As the rock ’n roll generation begins settling into their senior years, the “Baby Boomer factor” is wielding its heavy influence on healthcare just as it has on other industries. Healthcare spending has grown substantially over the past few decades, and demand will likely remain strong as the number of Americans aged 65 and older will more than double by 2060. At the same time, technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, software-as-a-medical-device and other advances are transforming the healthcare industry and threatening the status quo through rich networks of connection, collaboration and interdependence.
|This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Oct. '19 Healthcare & Medical PR Magazine.|
In this environment, the industry is experiencing prolific and accelerating innovation. Smart thinkers are seeing incredible opportunity to collaborate differently with patients and regulators to improve accuracy in patient care, to create value, and to make the industry function more effectively and efficiently. They’re building companies around their ideas, and there’s a lot of money behind them. Just last year, nearly 15 percent of funds invested during the largest venture capital investment year in nearly 20 years went into life sciences companies. The number of life science IPOs nearly doubled compared to the previous year, including three companies whose values exceeded $250 million. It’s an exciting time, as more are in pursuit of an IPO in 2020.
Why is this important for the corporate communications professional? If you work in healthcare/life sciences, you’re likely to encounter a company involved in the IPO process, either through a partner relationship or because your company or client company is going through the process. Many communications professionals haven’t had first-hand experience with an IPO, and knowing how it all works may not seem all that relevant to the day-to-day work that you do.
However, understanding the IPO timeline and process can be valuable in helping you create more effective communications strategies even when there’s no talk of an IPO taking place any time soon. In fact, if you handle communications for a private company that hasn’t yet made a public offering, it’s important to operate from the assumption that it will happen in the future. This mindset will enable you to lay a solid communications foundation—and when you need it, an IPO communications strategy—which will position you well for the future.
Develop a consistent narrative across audiences
Presumably you’re already communicating with important audiences, which could include KOLs, healthcare providers, patient advocacy groups, hospital networks, or others, depending on your company’s product or service. It’s important to tell your story with the healthcare business media, as well, to ensure your position as a growing healthcare company is established and properly understood. Opportunities for private companies do exist, not only by leveraging milestone announcements, but also, by inserting the company into trend or innovation stories. And even if your ability to secure coverage is limited, initiating that dialogue with key business and financial reporters early on will benefit you later. Companies can also demonstrate leadership through submitted content, speakerships and recognition opportunities. It goes without saying that regardless of audience or speaker, the core messages being delivered about your company or product should be consistent and build the story you want people to understand about your brand.
Establish a professional profile
While earlier stage companies are understandably focused on developing their science, scaling the business and raising capital, it is important to remember that important constituencies are watching you. And you want to look your best. Develop a professional website and keep the content up to date. Create sharp looking materials that effectively convey your story and consider the value of video, as it’s increasingly becoming the preferred mechanism for story-telling.
Create a habit of communicating. Once your company starts the IPO, the Securities and Exchange Commission imposes a “quiet period.” Established in an effort to prevent “hyping” of stocks, companies in a quiet period are generally cautious in their communications and avoid proactive media outreach. However, continuation of the “normal course of business” communications is generally accepted, so if you have a track record of posting on a company blog, attending conferences or trade shows, running surveys, sending a newsletter, or other typical avenues of communications, it’s okay to continue with them. The quiet period isn’t the time to begin new communication habits, though, so the more you have in place well in advance of the IPO process, the better.
Set ground rules. Establish communications protocol from the outset. Ensure that all employees are aware of protocols for dealing with media requests and that those who are designated as spokespersons, as well as board members and scientific advisors, are versed in your company’s messaging and have undergone regular media training. A few high-profile IPOs have made missteps in this area. Before entering the IPO process and quiet period, communicate clearly and specifically about changes to communications protocol and strategy. Take time to meet with each spokesperson and equip them with messages and resources they can use if they are asked any questions. They’ll need to “stick to the script” and be more responsive and less proactive for this period of time.
Customize your planning. The IPO itself requires a special IPO communications strategy, including targeted messaging, materials development, training spokespeople and a prioritized media outreach for “Listing Day,” the day your stock goes public—all prepared in advance and timed to a tee. You will also need to prepare contingency plans, because the IPO process can be unpredictable. You will need to coordinate very closely with your investor relations team, whether that is an internal IRO or an external agency, and you will want to seriously consider partnering with an agency or expert who has deep experience in this area.
During the IPO process, all the foundational work you’ve done comes into play. Having established your story through media relationships that you’ve developed prior to the quiet period mitigates the possibility for misperceptions about what your company does, particularly if your company has a complex offering. Relationships you’ve established with third-party partners, such as patient advocacy organizations, may bear fruit if the media seek their perspective on your company.
Maintaining a “future IPO” mindset not only positions your company well for a potential stock offering, it also ensures a robust and disciplined communications strategy that will serve your company well for myriad situations, whether you’re working to establish and amplify your voice, prepare for potential crises or undertake an IPO.
Terri Clevenger is Managing Director of Westwicke/ICR Healthcare Public Relations.