Last year, biotech IPOs hit a record level with more than 100 listings. Fast forward to this past August when The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. IPO market was on pace for its slowest year in two decades. Still, a rise in the XBI biotech index fund in July of this year may be an early predictor of the start of an IPO comeback. No matter the prevailing thoughts on the status of the healthcare and biotech markets for the remainder of 2022, for companies planning a public debut, whether it’s in the near term or over the next year, a strong communications program is business critical.
Investors, analysts, legislators, industry leaders, healthcare providers, patients and others involved in the healthcare arena want information—news, data, insights—from both emerging and more established biotech companies, even if IPO plans have been put on hold. It’s not the time for companies to take a step back and suspend communicating with their audiences. In fact, it’s more important than ever to share company leaders’ priorities and plans, announce milestones and engage in the broader biotech community.
A company’s communications tactics may be modified in the face of a shifting marketplace, but overall objectives should remain unchanged. Companies need to be proactive in their communications, remain visible, build on the momentum created and continue a steady path in telling their corporate and management story. Pre-IPO communications paint more than a financial picture, they inform investors and other influencers the core values of a company, the priorities of its leadership and what drives its success. Which is to say, before a business becomes a publicly traded company, it needs to act—communicate—like a publicly traded company. Let’s look at some of the ways it can.
|This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Oct. '22 Healthcare & Medical PR Magazine
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Reputation management. Credibility and confidence are particularly important during difficult economic times. Investors, partners, employees and other stakeholders need to hear directly from management that the company is on course and continues to convey a compelling value proposition. Market changes may impact a company’s planned path, but the ability to demonstrate that management and its team can adapt and move forward inspires confidence in the power to deliver on overall objectives. At the same time, it’s critical to communicate why this leadership team includes the right people, with targeted expertise, relevant backgrounds and the ability to express and act on the company’s vision. In times of disruption, communicating honestly—with fact-based data and thoughtful insights—will help uphold a company’s well-built reputation.
Thought leadership. Hand in hand with establishing a strong public perception is conveying the industry expertise of company management and chief science/medical officers. The opportunity to connect with key constituents on broader industry issues keeps the company relevant, top of mind and credible. Showcasing thought leadership through content, speaking opportunities, recognition platforms and other venues establishes executive presence and reinforces core messaging regardless of the audience.
Brand identity. A strong brand image helps weather industry and marketplace unpredictability and positions the company positively for the long term. Companies need to be visible, telling their corporate story and distinguishing themselves from the competition, or others will do it for them. Keeping that share of mind helps protect a strong brand identity.
Media relationship building. Telling a compelling story through the media allows a company to bring home all its core messages across its respective audiences (e.g., investors, healthcare providers, partners, patients, etc.). Companies that have delayed going public can benefit from the opportunity to build on past media successes, continuing momentum and leveraging relationships that may have formed with reporters or writers. Those companies planning an IPO need to take advantage of this key target for communications early on. The variety of both content—visuals, posts and articles—and media platforms—social media, websites, press releases and blogs—offer strong opportunities to inculcate core messaging among all audiences. Companies can also stay top of mind and highlight progress by announcing corporate milestones, executive hiring, partnerships and other pipeline news. Staying hidden and holding off on strategic communications can raise questions in stakeholders’ minds about the company’s viability and stability.
Issues management and crisis readiness. Being prepared for different scenarios—both positive and negative—that may happen during the IPO process is important, particularly during volatile economic times. Having a strong communications foundation—core messaging, mission, vision, brand identity, targeted communications strategies—paves the way in times of crisis, and knowing how to respond to different scenarios ahead of time is a valuable risk management tool. It can also be helpful to communicate how the company has handled previous challenging times, demonstrating the ability to pivot, if needed, and remain on track and true to the overall mission.
Financial and partner communications. Many pre-IPO biotech companies have no revenue or profit yet, so milestones and ongoing events can serve as a means to keep Wall Street engaged. It’s important to be transparent about current funding and how far it can take the company. Ongoing communication about the company’s management, plans and progress can help with the company’s valuation and expectations. In addition, a company’s working relationship, especially with key public and private institutions, reflects on its potential in the industry, serving as concept validation of products and technology. Third-party support also provides objective endorsement of a company’s mission, therapies, products or business model.
Internal communications. It’s often said that employees are a company’s greatest asset, and as such, it’s important to remember to make them feel included in communications regarding the company’s plans. They need to understand clearly the path the company is taking, what it means and how the company will get there. Clear communications across the board mean that consistent messaging is disseminated to all audiences, including employees.
Overall, whether companies are preparing to enter or revive their path to IPO, or if a public offering is on a more distant horizon, a strong communications program is important to establish—or continue—now. The areas of communication above are some of the ways companies can maximize their chances of success in the public markets and help ensure the corporate story they have established is clearly understood well before listing day.
Mark Corbae is a Managing Director at ICR Westwicke.