The Importance of Communications in LifeSciences




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Video title: The Importance of Communications in LifeSciences
Released on: October 16, 2012. © PharmaTelevision Ltd
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In this episode of PharmaTelevision News Review Fintan Walton talks to Sue Charles & Nicole Yost of College Hill, Sharon Valdettaro from Roche & Katja Toon from AstraZeneca about the importance of communications in the LifeSciences industry.
Importance of communication in the field of partnering
Fintan Walton:
Hello and welcome to PharmaTelevision News Review here in London. On this show I have a group of communications experts in the pharmaceutical and biotech field. Welcome.
Sue Charles:
Thank you.
Sharon Valdettaro:
Thank you.
Katja Toon:
Thank you.
Nicole Yost:
Thank you.
Fintan Walton:
Sue , you are a Managing Partner at College Hill, your experience goes way back in communications in pharmaceutical and biotech field. Why is communication so important in any field in fact, and why is important for any company to have a strong communications policy?
Sue Charles:
Thank you. I think first of all, this industry, biotech and pharmaceuticals, has a particular need to communicate trust. It's an industry where billions of dollars are invested over 10- 15 years before a drug even gets to market and when it does, that has a big effect on people's healthcare and expectations. So number one it's about trust I think and therefore communication is really important to setting that trust agenda with all audiences with whom a company may need to communicate. I think second to that is expectations. You are setting the general trust and the expectation is that you are developing the drug for the future. So in this industry we are selling hopes and dreams for the future, and then for managing expectations through news flows, through brand management, through all forms of communication is really, really important. And finally I think it's a matter for every company to have their own position and their own seat at the table, so it's about awareness, perception, creating a position for yourself as a company. So all of those things, really trust, perception and expectation, will play a role and communications is vital to all of it.
Fintan Walton:
Okay. So when it comes to you Sharon, you are a Senior Communications Manager at Roche Partnering. From Roche's point of view where does communication at a partnering level fit, how important is it?
Sharon Valdettaro:
Well I think along the line of lots what Sue has just said in terms of you know the awareness, the perception, the trust that needs to be built in us, if you like by the partner, and then I think also you know from our point of view visibility is very important, and the ability to be able to differentiate between other companies, so that all plays a role. I think we need to really, as I said before, differentiate and we need to be visible, we need to manage the expectations and we really need to be on the radar screen of any potential partners so that we can develop those and those alliances.
Fintan Walton:
Okay. And Katjafor you, similar role to Sharon, but may be my question is slightly different in a sense that going back to this concept of managing expectations and perception, I mean obviously it's important in the field of partnering itself that ultimately there is both success and failure, so how do you manage for both, of both of those?
Katja Toon:
I think in terms of managing expectations. I think, you know it's very important that you are aligned internally and externally with the deliverables you are trying to communicate. So I think its understanding that partnering audience, what their needs are and how you can closely you know collaborate with those types of companies. So at AstraZeneca, we have been working hard to really align our internal organizational behavior so that it is externally focused and looking at our partnering opportunities with the new opportunities in from the outside, because in the past I think pharma in general has been criticized for being perhaps too internally focused and there was kind of a Not-Invented-Here Syndrome, so and you know I think it's important to ensure that you are actually focusing those efforts on being an effective partnering organization.
Fintan Walton:
Sure, but I suppose your role has just been recently, you've been there just over a year now?
Katja Toon:
That's right.
Fintan Walton:
Did you see the effect?
Katja Toon:
I certainly noticed a big change in the organization, as you know lot of things put into place recently with Martin Mackay, he was very actively focusing, mobilizing the R&D organization to ensure that they are actually out there looking for opportunities and actually on a seat at table when it comes to evaluating those opportunities very early on, so that we can be more responsive, more quickly, at sort of feeding back to companies wherever an opportunity is of interest or not, and obviously that's key for biotech companies to know early on, it's better for them to get a quick know, than actually I mean dragged along for a period of time if there, if there isn't a strategic fit with the pharmaceutical companies here.
