Three Wise Dames

Marketing in the Life Science Industry

Press Release Distribution Services: Are They Worth It? July 15, 2013

My favorite newswire services

My favorite newswire services

Whether I’m working with a start-up or a Fortune 500 company,with the marketing or communications teams, all of my clients are looking for ways to make their budgets go farthest. So I sometimes get asked if it’s worth it to use a news distribution service, such as PRNewswire or BusinessWire, for your press releases.  And the answer is they’re even more valuable today than ever.

I had one new client recently who, for years, had been issuing a steady stream of news releases.  But when doing some basic internet research, no news came up in Google searches. I learned that the previous PR person never used a wire service, and only emailed them out to her media list. The releases were not being made available online and media pick-up was minimal. Years of opportunity… lost.

Yes, They’re Worth It: These days, the value of a press release is not only about the media that covers your news. It’s also about maximizing your online visibility through search and getting easily found.  In short, if you send out a press release without using a distribution service, the company is missing out on most of the benefits of doing a release, which include:

  • Expanding media coverage online, locally and nationally–PR Newswire is a trusted source of news (as is BusinessWire)
  • Reaching investors and prospective partners, as well as getting your message directly in front of potential customers
  • Increasing traffic to your Web site through search engines
    • What makes press releases valuable for SEO is not the release itself; it’s when news sites pick them up and spread your news
    • News releases issued through the right distribution  services automatically get syndicated to MarketWatch, Yahoo, MSN and other major news sites, and that’s what will enhance your company’s search rankings
  • Enhancing credibility–Your release is more likely to be included on major news sites, and it will be included alongside news from larger companies
  • Reaching social media and bloggers with tools designed to maximize your online exposure
  • These services provide reports that help you measure your reach

Best Practice:  Media relations best practice is to:

1)  Issue the news release over one of the distribution services (I recommend PRNewswire and BusinessWire)

2)  Follow up one-on-one with emails and/or phone calls to your target reporters

Here’s a good example of why:

  • When we issued a release for one of my clients over PRNewswire, we knew it was not the most exciting news, but it was one part of the ongoing story we wanted to tell about the company.
  • The Wall Street Journal Online ran the release, and that outlet was not on our email distribution list for this news.
  • The story also ran in Medical Device Daily and Orthopedics This Week, among other outlets, which came about as a result of our outreach efforts.

Resources:

PR Toolkit: The Benefits of Distributing a News Release

Google Says Press Releases Don’t have SEO Value – Or Do They?

© 2013, Merryman Communications, All Rights Reserved

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Did Kaiser Permanente THRIVE? May 29, 2013

KP - ThriveHave you ever met anyone who doesn’t love Kaiser Permanente’s THRIVE campaign? I haven’t. So when I had the opportunity to hear the insiders’ perspective of the campaign from Angela Zepeda, Managing Director of Campbell Ewald Los Angeles, and Kaiser Permanente’s Lisa Ryan, Executive Director of National Advertising, at a recent Healthcare PR and Marketing Association meeting in Los Angeles, I jumped at the chance. Here’s a little insight into this highly memorable brand campaign.

Kaiser began developing its new brand campaign at a time when HMOs were truly hated. Because the organization stood for the largest example of an HMO, it was often the target of a negative backlash – even though Kaiser defines itself as an integrated delivery network and has hospitals and a physician group (in California, anyway — its models in other states are different).

Research-based Strategic Insights

Kaiser started with extensive research:

  • As in any brand initiative, they first looked internally to what the Kaiser Permanente brand stood for: Health advocates dedicated to your health and well-being. They believed that this legacy is consistent with the organization’s mission and values today — it stood the test of time.
  • They also looked externally:
    • Competitive research showed that, at the time, no company was talking about health vs. healthcare.
    • They learned that what mattered most to their target consumer audiences was the concept: No matter what, I want to be as healthy as I can be. This crossed all stages of life, and the target’s psychographic profile was more important than its wide-ranging demographic profile.

