Public Relations: Targeting Partners - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Public Relations: Targeting Partners
PR can facilitate business partnerships by targeting messages to key players.


Pharmaceutical Executive


Paul Kidwell
Strategic alliances between biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies are nothing new. In fact, recent shifts in the marketplace have made such collaborations more desirable than ever for both parties. What has changed is public relations' role on both sides of the effort to find profitable partners.

Once upon a time, scientific communications departments did little more than publish peer-reviewed papers detailing current research findings, distribute the occasional press release, and issue the company's annual report. But with today's increased emphasis on mergers and acquisitions, every department—including PR—must play a part in choosing and attracting potential collaborators.

PR's New Role

All collaborations begin with one company's perception of another, which is based initially on company-issued news and communications. That's why a strategic, targeted, and continuous PR campaign should be at the forefront of any endeavor to attract the best possible partners.

That's no easy task. PR must not only ensure that the company's corporate image is conveyed on a broad scale to all potential partners, but also that the right information about the company—namely, what it has to offer to collaborators—is targeted to the right people within the right companies.

To make matters even more complicated, both small biotech and big pharma companies now have more sophisticated business infrastructures that require several departments to take part in deciding which partnership offers to pursue and accept. Gone are the days when an alliance was struck by one CEO shaking hands with another—now R&D, product marketing, clinical, and executive management/operations all have a say in the matter. For instance, R&D may look at a potential suitor's development infrastructure, scientific research staff, and informatics capability; clinical may focus on the company's drug pipeline, internal resources, and existing partnerships; product marketing considers the market impact and potential of each drug in trial and whether it creates synergy or conflict within the existing drug arsenal; and management may look at the larger issues of a partner's personnel, logistics, and financials.

PR's piece of the puzzle—on both the pharma and the biotech sides—is determining how to give each of those targets the information they are seeking. Fortunately, that information can be found right within a company's own halls. PR can work with the research and development department in its organization, for example, to highlight the science behind the company's products, and it can talk to clinical to get study results that speak to a product's potential for success. It can also help communicate about how the pharmaceutical company plans to ensure future market growth.

After identifying all appropriate business targets within the potential partner's company, the public relations function needs to move quickly to devise a detailed plan demonstrating its company's technology validation, in-house scientific capability, and prior business success in those functional areas. Then, the PR team must act as a liaison that shuttles information about its own company through the ranks of the potential partner's organization. The art comes, however, in ensuring it reaches both the obvious targets as well as the less obvious ones.

Playing the Media Game

Too often, the news and information coming out of biotech companies is much too broad and clouds core product messages. Pharma executives simply don't have the time to sift through all that fluff to find the company that is a perfect match for their own needs. The biotech that can give each company department specific information about how it can meet that department's needs will stand out among the crowd—and that's half the battle.

Part of that task is delivering the message to the right ears. Targeted scientific trade and business media carry built-in captive audiences, but PR must be able to identify those scientific journals, business publications, and consumer media (print, broadcast, and online) that the audience reads/watches, and know how to pitch news and articles that highlight the business and scientific areas of interest to each department within a potential partner's organization.

An easy way to identify which media are most appropriate is to conduct an internal media audit among similar functional business areas within your own organization. Ask scientists, executives, and marketers which publications and reporters they follow, and use this list of media gatekeepers as the heart of media outreach.

To play the media game, however, PR executives must get publications to include them in their coverage. Just as in seeking a business partner, the PR/media relationship is a quid pro quo. And PR must be able to pass on the information the media needs to inform their readers—another reason why the PR team must have a nuanced view of every department in the company.

Not only does public relations need to have a sound understanding of its company's science, its potential market impact, and its influence on the company's business, but it also needs to be in a position to drive this information to the appropriate audiences. That means communicating every message—whether it's about how the manufacturer strategically fills a void in a product pipeline, reduces overall research and development time and expenditures, enhances an intellectual-property portfolio, extends a compound's life cycle, or augments an in-house capability with new technology—from the point of view of how the company addresses and fills the needs of its desired partners.

Done right, that task will seat public relations squarely where it belongs—at the front table alongside other key pharmaceutical drug development and business functions, creating alliances that benefit all parties involved.

Paul Kidwell is a Boston-based independent public relations consultant. He can be reached at

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