Interview: Mike Huckman

Mike Huckman appears daily on CNBC, discussing the latest news in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical-device industries.

Mike Huckman appears daily on CNBC, discussing the latest news in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical-device industries. In another role, he writes daily for CNBC's Pharmas Market blog, using the outlet to either complement his on-screen news or to take a look at a topic a little farther off the beaten path.

 

PRWeek: In past years, since you've been with CNBC, what have been the biggest changes in your beat?

Mike Huckman: There have been a lot of changes. I think that they really began in the mid-part of the decade when the Vioxx story broke out of Merck. So, that was the safety side of things that resulted in all sorts of regulatory changes. But, then, from the bigger picture, it's been the change of fortune in Big Pharma, where they had all these rich pipelines of drugs in development and rich portfolios of drugs that were on the market. All of a sudden there was this confluence of a relative dearth of promising products in Big Pharma's pipeline. So, [the companies] had to deal with that. They had to start downsizing, and cost-cutting, and just lately resuming their merger and acquisition (M&A) and consolidation phase. They have to look increasingly to smaller biotechs and biopharmaceutical companies that have promising products either on the market or in development. There's this whole M&A and partnership trend as well, in addition to having to juggle the political and regulatory and safety aspects that have kind of reared their ugly heads over the past few years, beginning with Vioxx.

 

PRWeek: Going off that note, what do you see as the big stories in the pharma, biotech, and medical device industries for this year?

Huckman: I think that the big story for biotech and pharma is going to be, again, the M&A and partnership wave. The major pharmaceutical companies, by and large, are flush with cash, so they've got the money and they can afford to go on shopping sprees of various sizes. So, we're going to see more and more of them doing partnership deals or buying companies outright [as] there are smaller market caps in biopharma. And, then in medical devices, I think we're waiting for – at least from my standpoint, the piece of it that I primarily cover has been stents and drug-coated stents, simply because it's a large market and it affects so many people – is we're going to look for the next generation of drug-coated stents, the ones that are supposably going to absorb or dissolve in the body. But, that's not maybe this year; it's maybe a few years away.

 

PRWeek: In your dual roles as a broadcast journalist and as a blogger, what's your daily interaction with PR people like? 

Huckman: My daily interaction with PR people is primarily an inbox in my [Microsoft] Outlook that is flooded with all sorts of e-mails. I get a lot of blanket e-mails from a lot of PR people. I get lots of stuff that is off my beat, as well. I basically have to go through these e-mails. There are so people who will follow up the e-mail with a phone call. There are some PR people, who I don't even know, who will simply cold call without an e-mail and then launch into a pitch on the phone. And, then there are other people I've built a relationship with, over my six years or so on the beat, that call me or e-mail me when they've got something on their radar screen that I might want to cover.

 

PRWeek: What works best for you, or what are your suggestions for the PR people who are looking to work with you?
Huckman: My personal preference is for e-mail only. If I'm interested, then I'm going to e-mail back and say, “I'm interested. Tell me more.” And, either tell me more in an e-mail or give me a call, or spend the time building a relationship with me so that you can have that relationship, where you can, in a sense, cold call and say, “Okay, you may not have heard of this client but here's what's going on and here's why, I think, you guys might want to do something on it.” And, I'll be more apt to listen to that person if I know them and have a relationship with them and have trusted them to give me good stories in the past, than someone I don't even know who is cold-calling me and trying to make a pitch.

 

PRWeek: Going to the basics on your day, how does your work, when you're contributing to the blog and to the broadcast side, interact? Do you share content? Share some content?

Huckman: I do share some content. For example, if I'm at a conference or I'm at an analyst meeting or if I'm at an event, I will ask the blog master to embed my live reports from that event. Maybe I did a live interview with a CEO, maybe I did a live interview with an analyst, maybe I had a taped interview with one or both. But, then again, I try to not just regurgitate what I've recorded on-air. I give people a reason to go to the blog and give them more behind-the-curtain kind of stuff from that event. So, that's an example of where the content might overlap. But, then there are other times when I can be reporting from a location, or back at CNBC headquarters reporting about a certain story, and then I'll blog about something entirely different, simply because there's a bunch of other stuff going on. And, I know I'm not going to get this other story on TV so let me throw it on the blog and see what I can write about it.

 

PRWeek: With the way health journalism and journalism has changed so much, do you find that there's more interest or you're receiving more pitches, with someone like the Pharmalot blogger taking the buyout?

Huckman: Readers, yes. In general, the numbers continue to trend up, so that's a good thing. And, yes, from PR people, just anecdotally, when I'm out and about, they either tell me, “I love your blog” or “We read your blog,” at least. If they don't love it, they claim that they read it. And, that's basically it. I do get an occasional pitch, here and there, of somebody who recognized that, “Hey, this might not get on television but might you be interested in blogging about it?” But, it's really rare for somebody to pitch something straight for the blog. It's usually left to my own discretion. I don't think that most of the people that I deal with have kind of gotten wise to what might be the criteria for something that might rise to getting on CNBC television versus on Mike's blog.

 

PRWeek: Could you explain a little bit of what you're looking for, for the blog and what you're looking for in a news stories that would be on CNBC?

Huckman: Generally speaking, from TV coverage on my beat, you've got to be a certain-sized company and have a market value, as a general rule, of a certain size. Hopefully, you're working on drugs, or you've got drugs in late-stage development or possibly on the market, that [meet] what are called large areas of unmet medical needs. We're talking about Alzheimer's disease, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, those types of problems that affect tens of millions of people in this country, and it's going to have broad interest from a viewer standpoint. So, those are two major criteria. It's not a hard-and-fast rule but, generally speaking, that's what would rise to the level of me possibly doing a story on television. As far as the blog is concerned, it could almost be anything under the sun. I'm not going to blog about private companies or companies that are publicly traded but have really small market caps, because the stocks are too volatile. Sometimes, just a mention, even on a blog, can move that stock and unless it's something that is super compelling or of such great human interest, I'm not going to write about it. 

Name: Mike Huckman

Title: Pharmaceuticals reporter

Outlets: CNBC and CNBC.com Pharmas Market

Preferred e-mail address: mike.huckman@nbcuni.com

Web site: www.cnbc.com

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