In fusing the internal and external findings together, what came out was THRIVE. By taking a fun, lighthearted approach to talk about all the things you can do to take better care of yourself, Angela and Lisa emphasized that it was a reinterpretation of Total Health.

Creative Delivery

A brand is the accumulation of experiences and interactions with an organization, and Angela and Lisa said they made the care delivery organization align behind and promise to deliver on the brand story they wanted to tell.

The strategic tenets of the campaign are and remain:

  • Reinvent the language
  • Redefine the system
  • Champion the cause

For example, the campaign will never show a doctor in a traditional exam room or hospital setting – that is, if they show a doctor at all. Instead, it’s about the patient, the member or prospective member. For example, in 2007 Kaiser aired a really memorable ad about taking better care of yourself that featured a cute, chubby little boy. It never mentioned childhood obesity, but that’s what it was really about, and about raising healthy, active kids.

While we may remember the TV spots best, the campaign was fully integrated across communications disciplines. From turning pillars in an airport waiting area into giant redwoods to hosting farmer’s markets at its medical centers, THRIVE and the team behind it found creative ways to emphasize what the brand was all about: Total Health.

Results

So, over the years since the campaign launched in 2004, has it achieved the desired marketing results? Angela and Lisa report the answer (and I admire them for sharing the reality), based on continued research and evaluation, as yes and no:

  • Yes, the brand perception of Kaiser Permanente improved tremendously since the campaign began.
  • No, it has not moved the needle much in terms of growth in membership. The research shows that only 38% of respondents would “consider joining” – a number that they still consider low.

Lessons Learned

Here are a few more insights that Angela and Lisa shared:

  • The campaign emphasized behavior change and health advocacy. However, Kaiser and Campbell Ewald learned that care delivery messages have a greater effect on some of the key attributes target consumers value, even though they don’t move the brand. In the future, the THRIVE campaign will focus on both health advocacy and care delivery, but still follow the strategic tenets. They’ll talk more about integration and coordinated care, like they did with this spot.
  • Social media was happening whether Kaiser liked it or not, so now they need to develop a strategy.
  • They see a continued growth in digital ad spend with more sophisticated planning across platforms.

Since its rollout in 2004, THRIVE has successfully helped Kaiser Permanente stand out from the “sea of sameness” that existed. Many health organizations are now focusing on their brands in the age of the ACA, and delivering a wellness message. Kaiser has a huge headstart due to its long-term investment.

Additional Resources

Five Lessons from Kaiser Permanente’s THRIVE Campaign

Campbell Ewald THRIVE Case Study

© 2013, Merryman Communications, All Rights Reserved

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Simply Described: FDA Review of Medical Devices March 13, 2013

FDA Logo BetterWhen I learned about the regulatory process that a medical device goes through to get to market, I learned about it on-the-job from experienced medical device communications colleagues, clients and their regulatory counsel.  Since then, I’ve looked for resources to pass on to other teammates or students to explain the process, which can be complex. I’ve found some really good descriptions of the process a drug or biologic undergoes (one of my favorites is by my colleague Mark Senak), but nothing that really works for medical devices.  (If you have a resource, please share it!)

So, here’s what I’ve developed and shared (with the caveat that I am not a regulatory expert.  I have a lot of experience with FDA-regulated products, and I’m offering this from a communications perspective.)

Devices are can go through two different processes at the FDA: The 510(k) and the Premarket Approval (PMA). Every year the FDA reviews thousands of 510(k) submissions, which is about 10 times as many PMA applications.

510(k) Clearance

Approximately 90% of device applications that the FDA receives annually go through the 510(k) process. This is a premarketing submission made to the FDA to demonstrate that the device to be marketed is as safe and effective (substantially equivalent) as a device that is already being legally marketed. This process on average takes under five months, although it can range from three months to about a year. Because it usually requires no clinical trials or research it also requires less investment and presents less financial risk to investors.

