Rebecca Spalding is a Senior Director at Ten Bridge Communications where she works with biotech companies advancing different therapeutic modalities at all stages of development. Prior to working in communications, Rebecca was a longtime healthcare journalist at Bloomberg and Reuters where she routinely interviewed leading biopharma executives, investors, academics and other players in the industry.
Remember that reporters are not investors.
If you’re a biotech executive headed to J.P. Morgan this January, that would be my advice.
I’ve never gone to J.P. Morgan as a biotech executive. I’ve only ever attended as a reporter. But I imagine the experience is not all that dissimilar: you’re under a tremendous amount of pressure to perform, meet the right people, and by the time you’re done, you only remember a handful of the dozens of meetings you’ve taken and are left wondering if there was some secret, magical touchpoint you could have had that would have changed everything.
But where I think the experience differs most is that biotech executives use JPM meetings to primarily pitch investors; meanwhile reporters use JPM meetings to be pitched stories.
This basic misalignment led to far too many dry meetings that didn’t help me as a reporter or the companies that I met with. Executives—emerging from 15 minute back-to-back investor meetings—treated me like I was another investor, telling the corporate narrative in a way they had all conference, complete with corporate slide deck.
It’s understandable why this happens, but it’s not effective. At the risk of generalizing since not all reporters are the same, here are my thoughts on how to approach your meetings with journalists at JPM based on my own experience.
Put the deck away.
Reporters don’t use PowerPoint. They don’t like PowerPoint. They are probably reporters because they don’t like PowerPoint.
More to the point, speaking to the deck often doesn’t overlap much with what reporters are interested in hearing. Reporters all have different mandates. But most of them want to break news, either on specific companies or topics shaping the industry, as well as write compelling stories on the industry’s impact on real people, policy, the world of science, and other notable themes that change the way we think about medicine.
Reporters are writing for people; not gathering data to update the excel model. Stories people want to read have people in them. They have compelling settings. They have “Eureka!” moments. They have challenges and how those challenges were overcome. They rarely have net present value calculations of peak sales numbers in five years’ time—and even if they do, that’s usually a supporting fact in a broader narrative about say, a CEO being under pressure to perform in the next 12 months, or a company having a sleeping blockbuster in the making, or how the industry is projecting drug prices.
If you need a teaching tool to explain a complicated MOA or a concept that is truly easier to understand when visualized, pull that slide out beforehand. Even then, keep it to one to a meeting.
Understand their goals.
Reporters at JPM are swamped with requests, press releases, complicated program names, diseases they’ve never heard of, and back-to-back 15-minute meetings all while under pressure to break hard news.
Mergers and other large financial transactions in particular are almost always announced during JP Morgan season, which can easily suck up the oxygen at the conference for a day.
They’re busy and, unless you’re the one announcing hard news at the conference, probably won’t remember the details of your expanded pipeline—much less write a story about it. So, better to use your brief time with that person to deliver a great elevator pitch of your company, and then turn the lens back on them to ask what they’re most interested in and how you can help. If you can shed light on the major news of the day and don’t mind being quoted, you’d also be providing them what could be valuable insights for their coverage.
Connect on a human level.
The best meetings I ever had with executives was when they were human. When they told me a story about how they began working on an idea and why it’s so exciting. When they helped me break news or think about a medical challenge in a new way. When they gave me thoughtful quotes for a piece about the wider industry. When they gave me new ideas for the year ahead and their card for the next time I was working on something they could help with.
They cut through the noise and were memorable on a human level that made me want to speak with them again. They didn’t walk me through a 20-slide sales pitch.
Like with investors, working with reporters is all about relationship-building. Remember that as you take media meetings at JPM and you’ll be well ahead of the pack.