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Healthcare start-ups and communications: Three pillars to rely on

As healthcare communications professionals with close to twenty-five years of combined experience, we have witnessed the fundamental importance and challenges of communications in the sector. Over this period, we have seen amazing discoveries that push the boundaries of science and medicine. Healthcare start-ups try to render these technologies accessible in order to benefit human health, and so improve quality of life. To do so successfully, they have to overcome challenges in technology, product design, evidence building, manufacture, supply chain and distribution. In addition, they are confronted by another key challenge: to communicate about their products effectively.

Effective communications underlie the success of any healthcare start-up. Its diverse audiences include investors, regulators, healthcare professionals, patients and payers. The former group, the investors, needs to understand the promise of the treatment early on. The other groups need to be convinced by solid clinical evidence and understand the value to patients in order to approve, prescribe, take and pay for those treatments.

To support healthcare start-ups in their efforts, healthcare communications companies like ours often have a team of professionals with backgrounds in science/health who can really understand the technology behind the product. Equally as important, though, is an ability to communicate visually and verbally, with creativity and clarity, and so help all your audiences understand the value of your product. For healthcare start-ups to communicate effectively, we’ve identified three pillars—strategy, storytelling, and audience engagement—that are foundational to good communications as well as business success.

Strategy

In the early stages of a healthcare start-up, defining your mission, vision and values is key. This foundational messaging presents your company and resonates with your principal audiences. In addition, you’ll work on two different types of communication: unified, thematic messaging across groups and targeted messaging to specific groups. A healthcare communications company can help. It will use various techniques to articulate your one-of-a-kind capabilities and performance and to convey your brand. In the process, it will help you clarify the differentiators and develop your key messages, which it will then test through market research, and refine and tailor to your key audiences. Just keep in mind that no matter how customised your organisation’s various communications, they should all be linked by clear, on-brand messages and unified themes. Whether it is attracting new investment or engaging with key decision makers, a solid communications strategy will support you through critical developmental milestones.

Storytelling

Companies must be able to communicate how their technologies and developments make a difference in people’s lives. Storytelling in particular helps illuminate how companies have been created and why their work matters. You can convey your leadership and values, and present your products and their impact. By showing how real lives could potentially benefit from your work, and sharing the inspiration behind your technology, you are able to connect with audiences in meaningful and memorable ways.

Storytelling can be especially helpful to healthcare start-ups, which need to communicate effectively about advanced technologies and complex topics. This is important at all stages in a company’s development and activities, including to attract investment. A good pitch to investors involves piquing their curiosity and communicating effectively. You’ll need to answer key questions like, What problem can your product solve? What advantages does your product have over others in the market? What will you need to achieve future goals? Stories can help you do so in an engaging way and provide context. Stories may also help attract positive media attention about your start-up. Before this point, you may want to seek out training for media and presentation skills.

Audience Engagement

The target audiences of any healthcare start-up are various and dynamic. Initially, your key audience may be investors, but over time, you may be targeting in-licensing or acquisition partners, as well as incoming senior-level talent. As your product develops—reaching Phase II, III and health economics analysis—your audience will increasingly include regulators and payers, and there will be more emphasis on physicians and patients. Your communications should change accordingly, keeping in mind not only audience, but also timing and context. It’s all about the right message at the right time for the right audience.

Among your audiences, patients are especially important. At every stage of the industry’s value chain, you’ll need to gather patients’ perspectives and feedback. Early engagement with advocacy groups can help you learn from patients and build a reputation for patient-centred healthcare.

Conclusion

We work in an industry that is at the cutting-edge of technology. With big data, artificial intelligence, gene sequencing and more, we have more opportunities than ever before to be able to respond to needs in the healthcare industry with innovative products and solutions.

As healthcare communications professionals, we might have visualised our work in ways that tap into that astounding novelty and technology and promise. Ultimately, though, we chose to showcase a shell—the one pictured at the start of this article—on our webpage. Its reiterative ribs suggest a process of ongoing refinement and progress, and thus reflect our ongoing commitment to produce the very best communications through constant self-improvement. Moreover, the shell conveys the idea that communications is fundamentally natural, even when dealing with complex technologies. We all have innate abilities to connect with others, and we have innate needs to be understood. What this means is that healthcare communications—including strategy, storytelling, and audience engagement—is not just about developing creative ways to communicate about companies and their products, but also about removing barriers that limit our ability to communicate and connect—naturally.

About the authors:

Sarbjit Kunar is Founder of Infinity Communications, a health communications agency based in Geneva, Switzerland. Anne Legendre, PharmD, is an Associate Director at Infinity Communications with healthcare strategic consulting experience.