However, changes are underway.  The FDA is now requiring some devices going through the 510(k) process to have supporting clinical data, requiring a trial. This is generally the case when there is a new technology or a request for a new indication for use. When a study is required, it is the same as an IDE study (explained below).

Premarket Approval

A PMA is an extensive application submitted to the FDA to request approval to market. Unlike a 510(k), a PMA is based on the FDA’s determination that “there is sufficient valid scientific evidence that provides reasonable assurance that the device is safe and effective for its intended use or uses.” (http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/DeviceApprovalsandClearances/default.htm)

This process generally takes at least five years, and often longer.  Here’s the process at a glance:

  • Feasibility studies are usually animal studies, and may include other kinds of economic and market research.
  • Investigational Device Exemption (IDE) approval is required from the FDA before in-human trials can begin.  An IDE trial can be a small, pilot or proof of concept study, or it could be a large pivotal trial.
  • In the medical device world, a pivotal trial is considered large when it includes several hundred patients, vs. the several thousand that may be included in a trial for a drug or biologic.
  • All PMAs for a first-of-its kind-device require an advisory committee review.  (I’ve never worked on a project going through the PMA process that didn’t have an advisory committee meeting.)
  • Of the three decisions the FDA can make, two are clear-cut: The device is approved or not approved. An approvable letter is a lot less clear-cut.  It means that the review is complete, but the FDA wants the company to address a few things, such as labeling, or setting up an inspection. When the issues are addressed to the FDA’s satisfaction, then the device may be approved.

Important Lingo

  • The FDA clears 510(k) submissions and products receive 510(k) clearance.
  • The FDA approves PMA applications and products receive FDA approval.

Other Good Resources

Mann Foundation

FDA PMA Overview

FDA 510(k) Overview

WSJ: Too Fast or Too Slow?

This information reflects my experience in working with FDA-regulated products.  Please only use this is a guide, and if you need the final word on matters, talk to your regulatory expert!

©2013 All rights reserved. This article may be shared in part or whole with credit given to author and link to Merryman Communications

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Do’s and Don’ts in Communicating about FDA-Regulated Products January 29, 2013

ImageIn response to a special request, this post provides some general guidelines on communicating about FDA-regulated products.  However, let me start by emphasizing that I am not a regulatory expert.  I have a lot of experience with FDA-regulated products, and I’m offering this from a communications perspective. So here are my product communications Do’s and Don’ts:

Do:

1. Work closely with regulatory counsel.  I’ve always valued a close and collaborative relationship with the folks in regulatory and I try to involve them in the planning process as well as the document review process.  Sitting across the table from them helps because when I understand why they say “No, you can’t do or say that,” I brainstorm with them to get to the “Yes, you can do or say that.”  I’ve also learned that, just like with doctors, lawyers and even marketing communications people, recommendations vary from expert to expert and client to client.  Often regulatory guidance comes down to a judgment call on the level of risk the client is or is not willing to bear.

2. Include risk information in appropriate materials.  The challenge surrounds what the appropriate materials are. Some are straightforward, such as advertisements and collateral and of course these must include fair balance.  I won’t tread into social media and the guidance (or lack thereof) as it’s a subject that’s been beaten to death. But how about press materials?

  • Press Releases:  One client’s regulatory counsel has advised that press releases remain one exception, and we still don’t include fair balance in our releases for that client.  A colleague who works for a large agency shared the opposite – that they include fair balance in all press releases they develop for pharma and med device clients.
  • Pitch letters:  This short, simple medium was never intended for the public.  Pitch letters are one-on-one communication directed at the media from a company or agency to interest them in your latest news and information. But a pitch letter recently received a red flag from the FDA, and now we’re all waiting with bated breath to see if we need to start including risk information in them.  Guess what?  So far it depends on which regulatory person you ask! (Read more about it here:  http://www.prweekus.com/pharma-communicators-keep-eye-on-fda-after-it-singles-out-product-pitch/article/270458/)

3. Present risk information in a balanced way. Including the fair balance information at the end isn’t enough.  You need to be sure that you (or your spokespeople, such as patients) tell your story in a evenhanded way.