Communication among pharmaceuticals and biotech companies
Fintan Walton:
And Nicole, you work with some of the biotech companies, these are obviously the smaller companies, who may not have the same resources as a large pharmaceutical company for an example, so how important from a biotech perspective and where should they place the emphasis on communication?
Nicole Yost:
Well I think for biotech companies, it's very important, and if we are talking about partnering from the other side to the work that Katjaand Sharonare doing, it's very important for the biotechnology companies to be seen as you know, a credible and potential partner and obviously the data speaks for itself, but quite often we see that some of the companies that actually just by communicating better in different ways they can actually, be regarded as more highly by the potential partners. We have examples of companies where it was only by raising their profile through perhaps some data and then getting a profile piece in the trade media that they were picked up by potential pharma partner who actually didn't know they existed before. So I think it's not about flashing loads of money around and you know spending lots on websites and fancy things. I think it's really about you know communicating your objectives and getting out there, and showing yourself as a credible partner, and that may be news flow, it may be media relations, may be doing something like this on PharmaTV, it may be you know through branding work, but I think quite often it's important for those biotech companies to really to be seen as credible partners for the pharmaceutical companies they want to work with, and indeed you know beyond partnerships it may be that they want to raise money, and may be that they want an exit, you know all those objectives can be supported through communications.
Building a strategic communications
Fintan Walton:
Right. I suppose Sue that brings on to a question about why a company should choose a consultancy. I suppose part of that also relates to the overall communication strategy, so how important is developing the strategy and how does that then lead to all the various broader communication channels that can be opened up?
Sue Charles:
I mean first of all a company has to decide for itself its own business objectives, so and I think as Nicole said communications can be used to support you know many of those. So strategy will derive first of all from the business objectives, then the company itself has to decide how each wants communicate, who is going to be the spokes people, so you know in forming a relationship with a consultancy you cannot outsource communication, because communication is everything that a company does, everything ever a employee does, everything the CEO does and says, what the website looks like et cetera, but once the company has got its own personality and strategy in place, then I think the role that a consultancy can play is you know may be threefold. First of all it might just be you know resources and skills, so if you need a website you probably don't have a web programmer, so you can outsource resources and skills. Then I think there is an outsourcing of contacts and experience and you know you can only board up so much in-house whereas if you go to a consultancy you might be tapping into 20 peoples expertise over 25-years and you are going to get a lot more expertise and context that way, and I think finally you get that external perspective that you know if you got a good message internally and a good position that you need to create, you can get a little bit you know protective of that internal vision and what need is a wider perspective, I think a consultant coming from the outside and perhaps put some of those external perspectives into the communication, so help build sort of a rounded and believable strategy that really then fits into the whole.
Fintan Walton:
Okay, and I suppose then Sharon the question really is, I suppose from a partnering perspective your one, is one line of communication coming out it comes back to the overall corporate strategy for communication within Roche, so how does that actually work for you within your own organization?
Sharon Valdettaro:
Within the company overall I think from a strategic point of view then that's done internally from the corporate communications point of view. If we look at partnering, now we like to go outside to consultancies, because of course they've got the experience of working with other partners and partnering organizations, where as anybody else within the existing company don't have that breadth of experience. So certainly from that point of view it's useful to go external, because they have got that experience with other partners or potential partners, but indeed in other divisions of Roche or lets say other functions within Roche, we may find that we'll use a consultancy who's got a specific, specific experience, I mean it may be that you want some information on some content on strategy for instance, but you may want content on a specific thing like Suementioned about the website for instance you may not have that internal experience all then it may be that you will you know looking with a specific branding problem to solve and then you may need an external consultancy, so it really depends on the case by case level.
