For nearly 15 years I have had the pleasure of working on behalf of some of the most interesting and groundbreaking life sciences companies committed to fundamentally transforming how patient care is delivered and managed. In an industry where the majority of scientific breakthroughs never see the light of day, it has been truly an honor to have had had access and interactions with the entrepreneurs leading the charge. As a non-scientist with a general Communications degree, I somewhat “fell” into life sciences upon graduating college and couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity this career path has afforded me.
Reflecting on my time growing in this space, I wanted to share a few basic, key lessons/observations I hope will help those early in their careers or who are thinking about a career in communications:
- Relationship Building:
There’s no doubt about it; everything we do as professional communicators is rooted in relationship building. Yes, there are strategies to be developed, content to be written and reporters to be pitched; however, it’s critical for anyone at any stage in their careers, particularly as they start out in this industry, to listen, observe and be relatable. This is not just limited to client relationships, but reporters, industry strategics, KOLs, etc. While it’s true that what we do does in fact require an in-depth understanding of the science and goals underlying our clients’ businesses, our role is to put together the pieces of a puzzle that paint a comprehensive picture of who our clients want to be when they grow up, and a strong relationship with our clients is essential to that strategic work. In my experience, I have found that while personalities may differ from client to client, there’s always an opportunity to connect with someone on some level that goes beyond the client/vendor transaction. Even after professional relationships end, we should continue making an effort to foster these relationships, as you never know when your paths may realign in the future.
- Don’t be afraid of “no:”
Many people don’t know this, but when I first graduated college way back when, I did door-to-door business sales on behalf of Verizon. For this brief moment in my career, I was responsible for knocking on at least 60 doors every day, cold calling small business owners trying to get them to switch their phone and internet services to Verizon. What I quickly realized is business owners are not super eager to speak about their phone/internet services with a random, 22-year old stranger in the middle of their workdays. Needless to say, I heard the words “no” or “go away” pretty frequently. While it seemed like punishment at first, I later realized this had prepared me for a professional career in strategic communications. Clients hire us to be scrappy, be “bulldogs” on their behalf and find ways to get their stories in front of the right stakeholders through a variety of mediums. While there’s certainly a balance between being “annoying” and “politely persistent,” under no circumstances should you be afraid of the word “no” or making mistakes. Some of the greatest lessons I’ve taken from my career so far are from situations or strategies that ended up failing. If a strategy or tactic you’re employing isn’t working, I encourage you to regroup, rethink and then redeploy your efforts. We have to be pliable and adaptable in this environment to succeed, and for that to happen persistence is key.
- Don’t Overthink It:
Let me preface this by saying I am by no means suggesting what we do as scientific and healthcare communicators is simple. What we do requires a significant amount of thought, tact and effort; however, let’s leave the brain surgery to the brain surgeons. What we do is “PR,” not “ER.” As I mentioned above, we have to be willing and able to quickly adapt to an ever-changing communications landscape. You may have the greatest pitch letter drafted, strategy flushed out and most impactful news milestone of your career; however, something completely out of your control such as the stock market tanking, a war breaking out overseas or a global pandemic brewing could completely derail the best of efforts on any given day. However, in my experience, I’ve found there’s always a way of overcoming these obstacles in a cool and collected manner if you can simplify what it is your objectives are and then work backwards. Once you’re able to identify where it is you want to go, it’s much easier to plot out the steps necessary for you to get there. As goes the sage old saying, “you eat an elephant one bite at a time.” As the title states, don’t overthink it.
Graphic created by: Autumn Von Plinsky