  • Don’t let your spokespeople minimize the risk information. (One celebrity spokesperson declared during a national TV interview: “Oh, drug companies just have to say that…”  The drug company and agency had to work with the outlet to have it corrected immediately.)
  • Testimonials can’t overstate the product’s benefits. (For example, “Because of this product I improved my golf game” needs to be something more along the lines of: “Because I use this product, I feel better and because I feel better, I play golf better.”)

4. Ensure adverse event reporting processes are in place. As you all know, adverse event reporting has been a big reason some pharma or device companies have stayed away from product-oriented social media initiatives.  One client worked with her regulatory team to develop a weekly reporting process, and also relies on frequent check-ins with regulatory both at her business unit and at the corporate level. As we’re all learning, it can be done.

5. Understand the difference between the FDA and SEC. Regulations from each guide your communications recommendations for publicly traded companies and their products.  It’s important to understand whether your information is material and the level of flexibility you have in what to convey, timing your announcements or launches, etc.

Don’t:

1. Don’t provide information on off-label uses.  Controlling off-label statements presents a challenge in two-way social media channels, but now we have FDA draft guidance on this issue.  You can find a great at-a-glance diagram of this guidance here: http://www.doseofdigital.com/2012/01/translating-fda-social-media-guidance/.

2. Don’t overstate claims or claim superiority if you don’t have data to support it.

3. Don’t give medical advice. Instead we include a call-to-action that directs potential patients to speak to their doctors.

This is my general guide on communicating about FDA-regulated products. But please keep in mind:

This information reflects my experience in working with FDA-regulated products and teams on the client side.  It is based on a snapshot in time because policies at the FDA can (and do) change.  Please only use this is a guide, and if you need the final word on matters, talk to your regulatory expert!

Now let’s hear about your experience!

 

10 Questions to Build Your Strategic Communications Approach December 4, 2012

Filed under: Betsy,Business,Decision making,strategy — betsymerryman @ 2:58 pm
Tags: ,

education_ins1I just returned from a college reunion in New Orleans.  One of the things that I loved about going to school in New Orleans was that the education occurred both in and out of the classroom.  As I reflect on that now, I realize that the same still holds….  My education has continued throughout my career, not only from graduate school, seminars and reading books or periodicals.  I have learned on the job and in the trenches, in the frying pan and sometimes in the fire, from people who were mentors and from people who were – well, let’s just say not mentors – and from other team members, clients and employees.

Marketing and communications is a discipline where you need to constantly learn both tactically and strategically.

  • Tactically, we’ve had a revolution over the last several years with the growth of new technologies and evolving and maturing ways to reach and engage with our target audiences.  We had to learn how and when to integrate them into our efforts.
  • Strategically, we always have to quickly get our arms around a new situation, challenge / opportunity, product, audience, etc.   We always have to learn and figure it out fast.

I learned how to zero in strategically from tools I got in a classroom, refined by years of real-world hits and misses (fortunately more of the former than the latter).  I now find myself going back to the same fundamental questions to help me figure out the best approach.  You see, I have a list of 10 questions I always start out with, the answers to which I must learn, research and often intuit.   I’m not saying that this is all I need to learn, but it’s a great head start.  For what it’s worth, here are my 10 questions:

  1. What are the business objectives?
  2. What are your main challenges/opportunities?
  3. Confirm target audiences and what they’re looking for
  4. Confirm marketing and communications objectives
  5. What are the key benefits of product/service and why should anyone care?
  6. Who are the competitors and what have they been up to?
  7. What have you been doing already and what’s worked/not – and why?
  8. What does success look like?
  9. What is the budget range?
  10. And you need it done by when?

Now I want to see yours!  (And let the education outside the classroom continue….)

