The PR behind the one-month sprint to create the Spiro Wave ventilator

New York-based BerlinRosen piqued media interest after a client pledged to build a cheaper ventilator quickly.

Photo credit: Spiro Devices
Photo credit: Spiro Devices

NEW YORK: One PR shop found itself working on one of the most ambitious projects of the coronavirus pandemic when a client started talking about designing and building a cheaper ventilator — in just one month. 

In mid-March, Scott Cohen, cofounder of startup incubator New Lab, began discussing with his agency, BerlinRosen, a project to build and manufacture a ventilator called the Spiro Wave. 

The Spiro Wave is a “bridge” ventilator, intended to treat less sick patients so more expensive and sophisticated ventilators can be reserved for critically ill patients. Spiro Wave ventilators cost about $5,000 to make, according to BerlinRosen. Regular ventilators can cost more than $20,000. 

As of the end of April, the strain on hospitals is subsiding. But when the project started, New York medical centers were overwhelmed and many initiatives to provide ventilators had been announced to deal with the emergency.

“There was a lot of press surrounding this issue,” said Dan Levitan, the BerlinRosen EVP leading the agency’s team on the project. “There were a lot of different groups trying to make ventilators. Sometimes they were major companies, sometimes new companies, but they were all going to be selling ventilators that were going to be ready in June and July.”

“This group was focused on what can we do right now to make one for New York City dealing with the first wave of COVID-19,” he added.

The project moved very quickly. On April 17, about a month after design work started, the Food and Drug Administration approved Spiro Wave. Getting a design approved in a month is an incredibly fast turnaround, and Levitan said he was impatient to start pitching Spiro Wave to the press.

“It was tempting throughout that process, seeing all the stories about projects that hadn’t produced ventilators but were planning to,” he said. “They wanted to wait until they knew that they could do it and it was authorized, so we waited until that process was complete. At the end of the day, it was the right thing to do. We didn’t want to be suggesting we were going to be able to do something we couldn’t do.”

Levitan worked on the project with BerlinRosen account director Brian Levin and account executive Yaron Ginsberg. A big part of the pitch, he said, was the team effort behind the project.

“[It] wasn’t just talking about the new product and what it could do,” he said. “But also the collaboration behind it and how that came together. That was almost more interesting for the media, especially The New York Times. It was a group of engineers researching all on a volunteer basis. They found each other very quickly and started working on the design in a collaborative way to do something that usually takes months in just a few weeks.” 

The team behind Spiro Wave, which based the ventilator on the E-Vent prototype from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, includes cofounders from New Lab, design and development shop 10XBeta and manufacturer Boyce Technologies, according to TechCrunch.

BerlinRosen began pitching the Spiro Wave the weekend of April 18. As of Monday, it had generated 50 placements and more than 345,000,000 impressions. Outlets including the Times, cnet, The Verge and CNBC have covered the technology. 

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