Q&A – How to ensure best practice in communicating R&D progress
Last month, the BIA hosted a webinar on communicating bioscience R&D. Our expert panellists presented and discussed the BIA’s guide Best practice for communicating R&D progress to investors and the public and answered listeners’ questions. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to answer all the questions so this Q&A addresses those we didn’t get around to in the webinar.
As an early-stage venture capital-backed private company, what should I be announcing about our pre-clinical R&D?
Sue: All companies need to decide on a communications policy and apply it consistently. For a private pre-clinical stage company, the objectives for communications will include overall visibility, demonstrating progress, and keeping in the mind of investors, partners and recruits. Pre-clinical communications should be sufficient to achieve these objectives but should not be so frequent that the company is seen to be announcing non-news, or that it limits its flexibility for the future. Be sure to use a mixture of your own platforms (website, direct mailing, Twitter and LinkedIn) to keep contacts informed, and media releases (on these platforms and issued to media).
Brough: Although I deal pretty much exclusively in the public markets we do still take quite an interest in what happens within earlier-stage companies. There is often read-across to companies that we follow and, in fact, our last sector note included five private companies. In addition, our analysts are always looking for the what is coming down the track to disrupt the market, or in terms of future competition for listed companies.
Does publishing in academic journals impress investors?
Brough: It very much depends on the investor. It will make little impression on the retail element of the shareholder base, but have a significantly greater impact on the specialist fund managers. Sometimes, these publications will get picked up by the wider media, which can make for an interesting morning, if they don’t get the facts quite right.
Liz: It can, but much of the information is likely to have been published through the regulated news service on the stock exchange, so an academic paper gives more colour but is unlikely to give different headline information. Academic journal publications are useful for analysts when researching businesses, their key assets and the competitive position.
How can I use social media to reach more investors?
Sue: Digital media platforms, including ‘social’ media such as LinkedIn and Twitter should be part of your communications mix. In the USA, you can even choose social media channels as your ‘primary information portal’, meaning investors will expect to be kept up to date via your chosen platform.
More generally, each platform serves a slightly different purpose. Twitter is a route to being involved in ‘conversations with the many’ – so be sure you actually have something to say (i.e. post useful information or comment/repost important snippets of news) and have an audience (it can be helpful to have a strategy to attract appropriate followers). Many investors, analysts and media are active on Twitter – being fast to share key news and forthright with their opinions! Follow them and ensure your posts will be of interest to them, to encourage them to follow you back.
LinkedIn is more commonly used to communicate with known contacts – so communications should be less frequent but more information rich. All companies should use their websites as their ‘shop fronts’, so be sure it is kept up to date and has a user journey that enables your audiences to find information easily.
Do remember that posting on any company platform represents public exposure – so be sure to have policies in place for staff to help them understand the difference between personal vs. corporate posting, approvals etc.
Should companies involve patients in their communication planning in pre-clinical stages?
Chris: This decision will always need to be made on a case-by-case basis, but I think there are a few things to consider. Both researchers and patients or patient advocacy groups can mutually benefit from developing an appropriate relationship early in the development process – even at the pre-clinical stage. The company may get input on clinical trial design, such as relevant endpoints or patient reported outcome measures, and patient groups may be able to assist with trial recruitment. Patients may later be helpful in regulatory and reimbursement processes. In return, an open and honest relationship can ensure patients and patient groups are informed of your development work and that their expectations for the new treatment are realistic. In planning your communications, it’s important to consider the patient’s views, and no one can do this better than the patients themselves.
Your decision may be driven in part by the size of the population your treatment is relevant for and what existing treatments are available. A small patient population with large unmet needs will likely be more interested in your work, and it will be more important for you to consider the impact of your communications on these patients and their families. In any case, you should do your best to be open and honest with patients, and to set reasonable expectations about the risk and benefit of your treatment and the timeline for its development.
How can I ensure my communications have maximum impact?
Chris: For journalists and media commentators, I think one key is providing useful context. Remember that even journalists dedicated to health or science topics may not have a deep knowledge of your area of research or medicine, and may not be up to speed on the latest practices or developments in that field. While you need to avoid over-claiming or setting unrealistic expectations, especially at earlier stages of research, appropriately describing how a scientific advance might eventually impact patients or the healthcare system can help journalists and their editors to understand why your news is worth reporting.
For any given piece of news, it’s worth considering the range of channels available to communicate your message. Press releases, often for regulatory reasons, tend to be at the core of this multi-channel effort, but don’t forget the opportunity to deliver consistent but tailored messages via social media, your website, and partners and collaborators. Ask yourself whether patient advocates or academic research partners might be willing and able to tell your story in a more well-rounded way. Would a blog post or by-lined opinion piece help provide additional context and meaning to the bare facts of a press release? Remember that BIA members can post their news or propose a guest blog via the BIA website here (a guide on how to do this can be found here).
If you have any questions or comments regarding the BIA’s best practice guide, please contact Martin Turner.