Bringing Communications and Legal Staffs into Alignment— Working Together to Achieve Organizational Goals

By Barbara Sullivan

This second part of our “alignment” series tackles the sometimes bumpy relationship between the communications and legal staffs at medical device, pharmaceutical, and other lifescience companies.  No question—the role of attorneys is vital in protecting organizations from costly legal problems.  However, it often seems to marketing professionals that the job of attorneys is to erect roadblocks that prevent them from successfully driving home their communications strategies.

Take the example of customer testimonials or case studies, write-ups that tell the story of key customers  such hospitals or medical professionals and their successful use of the company’s product or service.  Satisfied customers in the healthcare field often are happy to participate in these activities as part of the peer-to-peer educational process—that is until they receive a release form such as the one attorneys for a healthcare client prepared a number of years ago for a case study series based on the experiences of clinicians at academic medical centers.  The agreement reads, in part:

For valuable consideration received, including payment of one dollar ($1), I hereby grant to XYZ Company (XYZ) the irrevocable right and permission to use, reuse, publish and republish, reproduce, modify and display my name and/or the likeness(es) of me, in whole or in part, with or without the likenesses of other persons, that are included in the document attached to this Authorization and Release, to copyright the same, in its own name or otherwise (and assign such rights throughout the world in such likenesses of me), in whole or in part, individually or in conjunction with likenesses of other persons, and in conjunction with any copyrighted or copyrightable matter, in any and all print, electronic, digital and other media now or hereafter known, for distribution, advertisement, publication, promotion, education, merchandising, and exploitation, and any other purpose whatsoever in connection with XYZ’s business including, but not limited to, use on posters, mailings, and other promotional or educational materials, and on XYZ’s Web site or other Web sites that advertise, promote or offer XYZ’s products or services.  I waive any right that I may have to inspect or approve any uses made of my name, my likeness in accordance with this Authorization and Release, except that I have already inspected and approved the document attached to this Authorization and Release.

With a first sentence of a whopping 175 words, no one but an attorney could come up with a contract this all-encompassing.  The only thing missing was the surrender of the customer’s first-born child!  Needless to say, customer after customer balked at signing it (sometimes at the direction of their organization’s legal representatives), and an important communications tool was lost to the company.

A better approach would be for the communications and legal staffs to hold an alignment meeting, with the communicators explaining what the project is and why it is vital to achieving the organization’s goals, and the attorneys outlining the legal considerations.  With a better understanding of the importance of the project and how it would be used, attorneys could craft a more reasonable release form tailored to the specific activity.  A more narrow release would allow customers to participate and encourage them to speak freely about their experiences with the product and company.  The communications team’s obligation would be to use the piece within the terms of the agreement.  If, subsequently, they wanted to use the material in additional vehicles, such as in newsletter articles or advertisements, additional permission could be sought.

This approach would allow companies to benefit from the goodwill and professional influence of their customers, while protecting the organization from legal problems.  That’s what I call alignment!


E-mail Marketing—To Segment or Not to Segment

When your company considers an e-mail marketing campaign, whether it’s a series of newsletters or a promotional advertisement, take the time to really evaluate your distribution list.  While it may be tempting to send an e-mail blast to your entire client/prospect list and hit all of them with the same information, it often is more effective to dissect the list into areas of specialty, sales territories, etc., and tailor the communication for maximum impact.

Segmenting a list is easy but requires advance planning.  Most e-mail service providers offer many ways to categorize recipients.  The easiest way to segment a list is to include the categories in the company’s “sign-up for our e-mail list” screen.  People signing up simply check the boxes that apply to them.  Salespeople also can help segment their customers and prospects.

E-mail list segmentation ideas are boundless.  Below are examples of how a list may be segmented for a medical device maker:

  • Audience:  The target audience may include a variety of fields, including administrators, clinicians, payors, and investors, among others.  Will the same message resonate with each of them?  Or, should you tailor your message to specific interests of the receiver, enticing them to open your e-mail and not “opt-out.”
  • Customers and Prospects: Your company may have several product lines with specific customer bases.  For example, if you sell a variety of radiography products, including a mammography system, you can focus one newsletter specifically to breast imaging clients and prospects.  The recipients will appreciate you not wasting their time with other imaging news that is of no interest to them.
  • Territory:  Segment your client list by salesperson, and send the newsletter or e-blast to that list from the specific salesperson.  The sales team will be happy with this personalized approach.  You also can include a photo and contact information of the specific salesperson.  Compelling content combined with personalization will boost support for the salesperson among his/her customers and prospects.

Segmenting may seem daunting, but it is worth the effort and advanced planning.  Subscribers are more apt to open and read e-mails that discuss topics they are specifically interested in, and e-mail provides an easy and cost-effective method.  Once you have the list divided into categories, set up a schedule to deliver an e-newsletter to each list once per quarter and then spread them out throughout the quarter, so you aren’t overwhelmed with three or four deadlines at once.  Also, leverage your content.  The master content may just need to be tweaked to work for each group.

So, before sending that bulk e-blast, slow down and segment.


Call the Tort Bar—Handshake Malpractice Is Rampant

By Barbara Sullivan

I just suffered through yet another awful handshake—weak, limp, tentative. Yuck!  This time, it was a man, but many women are guilty of handshake malpractice as well.  And it’s not just junior businesspeople—I‘ve come across many senior executives who are guilty as charged.

In the business setting, a handshake is part of the all-important first impression people get of you.  They typically won’t remember a good handshake, but they may just remember a bad one. At the very least, it will impact their overall impression of you—and not in a positive way.

