PR’s Top Pros Talk… Tips For Effective Company Launch – Kari Watson
Kari Watson, CoFounder & Managing Partner at MacDougall Advisors
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About the Host:
HOST: DOUG SIMON
GUEST: KARI WATSON
DOUG: The pandemic’s created a huge amount of activity in the bioscience area, but how do you launch a new company in that space and help them build momentum? We’ve got the perfect guest for that. So Kari, what’s your take on how do you establish a new company at launch at a specific vertical ?
KARI: Positioning is really important. It’s where we like to start. And that process really means taking a fifty-thousand-foot view of where a company sits, not just understanding the company itself, its business goals and its technology, but also where that fits in the context with peers and competitors, what’s come before them and where the field is moving. So knowing all of that helps you to understand how your story might be received when you do the debut.
DOUG: And you talk about the need to have flexibility, but also sensitivity, because sometimes the leaders of these startups are not necessarily all in on the need for PR and even how to approach it.
KARI: Yeah, I mean, that flexibility and sensitivity is across for multiple reasons, especially now in the pandemic. We’re working with the reporting press that covers biotech and health care. And as you can imagine, they’ve been spread just a little thin, covering the pandemic and educating the public about the science of the coronavirus. So we’re reaching out to very much the same audience when we’re doing new company debut. So that flexibility and sensitivity to the bandwidth of the reporters who might be covering your story is important. So if you can have a little bit of leeway in terms of when you time your debut, it’s going to help to optimize the coverage and results and also building the relationship with reporters that the company is going to need longer term. But you’re right, in terms of executives, it’s also being sensitive that not everyone has done a lot of media relations or had media exposure before. And so making sure that we’re helping to educate and help the executives that might be engaging put their best foot forward and presenting the company.
DOUG: How do you go about finding the best sort of balance between the time you need prelaunch? And obviously these startups are all like, “we’ve got to get it going fast!” and they don’t necessarily want to spend money on a long prep time. So how do you balance that? What’s the best advice for them to make sure they can have a successful launch when it comes to the time you need to be working in advance?
KARI: Yeah, I mean, our positioning process does include looking at a 12 to 18 month calendar. So we’re looking at not just the immediate milestones that might drive a company to want to launch tomorrow, but then what the news flow is going to look like on the back end. And that helps us to pick an optimal time and see how much flexibility and that there might be better or more optimal points in time to launch that. Give us a little bit of time to prepare. But honestly, working with startup companies, we have to be flexible as communications pros as well. Ideal for us would be three to six months of preparation because we’re often doing websites and core materials in addition to the PR preparation for a launch and the positioning can take a couple of weeks to pull together. But we’ve done it on a much shorter time scale. So you just have to work with what you can get. It’s not the same company to company for sure.
DOUG: And you’ve done a great job of just sort of laying out some of the different pieces of what’s involved in getting ready pre-launch. You also like to talk about ‘avoiding the void’, which ‘OK, great pre-launch, launch,’ and then what?
KARI: Right. So for startup companies, news flow, they don’t have a press release every week or even every month. So it really does take some planning to know what’s coming up over the next 12 to 18 months so that you don’t come out with your debut and have that void. And the best way to avoid that is to think creatively about positioning executives for thought leadership, being able to tell the stories behind the people, looking for opportunities for conferences and being able to talk about the science. Even though there might not be the concrete corporate milestones to garner news coverage, there’s often a lot that we can do, but it does take planning. And we want to know that ahead of time when we’re doing the launch, that again, we don’t have a big debut and then hear nothing from a company for a year or two.
DOUG: Right. And it’s been such an exciting space and important space that you’re working, but obviously it’s extremely competitive. What’s some advice that you might have to help organizations differentiate themselves a little bit, because I know that can be very important.
KARI: It is honestly that the differentiation it comes to clear messaging about your science, sometimes the underlying science or the outcome that the patient that you’re trying to reach, or the type of therapy might not be different. So you really have to look across an organization, even if you have the same ‘antibody’ against the same target as another company. There are going to be elements across your management team, across your clinical strategy, across the founders and the science. All of that can help to enrich a company’s story and help them stand out.
DOUG: That’s great. And finally, if you want to look into your crystal ball a little bit, do you see the growth in this space continuing? And how should brands thinking of doing a launch even approach finding the right partner to help them through it?
KARI: Sure, I do. I mean, it’s been incredible to see the pace of innovation in biotech, especially over the last decade, and it really only seems to be quickening. So I think and thankfully, because of robust financial markets, venture capital, which really fuels the startup economy in this industry, seems to be flush with cash. So I think we’re going to continue to see this. And I would give advice to companies that are looking for communications partners and thinking about this to really take the time to find a team that that works well with you, where there’s good chemistry, good alignment in terms of approach and strategy and that you’re going to really trust going forward. That foundation is critical.
DOUG: And if you can’t establish trust, it’s not going to be an effective partnership. Fortunately, I think you’ve established trust with the audience, with all your great insights. Thanks so much for participating.
KARI: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been fun.