becomes increasingly essential to deliver relevant communications
on a perceived personal level in order to have that message get
through and possibly succeed. Notice how efficiently grass-roots
efforts from anti-biotech groups get the word out to their constituents.
Their messages are simple, poignant, and often one-sided or inaccurate.
Even though they are independent factions, their "call to
arms" gets sounded loud, clear, and inexpensively through
use of the Internet and other easily-accessed means of broadcasting
technology and pharma companies can also reach investors, analysts,
potential partners, customers, regulators, lobbyists, government
officials, and key influencers using these same simplified means
of communications. As companies need to voice opinions about -
or communicate their compliance with - regulations such as HIPAA
or 21CFR11, these newer message channels combine with traditional
PR tools and media/analyst relations to build a potent communications
arsenal. A start-up or early-stage company that has a technological
edge but a thin PR budget can communicate effectively if their
agency is innovative, resourceful, tech savvy, and not wasteful.
many scientific companies aren't quite sure how to select such
an agency. Using a rationale that paralleled the old adage, "nobody
ever got fired for picking IBM," many companies are lured
by large "brand name" agencies. They often wind up paying
for the name of a CEO who doesn't work directly on their account,
and typically hasn't contacted a reporter in years. They also
foot the bill for the training of very junior practitioners.
competitive biotechs have begun looking "outside the box"
for better value from PR and other marcom services. They are learning
that they can get more for less by eliminating many traditional
agency inefficiencies such as downtown offices with expensive
views, rigid 12-month retainers, marking up out-of-pocket expenses
and outside vendors, and junior agency staff. Experienced marcom
professionals bring core competencies that enable them to do a
better job in less time, thereby reducing costs and maximizing
companies have started outsourcing marketing communications to
providers who can pick up the slack and provide services on a
smaller, flexible scale, often on a project-basis. Smaller ("boutique")
agencies, virtual PR teams, and individual practitioners are a
growing alternative for companies of all sizes, particularly those
with small marcom budgets. Like their clients, these outsources
have to work smarter, faster, and cheaper.
retaining the services of a large agency really a prudent investment
in an industry where every marketing communications decision can
affect millions of dollars? Working on a project basis often clashes
with the business model of a large agency. There are many overhead
costs that must be passed along to the client, and large agencies
need steady retainers to make sure financial goals and obligations
are met. The staffers performing the actual account work tend
to be young and inexperienced, because that's where the agency's
profit margin is based.
marcom providers find ways to efficiently service smaller clients
and produce results. For many clients, outsourced and project-based
marketing communications has an economic rationale even in a strong
economy. It makes sense to find a marcom outsource that will work
on a project basis, or adapt to a flexible, needs-based budget
that allows clients to pay for services on an "as-used"
basis. It allows companies to do more short-term activities without
a large commitment. If a project proves successful, it can lead
to longer-term relationships. Projects are a great "test
drive" for both the agency and the client - a way to see
if they enjoy working together.
for biotechs searching for marketing communications counsel:
- Make sure that your agency has a conceptual
understanding of your company, the technology, and your marketplace,
but don't look for PhDs in molecular biology. Can they communicate
effectively with audiences that aren't scientists? The agency's
business acumen and life experience will compliment your science
- Location, location, location is out!
Are you paying for the view from your agency CEO's office instead
of results? A prestigious address does not make an agency do
better work or increase the chances of media coverage.
- Agencies love to drop names of contacts,
but these may not be the right reporters, editors, and analysts
for your company. Experienced pros develop new relationships
- Look at their clip book, but don't be
too impressed, especially by clips for big name clients. See
what they've accomplished for clients that are about your size
and budget. The people showing you past results should be the
same people who will do the actual work on your account.
- Make sure you have complete access to
the agency CEO. Your day-to-day contact should be on at least
the same "level" you are. For example, if you are
a VP, your direct contact should be at least a VP too. Watch
out for agencies that artificially elevate the titles of inexperienced
- Big agencies pay big money for top
business development specialists that you may only see until
you sign the contract. Once a smaller or midsize client is signed,
they will be paying part of that overhead, but none of those
people will work on the account. Before signing, meet the entire
account team, and ensure that the agency won't use bait and
switch tactics by including the roster in the contract.
- Your needs and budget may vary from
month to month. Your agency should be able to work with a flexible
budget. Most agencies and outsources will require prepayment
of monthly or project fees.
- You can find marcom alternatives through
networking, referrals, online searches (use key words such as
PR, tech PR, outsourced PR, marcom, etc.), or look at press
releases from similar-sized tech companies in industries related
to yours. Agencies that advertise or attend trade association
meetings will recoup those costs in their fees.
- Chemistry counts - you'll have regular
contact with your agency. Nobody will ever provide a bad reference,
so trust your gut instinct. Marketing communications is an investment.
Selecting a source that matches your company's culture/personality
is likely to give you the best return.
With 15 years of experience, Jon Boroshok
is a veteran of technology marketing communications. He is the
founder of Biotech Marcom (www.BiotechMarcom.com), an independent
agency specializing in value-based marketing communications for
biotechs, bioinformatics, healthcare technology, and pharma. An
accomplished strategist and writer, his articles and columns have
appeared in The Boston Globe, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, ZDNet,
CMP Publications, eCommerce Times, Mass High Tech, PRWeek, and