Stephanie Carrington
Stephanie Carrington

In the biotech arena, raising capital to fund R&D is mission critical. Given the current level of noise and the sheer volume of biotech companies seeking capital, getting attention and differentiating your company to potential investors is becoming increasingly more challenging. Dedicated healthcare investors receive numerous inbound inquiries from multiple companies every day. Thus, implementing a strategy to raise your profile is more critical than ever.

You may have compelling science and intriguing preclinical or clinical data, but if only a narrow audience knows about it, you’ll have a hard time reaching your financing goals. On a daily basis, executive teams are faced with numerous demands on their time as a part of managing the day-to-day operations of an emerging life science company. It’s no wonder that raising your visibility to a broader array of targeted stakeholder audiences, inclusive of the investment community and potential partners, is often put on the back burner.

O'Dwyer's Oct. '18 Healthcare & Medical PR MagazineO'Dwyer's Oct. '18 Healthcare & Medical PR Magazine

The integrated communications team at ICR Healthcare was recently tasked with such a challenge by a European immunotherapy company that was seeking to raise a significant financing round with healthcare investors in the U.S. and Europe. Like many life science companies, part of the challenge and the opportunity was that the client had little to no name recognition in the US outside of the scientific community.

The ICR team implemented a proactive strategic investor and public relations plan over a 12-month period ahead of the raise.

As part of the onboarding process, the ICR team conducted an environmental scan of news media, sell-side analyst reports and social media to assess how the company’s share of voice compared to that of its peers in the immunotherapy space. Other than some radar blips surrounding one or two scientific publications over the prior two-year period, there were long dry spells where the company was not in the public eye while its peers were actively communicating news flow and engaging in social media. Furthermore, the company’s message was not focused and senior leaders were not engaging with external audiences in a purposeful way, leaving potential investors and the media confused as to what the company was trying to achieve.

Working in close collaboration with management, ICR mapped out a comprehensive game plan. The first step was to develop a focused narrative that clearly communicated the value of the company’s science and its advanced position in the immuno-oncology space relative to its peers. Nice to have but non-essential messages that didn’t directly support the value narrative were ruthlessly excluded from the conversation. The company’s communications vehicles, including the website and corporate presentation deck, were revamped to focus more narrowly on near-term value drivers and clear differentiators.

This privately held company had a fairly conservative corporate culture and preferred to limit the issuance of press releases only to the most significant milestones and data readouts. To compensate, greater emphasis was placed on educating key audiences on the company’s science through desk side briefings and leveraging the news flow from other companies in the space (aka “newsjacking”) to keep the client in the public eye in between press releases by garnering inclusion in stories written by high profile biotech and financial media reporters.

In parallel, we mapped out an investor targeting strategy to cultivate interest from the top healthcare venture capitalists and crossover institutional investors. We prepared a comprehensive investor targeting analysis taking into consideration competitive intelligence and available data on each fund’s investment history and team. In the beginning, only a handful of investors were interested in meeting with management, given their limited knowledge about the depth and breadth of the company’s pipeline, its clinical and preclinical data and its fully integrated manufacturing capabilities.

It took a fair amount of investor education, direct outreach and close coordination with the management team to build investor awareness and line up introductory meetings in various key cities over a period of several months. We gathered insights from the investors post meeting and provided feedback to the management team in order continually refine communications the company’s differentiated investment thesis in the crowded immuno-oncology arena.

Concurrently, we implemented a game plan to cultivate relationships for the executive team with the underwriting teams and sell-side analysts at investment banks active in the sector, which contributed in part to the team receiving invitations to present at upcoming healthcare investor conferences. We also proactively sought out speaking opportunities at both banker sponsored and top tier paid for healthcare investor conferences. Leveraging management’s presence at top tier medical meetings, such as ASCO, proved to very useful to garner the attention of the oncology focused funds.

As the plan implementation progressed, these prospective investors began to recognize the company’s name as the media stories and sell-side analyst reports were generated, as well as by the fact that word began to spread through the investor circles about the planned raise.

In the end, despite fierce competition for attention in the very crowded immuno-oncology space, the company successfully raised its profile and garnered significant investor interest. Ultimately the management team successfully advanced a handful of investors into the private financing due diligence process that culminated with the Company closing of a sizeable Series A round. The proactive integrated communications strategy was beneficial on multiple fronts, proving that an “always-on” communications approach can help emerging healthcare companies reach their financing goals.

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Stephanie Carrington is managing director at ICR.