Communities across the world are facing unprecedented times with a global pandemic affecting over 100+ countries. COVID-19 has created uncertainty, unparalleled business disruptions and shaken up the global workforce. Pharmaceutical and biotech companies need to show tremendous agility to adapt to the constantly shifting implications of COVID-19 while keeping employees health and safety a priority, and continuing to deliver life-saving medicines.
There are five things biopharmaceutical leaders should consider as they steer their organizations through this global health crisis.
1. Manage new issues in a rapidly changing environment
COVID-19-related issues are still evolving and have the potential to be prolonged, globally reported on, and include incorrect or misleading information. Management can take steps to ensure accurate information is shared, and enable successful crisis management in a predominantly virtual environment. Crisis protocols should be updated to reflect the current environment, including dedicated links for online meeting services and an online intranet hub to flag potential issues and provide up-to-date guidance to all employees.
We encourage companies to scenario plan for a range of COVID-19-specific issues. For example, media may be reporting on clinical trial or manufacturing interruptions, including quotes from anonymous personnel. Plan in advance by developing reactive Q&A for external use; internally, share with all employees:
- Protocols including authorized spokespeople.
- Relevant information to minimize misinformation and uncertainty.
2. Optimize employee productivity as your workplace turns virtual
Employees at all levels are on edge. Companies need to look at employee communications strategies through a behavioral lens to identify what factors can engage employees, motivate them, give them a feeling of security in an uncertain world and keep them productive. What are the tools and support that should be enhanced to build a sense of community?
Acknowledge employee concerns, express empathy and convey confidence in their ability to handle change. Ensure teams connect regularly, encourage frank discussion of challenges and collaborative problem-solving. Video conversations can help make support feel more personal. Many managers may not have experience managing remote employees. Providing training early on can help them learn new ways to sustain productivity and engagement as they begin to balance work and family in the same environment.
Remember that you may be asking employees to learn and use technology in different ways, which in itself can be a source of stress. Technology guides should be easy to find and intuitive – and vetted by a variety of real-world users to identify areas of potential confusion.
3. Navigate the media landscape when the news is dominated by COVID-19
While many journalists have shifted focus to coronavirus exclusively, we are seeing some media – especially healthcare industry outlets – still covering milestones, such as FDA approvals and financing deals. Limited media bandwidth means that coverage will be lighter in volume and more factual, with less context and nuance. When pitching milestones, ensure that companies are not seen as opportunistic and acknowledge the ongoing COVID-19 situation. Contact both reporters and the news desk to help editors triage incoming pitches. For non-critical outreach, hold until the COVID-19 news cycle dissipates.
Many companies are also facing questions about clinical trial continuations and the impact of the pandemic on their businesses. As companies are evaluating reactive media inquiries, we recommend three principles to ensure protocols are in place:
- Evaluate how much information is prudent to share;
- Develop holding statements around anticipated inquiries; and
- Review ongoing coverage and social chatter for major themes relevant to your business and incorporate responses into your Q&As.
4. Manage expectations with the financial community about business impact
Proactive communications can help protect reputation if performance is expected to be meaningfully different due to the pandemic. In addition to setting a level playing field and satisfying Regulatory Financial Disclosure requirements for public companies, management can get ahead of the issue by discussing events, market trends, and strategies and steps they are putting in place to continue to deliver against goals. Prepare for questions about COVID-19’s impact on a company’s business model, such as clinical trial enrollment or supply chain issues. This will especially come to the fore around first quarter reporting.
Taking a proactive and transparent approach to communicating in this challenging environment will instill confidence in a variety of stakeholders. It shows management is aware of the issues, has a plan of action and reinforces their long-term vision.
5. Plan for scientific exchange
To accomplish scientific exchange objectives while conferences are in flux, consider planning for three scenarios— conference cancellation, move to virtual and postponement. Scenario planning will allow for teams to immediately react once the conference is able to share their approach to data dissemination, as well as embargo/press policies.
Given the months-long lead time for peer-review publications, posting papers to preprints will enable them to publish data sooner. Once data embargoes are determined, companies can also host virtual Town Halls or video presentations where research authors can walk through the data and host replays on their web site. Additionally, depending on the HCP audience, the use of data visualization hubs on trade platforms could help to distill key information in the most compelling format.
Syneos Health Communications experts are continuously looking at the landscape and listening to exchange learnings, ideas and support during this time. If you’d like to talk or have questions, contact Jeanine O’Kane at firstname.lastname@example.org.