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Speak Up!

The biopharmaceutical industry, like many others, has felt the uncertainty surrounding the Brexit negotiations – and it’s quite remarkable that, at the time of writing, we still don’t know what the outcome will be. Brexit, especially a “harder” Brexit, certainly brings risk. But with an evolving landscape comes new opportunities to shape that landscape to your benefit and to the benefit of the industry, provided you’re willing to communicate.

During periods of uncertainty, people look to one another for answers, for the right questions, and for leadership. Some companies will be reluctant to speak on controversial topics – especially political ones like Brexit. But you only have to look at the reception to some of the Brexit articles published in The Medicine Maker – which frequently appear in most-read lists online – and elsewhere to appreciate the opportunities available.

For example, in 2016, a group of US senators proposed a new piece of legislation on how cell and gene therapies were developed and approved. We had a client that put across their thoughts on the legislation in a press release – what its implications might be, how they felt it could be improved. And within five hours, we had the senator’s office ringing us up trying to broker a meeting to work out how the legislation could be amended to suit the market better. That’s the moment you realize your influence extends further than even you thought!

The key to effective communication on controversial topics is to think strategically about what value you can add to the discussion. It can be useful to benchmark what’s been said before – you may well be putting forward an argument that contradicts what the market has previously put forward. This isn’t a problem, but if you’re planning on speaking to journalists then you’ll need to think carefully about how to justify what you’re saying without being insulting.

I’ve seen numerous examples of companies making a success of talking about controversial political topics. Another example was just after President Trump proposed a 20 percent drop in the US healthcare budget, and a number of biopharma companies made strong cases for why such a move would indirectly impact their business. Even if they weren’t able to change government policy, they were able to gain some influence and profile in the market, while their competitors who declined to comment missed out.

As long as you’ve done your homework and what you’re saying is factually correct, the risks of talking about a controversial topic like Brexit are low. In fact, the opportunity cost of not putting your position across in press releases and interviews can be quite significant. Effective communication means gaining influence and visibility in the market. That in turn can result in new customers, potential partnerships and investment – and can even impact the evolution of the landscape itself. If you’re not positioning yourself as a thought leader, gaining visibility, and shaping the discussion in this way, you can be sure that your competitors will be doing so.

At the time of writing, we don’t know what the outcome of the Brexit negotiations will be. In the months following April, the Article 50 negotiations could still be ongoing; the UK could in a transitional period having ratified the Withdrawal Agreement, negotiating the future relationship; or outside the EU entirely after leaving without a deal. This means there will be ample opportunities for companies to step up and make the case for what they want out of the ongoing Brexit negotiations.

Of course, the industry has largely been united in it’s support of a close relationship between the UK and EU. And with the negotiators so far being unable to guarantee such an outcome, some may be feeling apathetic about the whole thing. But just remember, the benefits of communication extend far beyond the ability to influence the outcome. So don’t be afraid to speak up.

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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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