CORPORATE CASE STUDY: Boston Scientific links consistent branding to growth

Boston Scientific has maintained the momentum of its early success through a slew of acquisitions and successful products, and is now unifying them in a focused branding effort.

Boston Scientific has maintained the momentum of its early success through a slew of acquisitions and successful products, and is now unifying them in a focused branding effort.

Boston Scientific is a medical-device company dedicated to developing and marketing less-invasive therapies. Founded in 1979 when John Abele and Pete Nicholas bought Medi-tech, an R&D outfit focused on inventing surgical alternatives, the New England-based start-up banked approximately $2 million in its birth year. Since then, and particularly throughout the 1990s (following its IPO in 1992), revenues and staff numbers have grown exponentially. Today, with $3 billion in annual sales and 15,000 employees, Boston Scientific is at the top of its game, and showing no signs of slowing down. In 2000, the company responded to its consistent growth by formalizing an internal communications group and hiring Paul Donovan, VP of corporate communications, to lead it. Previously, PR activity had been limited, as it was unofficially being run out of marketing. Today, the eight-person staff operates entirely independent of marketing, and is divided into three groups: corporate communications, corporate services, and corporate image. Corporate communications, led by the group's director, Charles Rudnick, handles the development and dissemination of company news, both internally and externally. Press releases and earnings reports are prepared here for the media, analysts, and Boston Scientific's website. Rudnick's group also sends out information to employees via e-mail and the company's intranet. The corporate-services group, led by Jackie LaFuente, handles the design and production of corporate communications materials, in addition to Boston Scientific's annual report. Shareholder meetings and other company events are also the responsibility of LaFuente's group. Pam Brikley leads the corporate- image group, which is chiefly responsible for ensuring a consistent worldwide image for Boston Scientific. Currently, the group is carrying out its responsibilities by leading a master branding effort in the US, which the company embarked on early last year. "In the mid-1990s, we started to acquire a lot of companies," explains Donovan, and it seemed as though "nearly overnight, we became a $3 billion operation. [Boston Scientific] had become a coat of many colors, so we needed to find a way to integrate those colors and unify the company." Creating a uniform brand identity At the core of the master branding initiative is Boston Scientific's new brand architecture. Previously, the company was essentially operating across six divisions, which market research showed constituencies were identifying with more strongly than the Boston Scientific name itself. To help facilitate the mission of the branding effort - to migrate toward one identity - the company's six divisions were reorganized into nine businesses: neurovascular, interventional cardiology, peripheral interventions, vascular surgery, electrophysiology, endoscopy, oncology, urology, and gynecology. The company worked with FutureBrand on the effort, and retains fellow Interpublic firm Weber Shandwick as its AOR. Brikley says that the old unspecific division names "were creating confusion in the marketplace, and as a result, we weren't getting credit for the breadth of our product line. We picked new names that would require no guesswork." The communications team's approach to implementing the master branding initiative, according to Brikley, was "inside out," meaning employees first, and then external constituencies. Before any external activity took place, employee surveys and focus groups were conducted to help gauge the perceived credibility of the new brand. Once the new architecture and tagline - "Delivering what's next" - were decided upon, online resources, Q&As, a letter from CEO Jim Tobin, and other background materials explaining the reasons for and implications of the effort were made available to employees. Boston Scientific's sales force received new business cards, and the company started rolling out collateral materials with the new look. Media outlets for launching an advertising campaign were also selected, with employees in mind as the target audience. Spots ran on NPR and other mainstream outlets before medical trade journals because, says Brikley, "People feel good when they hear about the company they work for from the outside." As to why Boston Scientific took this approach, Donovan says, "In the end, your employees are your best ambassadors to the outside world. If they believe in the brand, they will make your customers believe in it." Preparing for Taxus And there could not be a more important time for customers to believe in Boston Scientific, as the company braces for the US launch of what could arguably be its most successful product to date, Taxus. Taxus is a polymer-based, paclitaxel-eluting stent for reducing coronary restenosis and the growth of neointimal tissue within an artery after angioplasty and stenting. In layman's terms, it's a metal mesh device that's surgically placed inside the artery after an angioplasty procedure to help keep cleared arteries from reblocking - that is coated with taxol, a drug widely known for treating breast cancer. The idea is that the added drug coat will decrease the likelihood of built-up scar tissue causing reclogging, and hence, reduce the need for repeat procedures. The device is already available in several European nations, but not in the US. On November 20, an FDA advisory panel unanimously voted to recommend approval for Taxus, but Boston Scientific is still awaiting word on the regulatory body's final conclusion. Should Taxus win US approval, it will become only the second drug-eluting stent on the market. Johnson & Johnson (J&J) launched its version, Cypher, in April of this year. Since then, however, inventory shortages, controversial pricing, and health warnings about J&J's device have left Boston Scientific with the opportunity to introduce Taxus to a medical community yearning for an alternative. While Boston Scientific keeps its fingers crossed for US approval of Taxus, the company has also made a concerted effort to ensure that its entire reputation is not confined to the attention currently being focused on the seemingly hopeful drug-coated stent. Last month, the company's executive committee held an off-site meeting, where plans for the next five years were addressed - indicative of Boston Scientific's "commitment to maintaining strength and diversity, and not being overly focused on one product," says Donovan. He adds, "It's easy for corporate communications to [maintain a balanced focus] when you have a company behind you intent on doing it." Evidence of its multitrack focus lies in a media campaign currently underway for Enteryx, Boston Scientific's treatment for gastroesophageal reflux disease. Promoting the minimally invasive throat procedure is one of the company's first attempts at "putting its toe in the direct-to-consumer water," reports Donovan. "With this, we are creating a market for an alternative treatment for a condition where most patients think they are doomed." Brikley says Boston Scientific is not yet at the point where it is "being forced to go to the consumer," but admits, "that is eventually where we will end up going." More immediately, the next step for Brikley and her team in regard to the master branding initiative is in packaging. The group will be launching a new and consistent look for all products across the nine businesses, which "we feel raises the bar in terms of functionality and clarity," tells Brikley. Beyond the master branding effort, Donovan says he will keep his team focused on what he calls Boston Scientific's biggest challenge: "Being on the threshold of explosive growth." He explains, "Our challenge is managing communications for a company that is likely to double in revenue in the next few years." Despite predictions of significant growth for Boston Scientific, Donovan says he will grow his department "modestly," because "the size of a company does not necessarily translate directly to the size of corporate communications." Confidently, he concludes, "We will have more work and complexity to deal with, but we can handle it." ----- PR contacts VP of corporate communications Paul Donovan Director of corporate communications Charles Rudnick Director of corporate image Pam Brikley Director of corporate services Jackie LaFuente

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