Using social media for communications
Fintan Walton:
Okay. Now Katja, one of the things that's happened recently is the emergence of social media as a means to communicate and often it's quiet tempting because it's relatively accessible. From an AstraZeneca point of view and I am looking at from a partnering perspective, because obviously there are websites like LinkedIn, but there are also other websites like Twitter obviously and Facebook, what sort of opportunity exists with social media and what are the obstacles that you see from a corporate point of view in terms of trying to handle this new wave of social media?
Katja Toon:
I mean, of course social media has a huge role to play in the digital age that we live in and it's really you know making the most of that opportunity, but clearly in the pharmaceutical industry, it's a highly regulated industry so you know we have to be very controlled in terms of what we can tweet about, is for example or what we want to communicate about, but it does have it's place and specifically at conferences. For example we were at BIO recently and we were the one of the most buzzed about organizations mainly because we were tweeting news, and new brochures, and new website content that we wanted to make sort of raise the visibility of at a specific event where we need that with lots of appropriate people present and partners present. So it's using it in the right place and the right context, but that goes from the communication strategy overall, it's maximizing the effect you know at points in time it makes sense, but and I think it also varies depending whether you are pharma, or biotech because clearly biotech companies are smaller organizations and might not have the same amount of resource so they can dedicate to digital and social media, so they have to be aware of ensuring that they have a long term strategy in place and they are not just sort of occasionally putting a tweet, or not responding to a blog or whatever they decided to do from a social media perspective, because the worst part of it is not you know following through and being credible, so I think that's going to be a point here.
Nicole Yost:
I think that's really interesting Katja, and I completely agree. I think you know there are far too many companies in the past who have tried to engage in social media just kind of tick the box and say that we are doing it, rather than those examples you gave where it's actually really and it's serving a purpose. It's a two way communication, so it's slight different from say a press release or something, but it's a vehicle for communicating your messages just as you've described.
Katja Toon:
Yes.
Fintan Walton:
So, but I suppose Nicole from your point of view where you are representing lets say a smaller biotech company they may be tempted because they perceive that as a cheaper alternative to you know you are more expensive and probably more labor intensive other forms of communication, do you recommend this to your clients?
Nicole Yost:
I mean, I think it really comes down again as we've said what are your objectives as an organization and what tools do you have, communications tools and others that you can then use to meet those objectives. So I wouldn't recommend a company you know small or large just you know jump on the social media bandwagon for the sake of it, I think its part of the program of communications. I think where it make sense, for example as Katja described they used it at conference and so on where you want to engage with different types of people, there are different stakeholders and it's of a two way communication, I think it's great. Yes it's very regulated so that something we need to be careful of, but we can you know we've got some clients of ours, pharma, biotech, VC's who are very prolific on the sort of tweeting and the social media side. So I think it can work, but it has to be a part of a program and has to be thought through the same way as any other communication tool would be.
Sue Charles:
Yes and I would like to pick up on a point it's certainly not cheaper. It takes up a lot of time, one of the things to consider if you are doing social media and tweeting you can't start and then stop, so you have to monitor, you have to know what's been said in the external environment, that takes up a lot of time, then you have to decide who is going to you know engage how and how it's that going to controlled you know sign off procedures and all sorts of things. So it's a very time-consuming means of communication, and I think companies shouldn't underestimate when going into it the amount of time that it will take either them or whoever they might employ to keep up the effort to make it effective.
Fintan Walton:
Right.
Sharon Valdettaro:
There should be no much buzz about it in that sort of things and I am going to think, what was important is everybody participates just you know a certain shape of form in social media, but I think you also what was been said before by the rest of the panel obviously the resources shouldn't be missed, because it does take a lot of time, if there is a blog or a tweet, there needs to be a response to that and a timely response so, I mean that doesn't, that not should be underestimated.
Effective communication for partnering
Fintan Walton:
Okay. So when it comes to you Sharon, from your experience, what is the tool that you prefer to use at Roche to communicate?
