Launching IBM Into the Life Sciences Marketplace
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report
CEO

Launching IBM Into the Life Sciences Marketplace

MS&L’s assignment was to launch the new business unit of IBM focused on life sciences and to significantly increase awareness of IBM’s role in the market, helping to drive marketshare for IBM products.

Paul Holmes

The mapping of the human genome in the summer of 2000 ignited a firestorm of new genomic and proteomic research.  IBM had a huge stake in this “post-genomic” era as the research would generate terabytes and pedabytes of data requiring powerful supercomputers, data storage and data management.
 
MS&L’s assignment was to launch the new business unit of IBM focused on life sciences and to significantly increase awareness of IBM’s role in the market, helping to drive marketshare for IBM products within pharmaceutical and biotechnology research and development environments.  
 
MS&L developed a multi-pronged program to introduce and position IBM in the life sciences industry, including aggressive media relations, proprietary events, bylined articles and speaking opportunities.
 
CHALLENGE
 
Starting with a cold launch of a brand new business unit that had little or no available products, customers or presence in the life sciences market, IBM asked MS&L to create and maintain mindshare leadership for IBM Life Sciences within this new market. 
 
Mindshare leadership would be measured as follows:
  • Quarterly quantitative comparison of coverage of IBM Life Sciences versus top five competitors:
  • IBM Life Sciences coverage must exceed that of its competitors in every quarter.
  • IBM Life Sciences coverage must increase quarter-to-quarter in the first six months.
  • Quarterly qualitative comparison of positive, negative and neutral coverage of IBM Life Sciences versus top five competitors.
 
IBM Life Sciences coverage must portray IBM as a leader in the life sciences industry by inclusion of any of the following: extensive profile of unit, expert quotes by IBM executive, third-party endorsement, key messages.
 
In addition, IBM was dealing with target customers with whom it was unaccustomed.  Instead of selling to the chief information officer or manager of information technology, it was now targeting researchers and scientists within pharmaceutical companies or senior executives of smaller biotechnology firms.  Skepticism about IBM’s capabilities and credibility was fueled by the lack of products and customers.
 
Leveraging the traditional business and computer industry media that cover IBM would prove difficult because few of them were covering the life sciences market.  IBM would be forced to build new relationships with media that cover biotechnology and healthcare – breaking through the skepticism that they shared with the target audience, and convincing them that IBM understands the market and has something to offer.
 
RESEARCH
 
Top IBM competitors had previously entered the life sciences market – beating IBM to the punch – and Compaq had leveraged its work with Celera on the human genome project to generate widespread publicity for its efforts in this space.  IBM would certainly be viewed as a follower.
 
An MS&L audit of IBM revealed that the company was not ready to tell a cohesive life sciences story.  Besides the lack of customers and specialized products, various divisions including Research, Supercomputing and Software were communicating their own – much narrower—life sciences stories.
 
With so much media attention on the social ramifications of ongoing genomics and proteomics work, MS&L would have to help IBM Life Sciences shift the discussion to how technology was contributing to the new developments.
 
Biotechnology and healthcare media would resist these angles because they were largely unfamiliar with technologies such as supercomputers and data management software.  Technology media had scarcely covered genomics, so would also see the story as irrelevant to their readers. And general business media were so focused on the societal impact, that it would be difficult to get them to notice IBM Life Sciences.
 
STRATEGY
 
MS&L would lay the groundwork for IBM by educating the biotechnology and healthcare media who were largely unaware of IBM’s role in life sciences—providing them with basic technology information as well as explaining the impact of IBM technology on the life sciences industry.
 
MS&L then focused on shifting the media’s attention from the societal impact of genomics to the technology implications – the management of an explosion of genetic data is at its core a technology challenge that only a company like IBM could meet.
 
Along with the educational campaign, MS&L embarked on transforming the head of IBM Life Sciences, Dr. Caroline Kovac, into a media star.  An odd mix of chief executive and scientist, Kovac was positioned as not just an authority on technology, but as a general expert in genomics and proteomics.
EXECUTION
 
Educating the Media on IBM Life Sciences
  • Arranged in-depth background briefings for media, resulting in profiles and Q&As in Investor’s Business Daily, In Vivo, US News & World Report and Forbes.
  • Created and distributed media kits including specific information on IBM Life Sciences and its offerings.
  • Provided a steady stream of information to media outlets regarding IBM Life Sciences through roundtable discussions, speaking opportunities, on-site interviews with the life sciences team and bylined article placements.  Results included Nature, European Biopharmaceutical Review, San Francisco Chronicle, Worth, The Daily Deal, Newsweek and the Boston Globe.
 
Creating a Media Superstar
  • Offered in-person interviews with major media to speak with Kovac on hot topics within life sciences, resulting in stories in the Industry Standard, Genome Technology and eCompany Now.
  • Leveraged high profile speaking opportunities to meet with key media and communicate the IBM Life Sciences story.  Results included profiles in Working Woman, Wired, Forbes.com and the Boston Globe.
 
Launching Partnerships
  • Leveraged relationships with editors to successfully announce 10 partnerships.  Results included The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Financial Times, Business Week, Wired, Industry Standard, Forbes, eWeek, Red Herring, InformationWeek, Drug Discovery & Development, BioInform and GenomeWeb.
 
RESULTS
 
A baseline for measurement was established in 2Q00 and results were measured against that baseline from 3Q00 through 3Q01. Results reveal a significant jump in mindshare for IBM in the second half of 2000 – which was credited for driving increased sales and partnerships – and sustained mindshare leadership thereafter, even in the face of increased competition:
IBM coverage from 3Q00 to 2Q01 totaled 209 articles, more than combined competitive coverage (Compaq-35, HP-17, Oracle-31, SGI-11 and Sun-55). 
 
IBM coverage exceeded combined competitive coverage in all but one quarter (3Q00).
 
IBM coverage skyrocketed from 2Q00 through 4Q00, with a 34% increase alone in the last quarter.
 
IBM positive coverage (108) from 3Q00 to 2Q01 exceeded combined competitive positive coverage (58) by a two-to-one margin. 
 
IBM positive coverage increased by 48% from 3Q00 to 4Q00, and was sustained throughout the next two quarters (1Q01 and 2Q01).
 
 
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