 

The Scariest Thing About Blogging October 31, 2012

Filed under: Betsy,Leadership,Public Relations,Reputation Management,Social media — betsymerryman @ 11:14 am

Blogging can be scary.  Maybe not scary in the same way as the haunted house my neighbors are building down the street.  But scary in that….  What if I’m left in blog hell where no one reads what I blog?  Or what if I get negative comments to what I blog?  What’s worse: no comments or negative comments?

The scariest thing about blogging is figuring out what to say that adds value and not noise.  Let me know which of the following topics you want me to cover in future posts, or anything else you’d like me to blog about:

  • Interviewing others about their successful healthcare communications case studies
  • FDA device approval process (because a description of it doesn’t exist anywhere else)
  • General summary of do’s and don’ts in communications for FDA-regulated products
  • Ongoing examples of “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should”
  • My reactions to campaigns, news, events or trends

Maybe it would be helpful if I revisited why I blog:

  • As a healthcare marketing and communications consultant, I have recommended blogs to many, many clients, and some have even taken my advice.  So, I want to learn more about blogging and the credibility and communications results it generates since I feel like I should walk my talk.
  • As a consultant and as a professor, I have a responsibility to my clients, my teams, the universities where I teach, my students, and my network to stay current and share information and knowledge about healthcare, communications and marketing.
  • HubSpot, a pioneer in inbound marketing, says I should because “blogging is a critical piece of a company’s inbound marketing strategy.”  Blogging greatly increases my chances of being found online, reinforces my position as an expert and thought leader, and helps me stay top of mind – and that’s what I’ve been telling clients.

So, now that I’ve blogged today, I’m going to go visit the haunted house down the street.  I’m up for another good scare….  Happy Halloween, everybody!

 

Let’s be Crystal Clear April 22, 2012

Filed under: Betsy — betsymerryman @ 3:57 pm
Tags: , , ,

Photo Credit: Clear Water At Lipe Island by Sura Nualpradid

Marketing and PR is core to a start-up business strategy, so much so that more and more venture capital firms are beginning to offer these services to their portfolio companies with in-house staff.  In working with a myriad of start-up healthcare companies over the years, I’ve always said that it’s never too early to begin branding.  According to Christina Lee, head of marketing and PR at Kleiner Perkins who was quoted in a recent article in TechCrunch:  “…communications has risen to a strategic level…. PR is expected to play a big part in building brands and more and more startups are thinking about PR and branding at an earlier stage.”

Even if it’s too early to market your company or your products to your end customers, you still have business goals to achieve.  Be crystal clear in your communications to all your stakeholders – the investor community, the FDA, future investigators or key opinion leaders, to name a few — about your company, your products and the potential impact in the marketplace.  Being crystal clear will help you achieve them.

Here’s a short checklist of things to consider as you frame your brand strategy, positioning and messaging:

  • First impressions matter.  From a business perspective, it’s all about building credibility about why your company and your team have what it takes to bring your product successfully to market.
  • Your science or technology is interesting but no longer enough. Think of your product as more than a technology – it’s a solution to a problem that nothing else is adequately addressing.
  • Communicate your value proposition – both clinical and economic – and frame your economic value proposition as early as you frame your clinical value proposition.
  • It’s never too early to think about launch!  What are you calling your product in its development?  How are you positioning it?
  • FOCUS on the right things first, especially with tight budgets.  Sure, you can tweet, blog and go social, if you think it will support your business goals.  But first you need to have the go-to traditional vehicles that convey your story in a crystal clear way.  Even though social media is the big trend, don’t overlook the tried and true traditional story-telling vehicles first.

Most importantly, begin with a deep understanding of your stakeholders as you build your corporate reputation or product brand, and develop positioning and messaging.  Such strategic fundamentals haven’t changed, despite the proliferation of new ways to reach your audiences.  It’s still all about determining who to influence and how best to influence them.  And, of course, being crystal clear.

 

 
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