FEATURE: The new relationships

Healthcare companies are asking their PR firms to think beyond typical medical audiences.

Healthcare companies are asking their PR firms to think beyond typical medical audiences.

With the economy showing signs of improvement, healthcare companies are gearing up to reach audiences beyond traditional scientific communities. To do so, they are turning to PR agencies with experience targeting the likes of consumers and investors. The economic rebound has also encouraged a greater number of smaller biotech firms to go public - but with more caution than they might have exercised just a few years ago. The upshot is that agencies report that they are receiving a greater number of requests from healthcare clients for full-service work that includes corporate imaging and reputation building. Many new agency relationships, therefore, are noticeably different from traditional ways of working together. For example, biotech firms are turning to agencies to help them in a whole new sphere, given the rash of IPOs planned for that sector. "It's a struggle for a private company to go public," illustrates Anthony Russo, CEO of Euro RSCG Life NRP. "It's only the companies that are the best positioned that will be successful. People come to us with more needs and we find that we're able to service them on many different levels." And while fierce competition among pharma companies isn't new, patients are increasingly vocal about which drugs they're prescribed. As such, drug makers have sought the expertise of agencies that specialize in consumer marketing. A prime example of this occurred last October, when Pfizer chose Weber Shandwick's consumer marketing group to lead PR for Viagra, a drug facing pressure from two new erectile-dysfunction competitors. To better understand this new kind of client-agency relationship, PRWeek has profiled 10 such partnerships - all which have been in place for less than a year - to discover more about how these engagements developed, what the future holds, and the changing arena for healthcare PR. Client: TM Biosciences, Toronto Agency: Euro RSCG Life NRP, New York Project: Introduce a Canadian biotech company to US investors TM Biosciences was in a quandary. While most of its customers and competitors did business in the US, its Canadian investors barely understood the biotechnology market in which the company operated. "They came to us and said that investors in Canada just aren't sophisticated enough," says Emily Poe, assistant VP at Euro RSCG Life. "We are helping them with their [US] messaging and positioning." Euro RSCG Life helped the company simplify its message and identify potential US investors, according to Jim Pelot, CFO of TM Biosciences. The agency also assisted in generating interest among sell-side analysts and in introducing the product, a single genetic test that can identify multiple disease-causing genes, to appropriate trade publications. "We had a fairly short period of time to close what we see as a valuation gap [between TM and its competitors]," Pelot says. "We wanted someone with long-term experience and feet on the street." Ultimately, the company is hoping to attract savvier investors so it can begin speaking with midsize US banks. It's currently traded on the Canadian venture exchange, which is often perceived as the minor league. "To secure venture and market capital in the US, you can't trade on the venture market," Pelot says. Poe notes that the sticking point is finding the "sweet spot" of investors, but TM Biosciences is already gaining momentum in that area. Client: Sanofi-Synthelabo, New York Agency: Ketchum, New York Project: Set up early stages of communications for an undisclosed product in development Whenever a new product passes through the FDA approval channels, any communication about it is necessarily sensitive. Not only must companies comply with government regulations, but they are also very careful to preserve proprietary information about a product not yet on the market. Therefore, while Sanofi's team worked on developing a new obesity drug, Ketchum worked on putting together early medical communications for the product. "We have a good relationship with the agency; they have been very compliant," says Dr. Joelle Sissmann, VP for US communications at Sanofi. "They accommodated themselves to the sensitivities that we have." According to David Catlett, Ketchum partner and director of global healthcare, the agency has worked on disseminating information to the scientific community and has provided support around medical meetings. The firm is currently focusing on pre-approval communication until the FDA makes its decision, which is expected in 2005. "What has been really positive in this relationship is that, first of all, we had good chemistry with the people that we worked with," says Dr. Sissmann. Client: Olympus, Melville, NY Agency: Chandler Chicco Agency, New York Project: Develop corporate-level PR that combines medical and consumer brands When most consumers think of Olympus, they think cameras. They probably don't know that 90% of blood products are analyzed with Olympus equipment, and they wouldn't even think to pair the company with endoscopes, microscopes, or any of the other surgical or laboratory equipment that makes up 60% of Olympus' revenue. "It was very important that Olympus be known by the sum of its parts," says Libby Sullivan, director of PR at Olympus. "We didn't want to be known as a company of products." Working with Chandler Chicco Agency, the company sought to develop a single message that incorporated all of its offerings, putting equal emphasis on both healthcare and consumer products. The first public articulation of the new Olympus image was the creation of a corporate brochure, which has already won awards, says Joy Brownstein, the account's team leader at Chandler Chicco. But the main push of the 2004 platform is a corporate-sponsorship opportunity. "There were some real common denominators that cut across business units," Brownstein