Sharon Valdettaro:
I can't say you've got one preferred tool, I think you've really got to see it as an integrated form of communications, you have to be seen to be using all the channels, we've got all the channels at our disposal and I think it's important to be seen to use them and to use them effectively and it depends again on your target audience, there are some of the audience, a lot of the journalist and analysts they are very keen on press, the standard classical traditional press releases they would like to use, and others you know perhaps a younger generation might be more into tweets or social media, or blogs so you really need to have a good mix of different things.
Fintan Walton:
Right.
Katja Toon:
Fintan, I would add to that also it's about, you know, what your objective is, exactly as Sharon was saying, but it's for example if you want to make your partnering team appear more accessible and bring their personalities out you know in terms of perhaps trying to differentiate yourself from some of your peers, and you know things like video on PharmaTV for example plays a good role and even there are other means depending on what your objective is exactly.
Fintan Walton:
So Sharon, when it comes to communication at a partnering level, I suppose you've got lots of different partners, how do you make sure that there is a reasonable distribution of information flow for each of those, of each of those partners?
Sharon Valdettaro:
Well I mean what we do specifically in Roche Partnering we have a Global Account Director aligned to each of the different partners and in those cases they are in constant contact with the partner to find out about what is, what is going to be, what is on the horizon and then from a communications point of view we try and plan that, so we are ahead of the game, we know what the partnering organization has to communicate, we know what we want to communicate we align ourselves very much with them, we talk with them on a regular basis, we are prepared for different instances it might be a press release that we need to bring out, because they've got some great news to announce or on the other side of things we've got some of the partners have conferences, or an annual report and then whatever they are saying about Roche and indeed what we are saying about them you know annual report needs to be aligned. So we do keep in very close contact. In any partnership there is this very much working together attitude we like to give our partner a seat at the table and that's the equal seat from us, all communications is worked on together and I think that's really important part of the mix.
Importance of internal communications
Fintan Walton:
Now Katja, people often think of communication as an external exercise, how important is internal communication?
Katja Toon:
Yes, the question, I mean I think for myself you know having worked sort of 12 or years before that probably in an consultancy for similar company and I think the biggest challenge for me going into AZ which is the 60,000 person you know organization, a huge organization is the importance played by internal communications, I mean there are whole teams just dedicated to internal comms in particularly in R&D, and then you know it is a key element of the communication essentially you want your organizational behavior to reflect what you are trying to achieve externally. So AZ's core, one of its core business strategies at the moment is to partner then we need the behaviors of the organization to mirror those, because there is no point in going out there and saying we are the partner of choice, come partner with us, and then the employees aren't behaving in the same way, for example if we are trying to be more responsive, you know we are setting performances measures in place so that actually you know employees are motivated, incentivized to behave in that way, and so there is all sorts of things you can do in terms of you know internal communications and making sure that you are actually behaving as an effective partnering organization. We touched on it earlier Not-Invented-Here Syndrome you know how to engage the R&D organization with partnering and it's not just a quick fixes, it's a long-term strategy so it has a key role to play.
Communication strategies for biotechnology
Fintan Walton:
Okay. Nicole, just a question for you on the biotech, I suppose one of the dangers that biotech companies have is that they over inflate their position, so how important is aligning the communication strategy for a biotech in that perspective?
Nicole Yost:
Well obviously it's really important. I mean, I think there is often the tendency to communicate very, very positive news I think it's important that you know you put your best show on and I think communications can help to a certain extent, but they are not going to cover up anything you know that's there. So I think communications are there to support, what's already there rather than invent and create something that isn't.
Fintan Walton:
I suppose Sue, I mean with your experience in the industry you know what can go wrong, and have you any examples of when things can be done a lot better let's say when it comes to communication?