So what does a limp handshake telegraph about you?  That you’re wimpy, tentative, awkward, unimpressive, and unprofessional.

In fact, a 2008 study conducted at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business confirmed that a firm handshake is an important part of a successful job interview. A wimpy handshake, in contrast, can “end the interview before it begins.”

Ninety-eight students were interviewed by area business representatives and also met and shook hands with trained “handshake raters” (who knew there was such a profession!).  Researchers found that students who scored high with the handshake raters also were considered the most hireable by the interviewers.

“We found that the first impression begins with a handshake that sets the tone for the rest of the interview,” said University of Iowa business professor Greg Stewart in a news release.

I teach public relations skills to juniors and seniors at California State University, Long Beach—budding professionals who are preparing to enter the workforce. On the last day of class, I make them file past me and shake my hand. Anyone who is guilty of a wimpy handshake goes to the back of the line—and is not “let out of jail” until he or she can master a professional handshake.


Take a Minute to Choose the Right Word—It Can Make a Big Difference

By Barbara Sullivan

In his bestselling book “Words That Work,” Dr. Frank Luntz discusses the enormous power of language and how choosing the right words can help you achieve your goals.

Luntz, who offers the basic advice that “it’s not what you say, it’s what people hear,” extols the value of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes in order to understand what they are thinking or feeling.  According to Luntz, this is critical because “how that person perceives what you say is even more real, at least in a practical sense, then how you perceive yourself.”

Luntz, whose polling firm has worked for more than two dozen of the most elite Fortune 100 companies, offers 10 rules of effective language, such as using simple words and short sentences, while keep your message novel, surprising, and provocative.  He also stresses consistency.  Repetition helps us recognize and remember specific messages.

Of special interest is the section that Luntz devotes to 21 words and phrases for the 21st century.  The list of words is intriguing, and Luntz provides valuable insight about each one.  As he says, “these are words that work and will continue to work.  They are the language of America.”  Highlights include:

  • Imagine—creates a personal appeal
  • Innovation—translates as bold and forward thinking
  • Efficient—relays getting more for less
  • Patient-centered—describes quality, affordability, and choice
  • Investment—describes reasonable and responsible spending (forward-thinking)

Luntz is smart and eloquent.  His book is interesting, informative, and a great read.  Anyone interested in crafting messages that achieve results, especially in today’s environment where people are bombarded by information 24/7, should consider reading “Words That Work” (Hyperion Press; 2007).  His rules for effective language and words for the 21st century are valuable and worth learning (or maybe relearning).  The right words do make a difference.




Syndication Spreads the Word

By Barbara Sullivan

How do we turn one great media hit into five?  There’s nothing up our sleeves.  No rabbit in the hat.  It’s not magic.  It’s syndication.

The value of syndication hit home when a client called, excited that a feature article about the company’s diagnostic test for heart disease had appeared in The Seattle Times.  With readership* of more than a million, this was a major media hit.  The only problem was that we hadn’t recently worked with that particular publication.  A quick check revealed that it was an article we had originally placed in The Gazette, a Colorado Springs, Colo., daily with a readership of 237,712.  Shortly thereafter, the same article also popped up in The Desert Sun (Palm Springs, Calif.), the Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal, and three separate editions of The Journal News (N.Y.).

Here’s how the readership numbers stacked up:

The Gazette - 237,712
The Seattle Times - 1,150,057
The Desert Sun - 111,872
Pensacola News Journal - 195,715
Journal News Rockland - 101,702
Journal News Westchester & Putnam - 96,667
Journal News Southern Westchester - 76,927

Total Readership – 1,970,652

Newspaper syndicates make news articles, features, columns, photos, and other content available to other participating publications.  Prominent syndicates include the Associated Press, Dow Jones Newswires, Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service, The New York Times News Service/Syndicate, and Tribune Media Services.  Specialty syndicates include the Entertainment News Syndicate, Reuters Health, and Senior Wire News Service, among many others.  Articles running in the Associated Press or other major syndicates can appear in dozens or hundreds of daily and community newspapers across the country.

So, turning 200,000 media impressions into nearly 2 million doesn’t take magic, just syndication.  At Sullivan & Associates, we work hard to achieve media placements for our clients.  We get the most from those placements by targeting publications with strong syndicates and pitching the syndicates directly.  Then, we let syndication work its magic.

(*Readership is defined as 2.5 times the circulation.)

Don’t End up in a Ditch—Check Your Alignment with Your Communications Agency: Regulatory Compliance Is a Good Place to Start

By Barbara Sullivan

When my car was out of alignment recently, it pulled drastically to the right, threatening to send me off the road and into a ditch.  Lack of alignment between communications agencies and clients also can throw both parties dangerously off course.

There are numerous ways for companies and agencies to get out of alignment.  This first in an occasional series about alignment issues in medical communications covers the key area of regulatory compliance.

In the medical industry, regulatory compliance is a vital issue, and regulatory requirements evolve over time.  Close coordination between regulatory affairs and the marketing team—including the communications agency—is vital to avoid serious and costly problems.

Years ago, a diagnostic testing client offered free tests during consumer health fairs.  A press release promoting the “free” tests threatened to become a regulatory nightmare because the company had been specifically told by regulators that the term “free tests” could not be used.  The term “complimentary” was allowable, however—but this information was not passed along to the marketing team and communications agency. The simple solution: Agencies and clients should set aside time on a regular basis (quarterly or semiannually) to discuss regulatory issues. These “alignment meetings” will help ensure that the communications agency understands and is up to date on important regulatory issues that impact the company.

So, stop fighting against the pull.  Ensure proper alignment by discussing these critical issues with your communications agency today.