ANALYSIS <b>Corporate Case Study</b>: Corporate relations help Genentech look to future

To boost Genentech's image in the biotech field, Mary Stutts, the senior director of corporate relations, developed a plan to make her speciality an important part of the company's future.

To boost Genentech's image in the biotech field, Mary Stutts, the senior director of corporate relations, developed a plan to make her speciality an important part of the company's future.

Genentech owes its success as much to the science of biotech as it does to the art of communications. When the biotech giant unveiled its vision for the future to analysts and reporters in March, Mary Stutts sat back and beamed with pride. Entitled "Horizon 2010," the plan lays out its road map over the next five years. Its vision is for the company to become the biotech front-runner. It hopes to do that by becoming the leading oncology company in the US through developing a top-tier immunology franchise and through other leadership positions in biotherapeutics. Journalists and analysts reacted favorably, saying it reinforced the enthusiasm the company has generated with the success of Avastin, its popular cancer drug. As senior director of corporate relations, Stutts initiated what would eventually become "Horizon 2010." When she became the head of communications last year, she wanted to develop a communications plan for the company. She felt the South San Francisco company didn't have as strong a plan for corporate relations as it should, nor did the company speak strategically when presenting itself to various audiences. As the corporate-relations team moved forward with its plan for what its role should be, Stutts began to confer with the CEO, Arthur Levinson, and the plan snowballed into a larger call to action for the entire company. "Corporate relations is a very critical function right now," says Stutts. "It has to do with the growth of the company. We're no longer a start-up company. We need to focus on moving the image of the company forward. And we need to make sure we're not reinventing the wheel, so we don't start over every time we introduce a new drug." Value of corporate relations Corporate relations has earned the ears and eyes of the CEO and other executives, and the ability to initiate and develop the company's vision for the future because it is so deeply involved every time Genentech does introduce a new drug. Genentech focuses heavily on disease awareness and education, and relies on the media to help it do that because of Food and Drug Administration rules forbidding companies from advertising drugs before being approved and on the market. Stutts describes her budget as healthy because the only way to generate interest and demand for the company's drugs is through PR. But a focus on the big picture - such as Stutts' work that eventually led to "Horizon 2010" - also has helped the corporate-relations team to earn its place as trusted advisers to the executive team. Too many PR people make the mistake of focusing too much on tactics and not enough on strategy, Stutts warns. "We look at where the company is today, where it needs to go tomorrow, and how we can get it there," Stutts adds. "We have to offer solid strategy. That's how the executives think. They wouldn't be running the company if they weren't strategically focused. And not only do they get it, not only have they bought into it, but they are very hands-on and want to get involved in what we are doing." Such a PR-centric approach has apparently paid off. Genentech's stock price has more than doubled since the company first announced the prospects and potential for Avastin in May 2003. The FDA just approved the drug in February. But Genentech's good fortunes, from its stock price to its reputation, have soared on much of the information bestowed by the communications team. Analysts have predicted Avastin could generate US sales of more than $1 billion. Its first month of sales generated $38.1 million. After Genentech unveiled "Horizon 2010," John Hancock senior research analyst Luis Cortez told the San Francisco Chronicle that the plan "reinforced the enthusiasm among analysts over the prospects for Avastin." Genentech has worked with Ketchum for more than a decade and relies on the agency for everything from image and reputation research to helping to develop and initiate "big bold PR plans for big bold science" for drugs such as Avastin, says Stutts. David Weiskopf, associate director of Ketchum's San Francisco office, has seen a gradual but significant shift in the way Genentech values corporate relations in the company as a whole and at the executive level. Corporate relations is viewed today as an integral business partner and driver of commercial success, he says. "We're educating people about the disease itself, not just the product," says Stutts. "Hopefully this helps the doctors practice medicine better. We can't just do a campaign where we beat ourselves on the chest. We have to delve deeper to give both physicians and patients more information and education, and to make them more aware." That's why advocacy relations are vital to Genentech. The company works with a variety of patient advocacy groups, such as the National Breast Cancer Coalition, and biotech and healthcare thought leaders to have experts and prospective patients tell their stories to the media. "Our relationships with advocacy groups are extremely important," says Stutts. "We want to educate people about the disease overall. We don't want them limited to just what we are doing. It's about getting all the information out there, and letting people know that these are their options and here's what's unique about what we do. That's worked extremely well for us." Patients often turn to advocacy groups for support and education once they realize they have a disease, explains Carol Massey, director of advocacy relations. Relationships with advocacy groups are vital because the ultimate beneficiary of Genentech's success is the patient. Genentech often talks to patients about the science behind its drugs so they can better understand the treatments that are available to them, says Massey, adding that members of Genentech's clinical teams make themselves available to meet with such groups. In turn, patients are often on hand at company events and conferences to meet with everyone from the media to the company's employees. Importance of employee comms Stutts stresses again and again the importance of employee communications, particularly as the company plans to hire more than a 1,000 new staff members in the next few years. By focusing on the bigger picture of the disease, Genentech is focused on not just creating a drug for the disease, but the company also is trying to change the way diseases are treated, explains Neil Cohen, director of product communications. And that entails creating credible messages for everyone from physicians and patients to the company's employees. "If we don't believe we're helping patients, then we're not going to do it," says Cohen. "Our employees are key to our overall success," adds Geoff Teeter, director of internal relations, community relations, and corporate events. "It's important to let them know their efforts support the overall success of the company. We have a culture of open communication because we need our employees to buy into our vision and goals for us to succeed." Patients are often invited to meet with employees during brown-bag lunches so that employees better understand the impact of their work. The company also hosts "ho-ho's," weekly social events held Fridays where employees can gather and socialize. Departments often host the events, and the company also throws "ho-ho's" after every drug approval, adds Teeter. All of this is geared toward making sure all employees feel that they are part of something bigger so that they can celebrate and share in the company's success. Employees also help with the company's overall image and often act as brand ambassadors. And that is the company's next great challenge - focusing on the brand to get people to see the company behind the drugs while making sure audiences understand that it cares about more than just profits. That is why the company embraces its relationships with both advocacy and patient groups, as well as giving back to the community through social initiatives. "Corporate social responsibility is vital to the growth of the company," says Stutts. The success of the company depends on our ability to turn around and give back. Nonprofits don't want just money. They want business acumen, people, expertise. We want to help them meet unmet social and medical needs. We want to give back broadly to the industry. We don't want to position ourselves as just focusing on the bottom line. We have huge opportunities to crystallize our corporate social identity. That's the next big piece for us. The company's reputation is our most valuable asset." PR contacts Senior director of corporate relations Mary Stutts Director of corporate PR Debra Charlesworth Director of product communications Neil Cohen Director of advocacy relations Carol Massey Director of internal comms, community relations, and corporate services Geoff Teeter PR agency Ketchum

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