Donna LaVoie
President & CEO
LaVoieHealthScience

By Donna LaVoie, President & CEO, LaVoieHealthScience

Running my PR/IR firm is a little bit like running a fund.  We have a basket of great clients that we serve, and our objective is to enhance their value in the eyes of their stakeholders.

LaVoieHealthScience is a highly specialized firm that works predominantly in the life science and medical technology space, a fascinating, fast-growing sector that has complex communications challenges. These companies are innovators, driving major advances.

To succeed, agencies serving this sector need to have a deep understanding of the “business of science.” We work with companies that are at the precipice of critical scientific discoveries and global medical issues like Alzheimer’s, cancer and rare diseases.

Two types of Life Sciences/Medical Technology companies

The life sciences/medical technology sector can be divided into two groups:  Early stage companies, which are well-funded companies focused on development. They typically view PR and communications in a transactional way.

The other type of company– the ones we primarily focus on – may have several strategic partnerships with large pharmaceutical/medical technology companies; they have multiple products across multiple clinical studies; they’re already public or assumed to be public and they’ve completed significant financing. These companies have a complex set of communication challenges that need to be solved – and they know they need to have both PR and IR  representation.

Contractually speaking

Because we provide clients with both public relations and investor relations, our contracts may cover integrated services. PR and IR work together; however, in our business, PR without an IR strategy can be challenging. These companies are heavily focused on funding their development leading to commercialization.

Out clauses:

This is a lightning rod topic.  It’s difficult to negotiate any kind of out clause with a transactional client because they are looking for in-and-out service. While this type of work is not our focus, there’s a market for those types of clients. We seek out companies that are programmatic and looking for long-term engagement and are willing to sign a master service agreement with the scope of work that protects them and us.

Because we are putting critical, specialized skills to work on behalf of our clients we have standard out-clause protection. If we’re deploying a team for a client, and they decide, for whatever reason, they can’t support the contract, we need to be protected from the onset. Not having adequate protective language is more common than one might think, and totally avoidable.

Protecting staff:

It’s a fact of agency life: Sometimes we lose people to the client-side.  We don’t always like it, but it happens. We include language in our contracts that protect us against it. For these situations to be resolved amicably it’s important that the relationships remain strong and there are communications around the issue. It’s also important to remember that a previously happy employee at your agency can make for a receptive and appreciative client, so we try to look at the situation as “glass half full.”

Ownership of the work:

This is straightforward.  If the client is paying us for a deliverable, then it belongs to them.

Breaking into the Business

The life sciences/medical technology market continues to boom, especially in Boston and the west coast.  The potential for communicators in this sector is enormous. While depth of experience is crucial for long-term personal success, for those looking to break into the business I suggest not getting bogged down trying to understand the science.  Come in with honed skills that can be deployed immediately – whether it’s writing, media and investor outreach skills or putting together a brilliant PowerPoint – the rest will follow.

This blog is part of “Agencies of the Future,” the PR Council’s initiative to help Members future-proof and grow their agencies. It was also recorded as an episode on the Agencies in the Future podcast. Listen to it here