How LaunchSquad helped bring the first at-home, non-prescription COVID-19 test kit to market

Australian company Ellume is set to release the first round of tests in stores in January.

Sean Parsons, founder and CEO, Ellume
Sean Parsons, founder and CEO, Ellume

When Ellume was in the final stages of developing its at-home COVID-19 test kit, it knew it needed a precise and targeted communications approach to be successful in the U.S.

The Australian diagnostic product company approached Jason Mandell, cofounder and principal at LaunchSquad, and his team in August with the monumental task of guiding the test kit through FDA-approval and into American pharmacies. 

After receiving FDA approval in December, the coronavirus test kits will be sold at local stores and available without a prescription in early 2021. This is the first test that gives results at home, without the need to be sent to a lab.

Mandell  was enthusiastic about working on such an important step in fighting the global coronavirus pandemic, but LaunchSquad needed to do more than sell the tests.

Ellume's founder and CEO Sean Parsons was an emergency care clinician during the swine flu epidemic and saw the need for rapid, affordable and accurate testing. He has spent the decade since developing tools to reduce the spread of infectious diseases, but Ellume has worked more closely with European companies, including Qiagen in Germany and GlaxoSmithKline in the U.K.

"Ellume is a global leader in digital diagnostics focusing on pandemic response and other infectious diseases, but they were an unknown company in the U.S.," Mandell  said. "We had to start from scratch and provide context to the media." 

LaunchSquad began with what Mandell calls a “pre-seeding” campaign with key media outlets to give them an understanding of what Ellume did and what was likely to be announced once the test got FDA approval.

“Our goal was really to build its profile over the long term and establish Ellume as a trusted healthcare brand,” said account director Sarah Borton. “The need is so great, the stakes are so high, and its products can really change the way we approach infectious disease in the U.S.”

The majority of LaunchSquad’s efforts was focused on earned media and influential opinion leaders such as Michael Mina, a prominent epidemiologist at Harvard University. Key reporters from the technology and science industries as well as at the Associated Press were invited to speak with Parsons and lend the company credibility. 

The company’s legitimacy was helped by its partnership with the National Institutes of Health and the $30 million grant it awarded to Ellume to ramp up production capacity. 

But the key to success was in the numbers. LaunchSquad released some of Ellume’s clinical study data to back up its claims of tests’ effectiveness.

“We used the data because it really showed how the test had a very strong performance not only in symptomatic people, but in asymptomatic people,” Borton said. “We felt very confident in the efficacy, and that was what our messaging focused on.”

Laying the groundwork with the media helped immensely when FDA approval came, and LaunchSquad began targeting commercial sales in pharmacy chains such as Target and CVS.

“We relied on the media to inform the public about how important this was while we reached out to the purchasing and distribution machine,” Mandell said.

And it worked. Both Target and CVS have contacted Ellume to discuss the potential of selling the tests in their stores this winter, and the Ellume team plans to announce final retail commercialization plans in January.

Once the tests enter stores, Mandell said LaunchSquad will shift the focus of its messaging from the retail sector to the general public.

“After the announcements about where the tests will be sold, we will double down on more of the consumer messaging to let them know where they can buy them and battle any misinformation,” Borton said.

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