about cell therapies and other advanced medicines. You need to work out how to be ahead of the competition by asking a simple question: “Why would people want to write, read and talk about my company and innovations?” As well as getting your management, company and achievements noted by the market and stakeholders, you need to generate excitement. You need to persuade people to agree with you. You need to shape the market and landscape to your advantage. You need to highlight how your key achievements will affect the wider sector. It’s also important to bear in mind that many stakeholders – investors, for example – will not understand technical jargon or scientific language, so information must be communicated in more widely understood terms.

Wise companies choose to invest in communications by working with a PR agency – and there are many different types to choose from. My advice is to be wary of the agency that says “yes” too often. PR agencies are on the frontline of life science communications and their job is to give you their advice, not what you want to hear. In return, the PR agency will need to understand what you do, what differentiates you, and why your work will be exciting to the wider community.

Right now, cell therapies and advanced medicines are in the media spotlight; there is great deal of excitement and many investors are moving into the field. But honeymoons have surprisingly short life spans... Cell therapies must take advantage as soon as possible, because it won’t be long before another evolving field steals the excitement. Darwinism dictates that strong individual organizations will survive and weak ones will fail or be absorbed. Each and every organization needs to give itself the best chance of success.

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About the Author
Neil Hunter

Neil Hunter is Life Science and Corporate Communications PR Director at Image Box PR, UK.

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