Investor Relations (IR) is a vital function within any company, large or small. Its primary responsibilities are to give current and potential investors and industry analysts a range of financial and non-financial information, access to company executives, rationale for a company’s valuation, and confidence that their money – or that of their clients – will provide the returns they are looking for. IR also ensures a company’s compliance with the laws and regulations that govern securities.
Yet it does more than that. IR also helps company officers with messaging and managing the expectations of various stakeholders. The ripple effects of IR communications also impact customers, partners, employees and media. These audiences may not have the same financial acumen and depth as serious investors and analysts, but they consume many of the same messages that spill over into the mainstream press, social media and even ‘consumer’ stock trading platforms like Robin Hood.
Over the past few years we’ve noticed an increased openness and appetite for more sophisticated storytelling and information design among our biopharma IR clients.
Not surprisingly, over the past few years we’ve noticed an increased openness and appetite for more sophisticated storytelling and information design among our biopharma IR clients. They realize that their primary audiences are among the most important ones for the success of their company, and they know that they’re competing for their attention and trust on a daily basis. So it makes sense that they’ve redefined their role and the way they communicate about the company, science, mission and priorities. They’ve also reimagined the role of communications planning and design as more creative and dynamic than in the past.
This got us thinking about the specific ways in which things have changed since the days of simple press releases, executive interviews, road shows and analyst calls. Below are some ways our biopharma clients reframe their roles and continuously improve the design and outcomes of their IR communications.
Tell the Stories behind the Numbers
We see glimpses of creative storytelling in many annual reports, but often it’s not carried through to other communications channels and events throughout the year. Algorithms aside, even the most sophisticated investors and analysts are people first, and people innately respond to stories. A well-constructed story has a beginning (discovery), middle (clinical trials) and end (healthier patients); a villain (disease) and a hero (science); and interesting, three-dimensional characters (scientists, HCPs, patients and caregivers) that an audience can relate to.
If your company’s founders have a personal connection to the disease areas they focus on, don’t be afraid to lead with that.
If your company’s founders have a personal connection to the disease areas they focus on, don’t be afraid to lead with that. Build on the personal commitment of employees tirelessly working until they find a cure. It’s true, it’s admirable, and frankly, it ‘sells.’ In addition to statistics, help your audience visualize and feel how the disease can destroy whole families, because that’s the sad but true fact.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” We remember that because it’s such a powerful line, but its power rests in the emotional connection it reminds us to have with our work. If your company’s connection is that powerful, don’t be afraid to let people know about it.
Consider All of the Audiences You Serve
While it is essential to tell a compelling story using supportable facts to current and potential investors, keep in mind other stakeholders that can influence the success of your company. Minimize jargon and use simple images to convey your unique scientific approach, your company’s areas of focus, and prospects for the future. Align with HR to ensure that key external messages about talent and company culture align with what is being communicated and rewarded internally. Know that your communications will be seen by potential employees who can shape the company in the future, from the lab to the boardroom.
Science, no matter how novel or effective, does not sell itself.
Treat Your Investor Deck as a Sales Pitch – Because it Is
Science, no matter how novel or effective, does not sell itself. In our current paradigm it takes decades of investment, expertise, and collaboration — to name just a few essential elements — to progress a therapy from bench to patient. And while it may sound crass to some, that requires selling.
Giving people hope that your company might develop a cure for Alzheimer’s or hope that millions of kids can be relieved of suffering caused by a genetic abnormality is a noble effort, but it’s still selling. Because that’s what selling is: Giving people hope, in the form of a possible solution. That hope can be offered to patients and their families, of course, but in a different yet still noble way it can also be offered to investors, the media, your employees, and other important stakeholders, because the story is true, and it’s your story. Don’t be afraid to tell it.
That’s what selling is: Giving people hope, in the form of a possible solution.
The best salespeople break their stories (pitches) into modules, then shuffle them like a deck of cards to help them personalize the story for each prospect. They optimize the story’s sequence, its messages and relevance, and the different elements of the story based on the audience’s needs and preconceived ideas. Your core investor deck is essentially your ‘pitch deck,’ and partnering with skilled storytellers and presentation designers will help you articulate your investment thesis within a powerful story that is customized for each of your important audiences.
Gain Real-world Feedback & Course-correct
Here’s an example of how great “storyselling” can be used to better connect with an important audience: We worked with a biotech company late last year to reframe the value of their impressive scientific achievements and the origins of their healthcare mission, simplifying and humanizing the story to broaden its interest among those attending the 2021 JP Morgan Healthcare conference. The facts remained the same, but so much of the ‘real story’ was hidden.
We focused on the company’s science, but also helped them share more of the founder’s story, which fueled the company’s mission in rare diseases. There was simply more there than just their impressive trial results and promising science, and we knew that many in the audience – especially those who might not follow this highly-involved area of medicine closely, but who still deserved to know about the company’s potential therapies – would be more likely to stop and take notice if they understood the ‘why’ behind the ‘what.’
Telling the company’s story differently for the first time made the CEO a little uncomfortable, however we’re happy to report that he hit a home run with the presentation. We think one of the main reasons for that success was that a larger portion of the audience was able to better connect with the science because he had created a ‘face’ for the company and its people – and even a soul – through better storytelling.
You can’t fix an uninspiring story with dazzling graphics.
Real communications design is not window dressing, and a poorly-constructed foundational story about ‘increasing shareholder value’ – absent elements that help the audience personalize, humanize, and connect with those value numbers – is not likely to inspire much of anything. And despite all the effort that goes into IR slide decks and communications, you can’t fix an uninspiring story with dazzling graphics.
We believe that IR as a discipline must continue to evolve in a direction that goes beyond just the numbers, telling true and engaging stories that help to steer investment into worthy endeavors that advance medical science. When those efforts are successful, it helps to ease the suffering of patients and their loved ones, while also advancing the company’s fortunes. We’re proud to help our clients achieve that.
Author: Joe Shields
Image credit: 123RF.com