says. "Currently, we are bringing this corporate sponsorship to life with a TV show on PBS." The program, which will celebrate innovators, will air this fall. "Olympus is known for innovation and design which make our offerings easier to use," Sullivan says, adding that the company wanted to reach a "decision-maker audience." Client: Johnson & Johnson, New Brunswick, NJ Agency: Ogilvy Public Relations, New York Project: Sponsor fashion show to raise awareness about heart disease in women Johnson & Johnson and Ogilvy disregarded the formalities of traditional client-agency relationships to raise awareness about women and heart disease. First, the "real" client in this relationship was the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which already used Ogilvy PR and sought a sponsor for its Heart Truth campaign. Second, the relationship cut across J&J business units, requiring collaboration both from the corporate office as well as two of its companies. What resulted was "unique and very powerful," according to Sarah Temple, SVP at Ogilvy. Working with the American Fashion Council, the Heart Truth team chose a red dress as the symbol of the campaign. "It was feminine, it was passionate, it was everything you associate with the heart," Temple says. J&J, which came on board in November 2003, then brought the Red Dress Collection fashion show, which featured exclusive pieces from 26 designers, to five malls in cities across the US. "It's hard to get women's attention, especially when you want them thinking about their own health," says Susan Odenthal, J&J's VP of corporate communication management. Odenthal notes that, despite their atypical relationship, Ogilvy "treated us like a client," even developing an "ancillary arm" of the campaign to incorporate the medical devices made by one J&J business unit. Client: Caliper Life Sciences, Hopkinton, MA Agency: Euro RSCG Life NRP, New York Project: Smooth the acquisition of a larger biotech company by a smaller one When Caliper Technologies acquired Zymark Corporation, a larger company with more resources, in July, it had a lot of explaining to do - both internally to employees and externally to media and investors. Although Caliper had made the acquisition, Zymark's CEO took over the reigns of both companies. "We were putting together pretty much a whole new company from scratch," says Michele Boudreau, Caliper's director of corporate communications. "It was a big deal to combine the companies and navigate the way through this process." Euro RSCG Life "completely serviced" the new company, which specializes in drug-development technology, according to Robert Stanislaro, senior account executive at the agency. Together, Caliper and Euro RSCG Life chose a new name to reflect the growing company - Caliper Life Sciences - which was officially launched at a healthcare banking conference. The agency also assisted with internal communication, branding, and media outreach. "The message is continually evolving," Boudreau adds. "Right now, the most valuable [support the agency provides] is keeping our name in front of the right people." Euro RSCG Life also provided IR support, including strategic counsel around earnings calls. "As the company changes, you get a new investor base," says Euro RSCG Life's Russo, who adds that Caliper grew from a small biotech firm to one that is increasingly concerned with sales and earnings. "I think the market is increasingly more sophisticated," Russo concludes. "There's no clear path for a company and they want to have guidance from people who have been down the road many, many times." Client: Digene Corporation, Gaithersburg, MD Agency: Lippe Taylor, New York Project: Encourage women to ask their doctors about HPV testing When it comes to cervical cancer, women cannot always rely on their doctors to offer them the most up-to-date tests. That's the message that Digene Corporation wants Lippe Taylor to spread around its new human papilloma virus (HPV) screening test. "The objective of everything that we are doing," says Pam Rasmussen, Digene's VP of corporate communications, "is not only getting [women] aware of HPV, but getting them to take action." "Our job is to get the word out to consumers," says Philip Sheldon, MD at Lippe Taylor. "Women have to ask their physicians about the HPV test." Lippe Taylor is partnering with women's organizations to increase awareness about the importance of early screening. At a meeting of the Society for Women's Health Research, for instance, attendees heard about the risk of HPV from both a gynecologist and a cancer patient who had undergone a radical hysterectomy. The agency will also coordinate state-by-state satellite radio and media tours. Certain HPV strains cause virtually all cases of cervical cancer and the current screening method, the Pap smear, typically misses between 15% and 50% of women with cervical disease, according to information provided by Digene. Women assume their doctors will automatically order the latest tests, Rasmussen notes, "[but] doctors are habit-driven." Client: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Office of Genomics, Atlanta Agency: Ogilvy Public Relations, Washington Project: Create web-based technology the public can use and understand In a time of fast-moving technological advances, there are certain times when a PR agency needs to be more than a PR agency. When the Office of Genomics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention set out to develop a web-based family history tool which will allow individuals to assess their risk of developing certain diseases, it needed an agency with both technical know-how as well as experience in communicating complex information to the public. That's where Ogilvy came in, according to Paula Yoon, an epidemiologist at the CDC. Although this is the first time that Ogilvy has ever worked with the Office of Genomics, the agency does have 14 years of experience working with the CDC, according to John Bell, SVP and creative director at Ogilvy. The software, known as Family