How pharma can stay a step ahead of milestones

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Tony Plohoros
Tony Plohoros

Tony Plohoros
Principal, 6 degrees PR

What can happen when companies don't get ahead of a clinical or regulatory milestone, say, an FDA advisory committee meeting?

One example of an opportunity missed: Nektar Therapeutics in September announced top-line Phase II results for its potential osteoarthritis treatment, NKTR-181, which failed to meet its primary endpoint.

Despite the company going out of its way to explain the results in its news release and in a subsequent investor conference call, media coverage of the news suggests that the company didn't reach out to reporters at leading outlets to provide context on the study and a reminder of the many other assets the company has in the clinic. Shares fell 24% the day of the announcement.

It doesn't have to be this way. And it shouldn't.

Whether it's an advisory committee meeting, the presentation or publication of clinical data, or another corporate milestone, companies should consider conducting embargoed pre-milestone briefings with select journalists to help ensure accurate media coverage.

The benefits of doing so may be even greater in advance of news likely to be viewed as negative. Any thoughtful PR counselor will preach the virtues of ensuring a company's point of view be part of a negative story.

So, how does a company safely and effectively use embargoed discussions to make the most of milestones? Here are a few questions to ask:

1. Is the milestone truly material? Phase III data, an advisory committee meeting and a strategic transaction each qualify. Short of these, try to verify whether or not journalists are likely to cover your milestone. If they're not, pass.

2. Will embargoed outreach increase the likelihood of media coverage of your milestone? In many cases, the answer is yes.

3. Can the company and journalist benefit from an embargoed discussion? If you can  share critical context that would benefit journalists who will see the news and be compelled to quickly get something out, it's worth offering embargoed discussions.

4. Will journalists honor an embargo? Not all media outlets and journalists play by the same rules. Ask each journalist if he/she will honor an embargo before sharing anything.

If you can answer “yes” to  these questions and trust your communications team to flawlessly execute, strongly consider embargoed media outreach prior to your critical milestones. Its benefits—especially in advance of potentially bad news—far outweigh sitting on the sidelines.

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