Discussions about J.P. Morgan’s widely anticipated annual healthcare conference have drawn to a close. While enthusiasm for the conference was high, a bull run that started in 2020 has been replaced with a bear market that has brought once high-flying biotech stock indices down into S&P 500 territory. Still, it wouldn’t be J.P. Morgan without announcements of noteworthy deals – and what they tell us about what to expect from the year ahead. Below are insights for communicators based on our experiences and conversations with executives, analysts, investors, and journalists in San Francisco.
- Not a market for muddled messages. Cash was on everyone’s mind – in fact, Bloomberg reported discussions about adequate cash reserves were front and center during company presentations and hit a high in comparison to years past when reserves might have received a passing mention, if at all. This shift is a symptom of the financial markets tightening and fewer deals happening. In this environment, companies should think about how to make the most of their PR strategy. Companies must strategically plan how to make the most of their communications strategy. Communicators must ensure the market receives actionable insight into short-term value creators while accurately assessing the value of the longer-term pipeline, strength of management team, and sound financial strategy. In the competition for fewer biotech investment dollars, crisp and well-defined value propositions have the edge.
- Face time matters. After two years of virtual events -- following years of grumbling about over-crowded meeting space and challenging logistics – a big topic of discussion was whether attending in person is worth the expense and the hassle. The answer we heard from reporters on-site is, “yes.” Conversations flowed more naturally, leading to better quotes and more compelling narratives – and ultimately stronger relationships. This year, as executives plan for important industry meetings from ASCO to BIO, they should develop plans that seize the opportunity to meet reporters in person.
- Break through at big industry events. Announcements were made at JPM in rapid fire, with companies jostling for mindshare and headlines. Success was won by those who laid the groundwork early by connecting with media before the event to coordinate advances and embargoes. Journalists, who are now traveling again, shared that once they are on the ground navigating packed schedules it can be difficult to thoroughly cover news if they aren’t briefed ahead of time. Two of our Syneos Health® customers who planned ahead to release clinical results rose to the top of financial and industry news outlets – standing out among a sea of competing announcements.
- Why don’t you say something? But JPM isn’t only about breaking news. Organizations with no news to announce can still make news – when they are willing to share a novel opinion on a big-picture issue. At JPM, we saw the emergence of broader themes for 2023 that will shape media attention and coverage throughout the year, from public-private partnerships to new regulatory pathways to gene therapies. Thought leaders used their social platforms, published opinion pieces, and shared their perspectives with media on topics from corporate social responsibility to DE&I.
- Beginning of the end or end of the beginning. The big question many biopharma executives likely went into JPM with appears to have gone unanswered, namely – are we nearing the end of this bear market? Or are we only at the end of the beginning? In January, our partners in Syneos Health Consulting released the well-timed 2023 Dealmakers Intentions Survey showing that, despite historically affordable asset prices, biotech mergers and acquisitions, and licensing deals sank to pre-pandemic levels, and biopharmaceutical IPOs last year plummeted to levels not seen since 2013. Still, there are signs the outlook is changing. Amgen’s $28 billion Horizon acquisition marks a shift in recent deal value, and compelling developments in diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and NASH may be attracting capital back into the sector. Syneos Health Consulting’s take as noted in the survey: “Watch for a moderate turnaround in deal flow as sellers’ needs come into alignment with buyers’ appetites and growing conviction that the time is right.”
A turnaround gives hope especially to the companies that need capital to bring their medicines and products to market, and effective communications can play a role in attracting investors as biotech and biopharma companies should plan their corporate PR strategies for the year ahead. No matter whether the markets recover or remain bearish, companies that communicate with clarity, strength, and vision create opportunities to rise above the noise. Cultivating media relationships and effective plans that navigate the broader themes that are shaping society ― from public-private partnerships and new regulatory pathways to DE&I and ESG ― are critical to supporting a winning 2023.