Sue Charles:
I mean it comes back to my initial points of trust and expectation management. So, we work in an industry were clinical trials will fail, you know there will be side effects of drugs, so at a basic level that isn't a measure of a company's success or failure per se. So I think there is plenty of things that we can prepare for in terms of what might go wrong and look ahead make sure you have planned, make sure you have thought about third parties in that mix as well. You know if a trial doesn't perhaps perform how you might hope it has, then you know there are external experts in that field that you may have built up relationships with who could comment on why it might have failed, and isn't negative per se, it's about putting things into the bigger picture. Being a member of a trade association you know if things are tricky it might have an impact on the whole industry then being able to bring in the trade association to you know work alongside you or make a comment alongside you. And I think we have remember that we work in an area right at the forefront of science and discovery and that's a real challenge when you are communicating into a knowledge vacuum. You know I worked many years ago on the announcement of Dolly the sheep you know and we were communicating about cloning and that was something that had been only a science fiction possibility and to think about the stakeholders and how to communicate, taking the position you know what were you going to comment on, what weren't you going to comment on you know needs a lot of forethought, so I think, think ahead is the key message there.
Fintan Walton:
Okay Sue, Sharon, Katja and Nicole, thank you very much indeed for coming on the show.
Sharon Valdettaro:
Thank you.
Katja Toon:
Thank you.
Nicole Yost:
Thank you.
Sue Charles:
Thank you.
Fintan Walton
Dr Fintan Walton is the Founder and CEO of PharmaVentures . After completing his doctoral research on the genetics of cell proliferation at the University of Michigan(US)and Trinity College (Dublin, Ireland), Dr Walton gained broad commercial experience in biotechnology in management positions at Bass and Celltech plc (1982-1992).
Sue Charles
Managing Partner
At the time of this PTV interview Sue Charles serves as Managing Partner at College Hill Life Sciences Ltd.. Sue has over 25 years' experience across financial, corporate, science and marketing communications. She provides insightful strategic counsel and leads a range of consultancy assignments including communications audits, business plan development, transaction support, strategy development and issues management. Sue is an entrepreneur who has founded and sold three communications consultancies, an experienced CEO of a biotech spin-out and holder of non-executive positions. First class degree in Biochemistry from Oxford and an MBA from Cranfield Business School.
Nicole Yost
Associate Partner
At the time of this PTV interview Nicole Yost serves as Associate Partner at College Hill Life Sciences Ltd.. Nicole has 15 years' experience in life sciences communications spanning publishing, journalism, PR and marketing communications roles. She was Head of Marketing Communications for biotech firm BTG and has held editorial positions for industry publications including Scrip World Pharmaceutical News and BioPartnering magazine. At College HillNicole provides strategic PR support across a range of biotechnology, pharmaceutical and medical diagnostics clients. Nicole has a degree in Medical Sciences and an MBA with distinction from Warwick Business School.
Sharon Valdettaro
Senior Communications Manager
At the time of this PTV interview Sharon Valdettaro serves as Senior Communications Manager at Roche Partnering. Roche Senior Communications Manager Sharon Valdettaro has a wealth of communications experience: advertising, marketing, branding, investor relations and even the communications aspect of business development. As a member of the Executive Master of Science in Communication Management (MScom) at Universita della Svizzera, she's getting a broad theoretical background to supplement her practical experience. There's barely a communications discipline Sharon Valdettaro's 25-year career hasn't touched: advertising, marketing, event management, investor relations, media relations, corporate identity, branding and internal communications. After earning a diploma in business and languages in the United Kingdom, Valdettaro began her career with a communications agency in the UK, then spent two years with global media sales and marketing leader PubliGroupe in Lausanne, where she coordinated marketing campaigns in 24 countries. Valdettaro worked for eight years in business development with UK Trade and Investment, an arm of the UK government that helps UK-based businesses to ensure their success in international markets and encourages overseas companies to look at the UK as their preferred global partner or location for foreign direct investment.
