After sharing the history behind her firm’s name, Laura Liotta, President and Founder of Sam Brown Inc. Healthcare Communications, dives into corporate communications and how she works with healthcare companies to get their messages across to various audiences. Laura also offers insights on leveraging authentic spokespeople, including celebrities.
DOUG: Our viewers will notice that your name actually isn’t Sam Brown, even though you’re the founder of the company. Can you maybe explain how that name came about?
LAURA: Sam Brown is a family nickname, and I’m a mush, so it’s near and dear to my heart. My grandfather, whose name is Sam Mastrangelo, my maiden name, was a very famous guy in Atlantic City in the 20s. He was the sheriff of Atlantic City, and he had an orchestra. And one day he had a gig and Sam Mastrangelo orchestra just wouldn’t fit on the sign. So, he changed his name to Sam Brown, and it stuck. He was famous as Sam Brown. My father was also Sam Brown because he was Sam Mastrangelo junior, and it was my nickname. Everyone called me Brownie. So, I of course, wanted to name the agency after my family.
DOUG: We’ve already gone off the central mission, so I probably won’t ask you if you were a Brownie or a Girl Scout. But as the roles of PR marketing and advertising have continued to blur, is corporate communications really one of the areas that brands organizations rely on PR?
LAURE: Absolutely. Corporate communications is really focused on helping the corporate reputation and create engagement with all stakeholders, and that really is a function of public relations. Now, there’s a lot we can talk about in terms of corporate communications, also encompassing investor relations and, you know, HR and employee communications and really a lot of the corporate and the brand work together. But yes, there’s lots of roles within corporate communications, but it is primarily a PR function.
DOUG: Is there a way that communicators can best navigate the corporate communications area?
LAURA: It varies by industry, stage of where a company is and things like that. I think navigating corporate communications in the biotech arena where I work, we work with a lot of startup companies, so they really need to establish their corporate brand, their corporate message, their presence. They need to communicate to investors to excite them about their science and their technology. So that really is all about the public relations function side of it. Also, combined with finance.
DOUG: You’ve said that corporate communications can actually have a role in helping make medical breakthroughs happen, and it’s not because you’re in the lab doing the testing.
LAURA: Oh, I think communications is really important. First of all, when you work in the science and the medicine area, you have to bring the science to life, and you have to simplify the information. So, I think our job is really specific to help people communicate and understand their value proposition to all of their audiences in a way that people understand. And so, it is really an important part of the of the mix to helping a breakthrough really get out there, start with investors, then you have to excite investigators, then you have to communicate directly to patients. So absolutely, communications plays a key role in helping these breakthroughs get to patients.
DOUG: One of the challenges would be, especially with businesses that are early in the process, is it takes time and you need patient. So how can you continue to try and create excitement in the media with something that you know, it’s not turning around overnight, that, hey, here’s this idea, great, now it’s available tomorrow. How do you navigate that?
LAURA: Doug, in my opinion, it’s always full of news. It has new science, new data. You have studies that have come out that really show significant changes in diseases and things like that. So, I do think you can absolutely always keep it really exciting because it has such a high news value. And so, I’ve always found that to be the most exciting part about being in health care. And so, I think it’s easier in this space than versus hotels or travel to keep it exciting. We’re always working on news, helping patients and human-interest stories.
DOUG: That lines with our survey that we did of stations. More than 80% of them were interested in interviewing brand executives on health issues. And that’s been a big area, the fastest growing area we’ve seen in our satellite media tour business. How about preparing people? There’s always been this thought that if you’re preparing a spokesperson in the science health space, they might not speak a language that people understand. Do you have any advice on sort of media training and preparing the different spokespeople. And you can even include how do you identify who’s the right spokesperson?
LAURA: I love media training. So first of all, I always tell people that I’m training that the reporter doesn’t know the question to ask to get you to your objectives, right. So, they have questions. But if you really come into an interview and have a business objective or some communications that you want to get out, you have to be very well prepared, right? You need to understand what your key messages are, how you’re really going to impact the interview, what your 10%, right. What do you want to leave them with? And sometimes those questions aren’t going to get you there. So, you know, Doug, of course, that media training really does that. The second thing I always tell people is to tell me what to think in the interview. So, this data is very groundbreaking, or this is a breakthrough because a lot of times people who are doing interviews will take you down a path and expect you to have the aha moment with them. We want to flip that on its head, right? Tell people what to think. Give them really the hook and the news story. Usually, we can supplement it with great, supplement these great spokespeople with animation videos, other things. But there’s so much you can do to make sure that a media interview is mutually beneficial. Right? Gives the station what they want in terms of the exciting breakthrough and the great story for patients and give the company what they need in terms of communicating out their goals and their call to action.
DOUG: You’ve had the opportunity to work with, prepare and train some of the most well-known and important spokespeople. Can you maybe share some of those experiences?
LAURA: As we mentioned, spokespeople are really key to, you know, sharing authentic, real stories in the media. And we always work with real patients. Anyone that we’ve worked with, of course, has to have tried the medicine or is involved with the issue in some way. So, yeah, I’ve worked with Khloe Kardashian, Whoopi Goldberg, we have done tours with former surgeon general’s, John McEnroe, you know, and famous scientists in our industry like Carl June, who, you know, invented CAR T out of University of Penn. I think it really varies. You can go from a very high-profile celebrity all the way down to local market celebrities. Right. Doing local market media tours are terrific where local hospitals are represented and with physicians and patients. And so definitely really important strategically to pick the right spokesperson, to hit your audience and to have that data to know what’s their reach. You know, what are we trying to achieve by using them? What’s the impact? And to me, the best spokespeople are the most authentic, who really can tell their personal stories.
DOUG: Any final thoughts you want to leave the audience with?
LAURA: I think it’s really important to understand that corporate communications is really broad. It reaches out to a lot of audiences, whether you’re, you know, launching a brand new company or sustaining a multi Fortune 500 company, that the skills that are needed in that are really starting with good insights and data and using technologies that are available today to really understand what your audiences are thinking, to create solid messaging foundations and to use all the tools available to us to reach our audiences, whether that is media, which we all still love, earned media, paid media or digital and social channels. But there’s just so much we can do with a comprehensive corporate communications program and department to help companies really achieve all their business goals.
DOUG: You’ve definitely shared some solid messages in this conversation. Thanks so much for being part of it.
LAURA: Thank you.