As the public relations agency for Micro Therapeutics, Inc. (MTI) our goal was to plan and produce an annual report that communicated MTI's promise as a start-up company by highlighting tangible and intangible aspects of MTI that would depict an honest, yet encouraging picture of the company’s value and future. We humbly believe it is worthy of a Bronze SABRE Award because our strategy and end product seem in unison with the criteria you put forth in the award guidelines, most notably an adherence to ethics and integrity as well as embracing ingenious solutions to overcome a challenge.
CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITY:
Micro Therapeutics, Inc. (MTI) develops and markets minimally invasive devices to treat neuro and peripheral vascular diseases. Its microcatheters and guidewires are used to access abnormalities such as brain aneurysms and deliver preventative therapies to correct these abnormalities. One such preventative therapy is MTI’s flagship product, Onyx, a liquid embolic material delivered through the catheter to fill the aneurysm bubble, thus avoiding stroke or even death. While Onyx holds tremendous potential market value, it is still at the clinical trial stage and, until FDA approved, MTI strives to achieve revenues and investment funding that will cover the costs of bringing Onyx to market and reaping its benefits.
Challenges at a glance included:
- While MTI’s ancillary products (microcatheters & guidewires) are FDA approved, its centerpiece product, Onyx, is not. This made investors and analysts anxious for tangible signs of progress and financial results.
- MTI’s ancillary products are not particularly attractive and lack a sense of appeal or excitement. Therefore, aesthetic product illustrations were screened back and used as background design, rather than the focus.
- MTI’s budget did not permit photo shoots or any significant time for computer manipulation that could have generated more advanced graphic elements.
Since Onyx was still in early stage clinical trials, we deemed it premature to feature doctor/patient success stories, even though there were a few who could be profiled. We felt pursuing this angle would have misrepresented MTI's status and made claims that were a little too bold by clinical trial standards.
MTI’s financials show a mix of gains and losses. Analysts were beginning to raise concerns about continued cash burn and revenue levels. Even though they believed in the product and company, and were issuing positive coverage on MTI, they were still not giving MTI their highest buy rating. Consequently, current investors were hesitant to invest more and potential investors didn't make the leap, even though both groups believed in the concept of a product like Onyx and the tremendous impact it could have as a stroke prevention therapy.
PLANNING AND RESEARCH:
Preliminary research to uncover perceptions held by investors and analysts was conducted through soft-sounding surveying. In addition, a formal questionnaire was distributed to top company executives to determine their preferred corporate image. Together, these enabled F&P to identify a design strategy and key message points that would speak to their needs by clarifying MTI's present position and setting the tone for its future growth. Through this research, F&P uncovered one over-riding sentiment: that most respondents had a strong belief, or faith, in the company but were now eager to see concrete, tangible results.
Given this, our objectives were to:
- Clearly communicate the tangible accomplishments of 1999 while playing off audiences' existing belief in “the possibilities.”
- Attract new investors and increase holdings among existing investors.
- Earn favorable reviews from securities analysts.
- Underscore MTI’s potential to be the leading medical device company in its category as well as the huge market opportunity for stroke prevention therapy.
STRATEGIC APPROACH AND EXECUTION:
Our strategy behind MTI’s annual report was to combine the intangible, future potential of the company with its present, tangible accomplishments; thus marrying the “belief” target audiences have for the company with their need for concrete data they can bank on. We feel this "one-two approach" to directly address what might otherwise be perceived as shortcomings reflects the type of ingenious solutions the SABRE Awards seek to honor. We integrated the intangible with the tangible in the following manner:
- Using the theme “Imagine the Possibilities” to play off of target audiences’ existing belief in the company.
- Weaving a timeline across all introductory pages to prove MTI has met all clinical, regulatory and funding milestones set, from the company's inception to the present day.
- Placing the company’s forward-looking vision, mission and philosophy on the inside front cover for immediate reaffirmation of MTI’s end goal and commitment to reaching it.
- Placing MTI's product portfolio adjacent to the vision to drive home the numerous products already approved, in the U.S. and abroad.
- Incorporating abstract graphics (e.g., circles, light, sun, raised hands) that support the vision and value of the company by conveying hope, opportunity, a unified vision and teamwork.
- Using pull quotes to showcase MTI’s demonstrated intellectual strength, e.g., holds 30 patents with 65 pending.
- Using statistics to reiterate the huge market potential for a stroke prevention therapy.
These elements resulted in the 1999 annual report’s measurably successful impact on MTI. The goal of increasing investors and investment levels was reached. According to U.S. Stock Transfer and ADP in New York, investors more than doubled during the year the annual report was in circulation. Investors grew from 1,000 in 1998 and 1999 to 2,200 investors in 2000. In addition, stock holdings swelled from 3,796,358 at year-end 1999 to 6,674,562 at year-end 2000.
Similarly, MTI’s goal of attracting new industry analysts was also achieved, with the addition of an analyst from Sturza’s Institutional Research. This, in turn, lead to inclusion in Sturza’s Medical Investment Newsletter, further fueling investor interest. Sturza’s brought the total number of MTI analysts to six, an impressive amount of coverage for a start-up company.
While we acknowledge that this activity and success cannot be attributed to any one factor, we feel confident in attributing a large portion to the annual report. This is especially due to the fact that MTI had no other marketing pieces in circulation during this time (as mentioned earlier, the annual report is their sole marketing material) and the only press releases issued during this time were those that had to be released in order to meet the SEC’s brewing Regulation FD requirement.
Lastly, although qualitative in nature, we view our client’s satisfaction level as a reflection of the value and impact of our work. Our client contact, a CFO who had more than 20 years’ experience at Coopers Lybrand states, “This is the only annual report I’ve ever done that still makes me smile every time I open it.”