Katja Toon
Director of Partnering Communications
At the time of this PTV interview Katja Toon serves as Director of Partnering Communications at AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals. Katja Toon is currently Director of Partnering Communications at AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals where she is responsible for co-ordinating and executing of an over-arching communications strategy to support AstraZeneca's in its goal to become the partner of choice. Katjahas 16 years of broad, international communications experience within the healthcare and life sciences sector. From 2002, she was a co-founder and Director of Northbank Communications, a specialist Life Sciences consultancy, which was successfully sold to College Hill in October 2007 where she remained a Partner until 2012. Prior to establishing Northbank, Katjaworked in a communications role for leading venture capital groups, including SV Life Sciences. She gained international experience whilst at Russell-Welsh, an investor relations firm specializing in life sciences, based in San Francisco, California and also at Genset SA (now part of Merck Serono), a publicly-listed, biotechnology company focused on personalized healthcare, based in Paris, France. Katja has a degree in Biochemistry from Oxford University and an MBA from Imperial College London.
PharmaVentures
PharmaVentures is a corporate finance and transactions advisory firm that has served hundreds of clients worldwide in relation to their strategic deal making in the pharmaceutical, life science and healthcare sectors. Our key offerings include: Transactions / deal negotiations; Product / technology valuations; Deal term advice; Due diligence & expert reports; Strategy formulation; Alliance management; and Expert opinion for litigation/arbitration cases. PharmaVentures provides the global expertise to ensure our clients generate the highest possible return on investment from all their deal making activities. We have experience of all therapeutic areas and can offer advice on both product and technology commercialization.
College Hill Life Sciences Ltd.
College Hill Life Sciences Ltd. provides communications consultancy services for science based sectors. Its services include corporate, healthcare, and marketing communications, as well as financial communications. The company serves biotechnology, pharma, laboratory supplies, service providers, medical devices, diagnostics, and healthcare companies, as well as venture capitalists, recruitment companies, not-for-profit and academic organizations, and science associated bodies. College Hill Life Sciences Ltd. was formerly known as Northbank Communications Ltd. As a result of the acquisition of Northbank Communications Ltd. by College Hill Associates Ltd., Northbank Communications Ltd.'s name was changed in October 2007. The company was founded in 1999 and is based in Congleton, the United Kingdom with additional offices in San Francisco, California; London and Manchester, the United Kingdom; and Munich, Germany. As of October 5, 2007, College Hill Life Sciences Ltd. operates as a subsidiary of College Hill Associates Ltd.
Roche Partnering
Roche Partnering is dedicated to finding the best advances in modern medicine that strengthen the R&D portfolio. Together with external partners, Roche aims to bring new medicines to patients as quickly as possible. Partnering is the doorway to every part of the Roche organization from scientists to life cycle teams to the highest levels of management. Roche is a leader in research-focused healthcare with combined strengths in pharmaceuticals and diagnostics. Roche Partnering offers creative deal structures tailored to the needs and ambitions of partners and always put the interests of the patient and the product first as well as offering a seat at the table when it comes to important development decisions.
AstraZeneca PLC
AstraZeneca PLC engages in the discovery, development, and commercialization of prescription medicines for gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, neuroscience, respiratory and inflammation, oncology, and infectious diseases worldwide. Its principal products include Atacand for hypertension and heart failure; Crestor for managing cholesterol levels; Nexium for acid reflux; Losec/Prilosec for the treatment of acid related diseases; Seloken/Toprol-XL for hypertension, heart failure, and angina; Seroquel IR for schizophrenia and bipolar disorders; and Seroquel XR for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorders. The company principal products also comprise Symbicort for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases; Synagis for RSV, a respiratory infection in infants; and Zoladex for prostate and breast cancer. In addition, it has 86 pipeline projects, which include 79 projects in various clinical phases of development and 7 approved or launched projects. The company markets its products primarily to primary care and specialist doctors through distributors or local representative offices. AstraZeneca PLC has a strategic partnership with KNODE Inc for the development of web-based solution; and a strategic alliance with Regulus Therapeutics, LLC to discover, develop, and commercialize microRNA therapeutics. The company was formerly known as Zeneca Group PLC and changed its name to AstraZeneca PLC in April 1999. AstraZeneca PLC was founded in 1992 and is headquartered in London, the United Kingdom.