Launching into a Surround-Sound World

Today, thanks to Twitter, anyone and everyone can be an instant reporter or editorialist. That means companies are no longer the single source of information when launching a product, and they need to learn to adjust.

Today, messages are released into an echo chamber, where they reverberate among stakeholders from consumers and physicians to payers, policymakers and advocates. If companies don’t think through the broad universe of people receiving (and re-tweeting) their news, the value expression of their therapy will become secondary to other people’s message points—whether commendation or complaint. Companies no longer control their messages; they are pebbles in the sea of public opinion. Considering the ripple effect, rather than focusing on the size and shape of the pebble itself, is key.

The goal for successful product launches is no longer to merely identify target audiences, but to align with them. This requires advanced planning. Companies need to step back and consider not only “who will be interested in my news?” but “who will need to react to my news?” and “who will reporters ask for comment on my news?” By reaching out in advance and engaging in conversation with these audiences—including patient advocacy groups, research organizations and payers—companies can increase the odds that messages about the therapy’s value and impact will be part of the balanced story. Inclusion is critical. Companies can’t control or guarantee what others will say, but they can be transparent partners who provide clear information that helps their stakeholders understand the story and the process.

Embrace—And Plan For—Shared Ownership

One of the biggest shifts in product launch communications is that often, the company doesn’t even get to break the news of approval and launch. The ultimate symbol of this change: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) often issues its own press release before the company even knows their product is approved. This new fact of life reinforces the importance of preparing stakeholders ahead of time and identifying potential pitfalls along the way.

A successful launch communications plan centers around two simple questions. The first is: “At what point could we lose control of our own messages?” The surprise FDA release is just the first in multiple viewpoints expressed along the way. Who else will reporters turn to when seeking objective comment and “balance” for their stories? Are there naysayers who might be eager to share their opinions and change the tone of the story—whether via comment in a news article or their own Twitter handle or news channel?

Understanding the interconnected web of players is critical, but so is remembering the underlying goal of these communications—helping patients. That’s the second key question: “What do we need to do, in order to do right by patients?” Consider what aspects of launch communications help patient communities—balanced messages, accurate information for physicians, guidance on patient access programs—and the key players who will amplify that information. They will help tell the story of how this product improves patient lives.

Reporters, of course, remain important as well—and each has their own personality. For example, AP reporters tend to run quickly with the information available (often, the first paragraph of the FDA release). Others focus on category stories, the business aspect of the announcement, or the impact on patient lives. Understanding the nuance of these different perspectives and anticipating how company messages will be shared (or not)—and from whom reporters will seek additional comment—is critical. Companies may not be able to control the message flow in the same way as in years past, but they can prepare thoughtfully. The key to success is giving balanced exposure to information—and for companies to embrace their role as catalysts who set the waves in motion.



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