Healthware, is still moving through pilot programs and clinical trials. "The program itself has been more complex than we ever imagined," Yoon says, adding that it may be "some years down the road" before the technology is fully functional. Once it does get off the ground, however, the CDC will seek support in introducing it to the public so that both the technology and the information created by it is accessible. "The hope and dream for it is that it actually gets rolled out as a tool for the general public," Bell says. "Everyone's interested in Genomics. They're waiting to know how they can relate it to their lives." Client: Dermik Laboratories, Berwyn, PA Agency: Edelman, New York Project: Provide communication support for a product still in development It happened in the case of Botox: a biological agent that had been approved to treat obscure medical conditions became the next big thing in cosmetic surgery. Now Dermik's Sculptra, which is awaiting FDA approval for a facial- wasting disease that affects HIV patients, has also been tapped as a hot dermal filler agent, like collagen or Restylane. It is already marketed for that purpose in Europe, under the name New-Fill. "The product has a track record," says Rob Partridge, director of marketing and corporate communications at Dermik. "But the market in the US is untapped." In the US, meanwhile, Sculptra has been "fast tracked" by the FDA to treat facial lipoatrophy, a side effect from some HIV drugs that causes a sunken facial appearance. Since it is the only available drug for the condition, Sculptra is likely to receive approval for lipoatrophy significantly ahead of its approval for cosmetic purposes. Lipoatrophy has been called the "scarlet letter" of HIV, leading some patients to discontinue the drugs that cause it, says Melanie Wine Tolan, SVP at Edelman. "This is just a devastating complication," she explains, and "HIV patients don't want this to be [seen only as] a cosmetic agent." So Edelman is now tasked with treading the delicate line between highlighting Sculptra's benefits as a treatment to an unwelcome side-effect of HIV drugs, while also dealing with another audience - the image-conscious who seek new roads to facial perfection. What tipped the review in Edelman's favor, says Partridge, was that the team understood the sensitivities behind the complicated approval process and that it has the global reach to help launch Dermik's new aesthetic division. "The aesthetic division is an acknowledgement that [cosmetic agents are] the fastest growing area of healthcare," Partridge adds. "In getting a new division, our plan calls for [outreach to] more than [just] the traditional lay media." Client: Xenogen Corporation, Alameda, CA Agency: MS&L, San Francisco Project: Establish PR and IR support where none previously existed The untraditional approach was the route taken by biotech firm Xenogen when it selected MS&L to help with its transition from a small start-up to a more established company. Michael Sterns, now Xenogen's VP and chief business officer, first partnered with MS&L in 2002 to co-sponsor a marketing event for the media and potential clients. Sterns was working for another start-up at the time. "I was just impressed with their reach, their people, and their level of energy," says Sterns, who contacted MS&L soon after he joined Xenogen in January 2003. "It was a really great case study coming out of a marketing event," says Michele Parisi, MS&L's SVP and director of West Coast global health. "New relationships can come about from a wide variety of channels." As a young company, Xenogen hadn't paid much attention to corporate image, but its product, a radioactive enzyme that allows researchers to study biological processes in animals, was beginning to get more mainstream attention. The company sought guidance from MS&L in creating a consistent message that could be communicated to both the scientific community, as well as to laypersons and investors. "Companies change in time as you develop from a start-up," Sterns explains. MS&L used its proprietary "message storming" platform to establish both IR and PR programs, including a corporate fact sheet and speaking opportunities. Client: Kos Pharmaceuticals, Miami Agency: Fleishman-Hillard, New York Project: Put more resources and international experience behind its product line When Fleishman-Hillard learned that it had been chosen to oversee PR for Kos Pharmaceuticals' three drugs, the agency needed to move quickly in order to take advantage of new cholesterol research that was making headlines. A study presented at the November 2003 meeting of the American Heart Association (AHA) had just found that an intravenous form of HDL, the so-called "good cholesterol," lowered artery plaque in Italian patients. "We had the one drug that had been approved by the FDA for raising good cholesterol, the HDL levels," says Fleishman VP and partner Lauren Letellier. Shortly after, the AHA released new guidelines for women, raising the minimum HDL requirement by 25% and thereby tripling the number of women who fall below the ideal number. Fleishman's PR team moved quickly to identify key journalists and emphasize the importance of the story, Letellier notes. "We had to insert ourselves into that story," she says. "The drugs haven't changed, but the environment around them has." Fleishman is handling PR for all three Kos drugs, two cholesterol drugs and an asthma drug that is a recent acquisition from Aventis, according to Aaron Berg, VP of marketing for Kos. "Over the past couple of years, we've grown very rapidly," he says. "We kind of outgrew our last firm." The company chose a PR strategy that went hand in hand with its principles and its budget. Rather than targeting consumers, the focus has been on professional education and media outreach. "The heart and soul [of Kos] is focusing on the physicians who treat these patients," Berg says. "The more we can do to educate them, the better our patients will be."

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