The Biotech PR Firm:

Public Relations & Marketing Communications
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Biotech Marcom
P.O. Box 994
Westford, MA 01886

Twitter: @BiotechPR





Biotechs, healthcare technology, and pharma companies are in a constant struggle for a competitive edge, and for acceptance from a wide variety of target audiences. From potential investors to anti-biotech groups, the need to control communications grows in importance. Throwing money at the problem does little to maintain any control and be heard above potential "noise," as anyone with Internet access and an axe to grind can derail the most sophisticated marketing communications (marcom) plan.

By Jon Boroshok

It 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 and "narrowcasting."

Healthcare 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.

Unfortunately, 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.

Truly 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 results.

Economically-astute 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.

Is 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.

Alternative 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.

Advice 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 pedigree.

  • 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 as needed.

  • 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 staffers.

  • 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 (, 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 more.


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