Commentary: Changing Capabilities, Morphing Image

Nov 01, 2002

Michael Sullivan
Michael Sullivan, senior director of marketing communications for Incyte Genomics, discusses the challenges of communicating company changes to stakeholders. Incyte, which recently expanded from a genomic technologies and information provider to include research and development, is representative of the shift companies must make to keep pace in the post-genomics era. Sullivan says that, despite Incyte's lack of FDA-approved products, the company can successfully transition into R&D by communicating its expertise and vision to all parties.

PE: Which stakeholders are important to reach?

Sullivan: It is always challenging to communicate a new image to the various stakeholders. Those include members of the investment and scientific communities, including pharma and bio-tech companies and academics. At the same time, we are trying to reach companies generating technology that we may use in the future. By communicating our scientific leadership, we hope to motivate those companies to partner with Incyte.

PE: What vehicles effectively communicate the company's messages?

Sullivan: Information from the corporate level, which includes the annual report and press releases. In addition to a fairly extensive advertising campaign, we take our messages to scientific and chemical meetings, where potential pharma partners are likely to be. Electronic marketing also plays a critical role in communicating with all of our partners.

PE: Why do genomics companies need to change now?

Sullivan: There's so much scientific advancement taking place in drug discovery in general and in genomics specifically. Many companies are finding that to survive and excel they must evolve. Successful companies will be those that can adapt not only in a business sense but also by communicating new capabilities in their public interactions.

PE: What other company functions, besides marketing, should be involved in communicating a new image?

Sullivan: Any communications or branding strategy starts internally, yet human resources are often neglected. Employees need to understand where the company is today and what its plans and vision are.

People make the difference. Companies should help them communicate the right message when they talk to their peers. We do that through a series of on-site employee meetings with CEO Paul Friedman, MD, and Robert Stein, MD, PhD, president and chief scientific officer. In addition, Incyte regularly updates employees about what's happening in the company, in the information business, and in the industry as a whole by means of e-mail.

Finally, we will roll out an internal branding program during the next few months to help the employees make the overall branding strategy happen. Corporate communications and investor relations are also critical in explaining what we're doing, how we plan to do it, and what the end result will be.

PE: What communications advice can you give to genomics companies?

Sullivan: Don't paint yourself into a corner. Although companies may think they know where they are going today, this industry is moving fast. It will change, and there may be opportunities to capture down the road. Therefore, they need to keep their communication strategies flexible, and they should have processes in place that allow quick communication to all parties.

That's difficult. We're not in a consumer market. Coca-Cola has sold the same product for years, and changes in its market happen slowly, so it can plan for them. Here, advances often happen quickly and the communication strategy must go hand in hand with that.

Direct discovery is rigorous hard work. Genomics and the data it generates will certainly open a wealth of new opportunities for industry and patients. We will get there, but exactly how we get there may shift over time. Companies must be able to explain those shifts successfully.

lorem ipsum