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Archive for the ‘medical device industry’ Category

“You can’t change something that doesn’t exist.” (Copywriting Tip #7)

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Where to find courage to create

Designer/entrepreneur Mike Lundborg uttered it dozens of times over a few projects we collaborated on. For me this quote nearly perfectly encapsulates the dance between creativity and work that is the business of freelance life. That’s why I keep the quote front and center in my work space.YouCantChange-05232013-(C)

Even today I’m working on a story intended to invite prospective patients to participate in a clinical trial. But early review comments indicate my client wants to buff out the narrative parts (that’s right, losing the story itself) and swap it for clinical and corporate language. The story was meant to pull prospective patients toward a clinical trial, but it won’t if the corporation keeps talking.

But this is not a lament. It’s only a statement of reality and maybe a celebration—because this is how we create together. My sizzling hot interpretation of a marketing objective is held in the tongs of review and hammered into shape by my collaborator.  And by me. This is my expectation for my ideas and the resulting words, just as it is my expectation for each part of the process.

And now this: as we release a few of the projects physical constraints, my story bounces back—which makes me glad. This is what collaboration looks like. Successive drafts change but the central objective continually informs all the collaborators as we take our turns shaping the project.

Amazingly, it is this very collaborative process that needs to inform my less commercial writing projects. The courage to create actually springs (again) from the sometimes difficult conversations that surround the project. But it also takes courage to produce a rough draft.


Written by kirkistan

May 23, 2013 at 11:44 am

I hate you so much love from me to you

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When to poke your target audience in the eye

My client needed to reinforce the why behind a clinical trial. We needed physicians to remember their tried & true therapies didn’t always apply under this particular set of calcified conditions. We hoped for a visceral reaction to help change fixed treatment habits toward a killer disease. The poster was both over the top silly and aimed at the gut of a largely intellectual audience.


Some hated it. Some loved it. Some thought it went too far and was not appropriate for a clinical setting. Some found their rage against the disease. The poster polarized even as it got attention. And that was the point.

Not all our communication is meant to slip into the space between us like links in a chain moving meaning smoothly from your mouth to my brain. Sometimes you need to jar me from my stupor so I can really understand what you are saying. Because what you are saying is urgent and important and not business as usual. This is why teachers make students stand and move every 15 minutes or so—to restart the brain. This why street preachers are uncomfortable and often memorable.

Rather than automatically aim for consensus, challenge your team about the kind of reaction you want from your target audience. When does it make sense to provoke?


Written by kirkistan

May 6, 2013 at 9:09 am

Bending HIPAA Toward Spontaneity—Just for the Health of It

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What if our propensity for over-sharing helped us get healthy?

tumblr_mimklpUnHE1qbcporo1_1280-02252013Writing for Fast Company, Jennifer Miller reported on a study that showed the amazing stickiness of Facebook status feeds over other literature. Miller queued up the notion as “mind-ready content,” which is a pithy way of getting at the heart of the study. It seems the immediacy and poor spelling and bad grammar we expect in status updates all have a way of indicating spontaneity. And one of the study experiments suggested:

…the remarkable memory for microblogs is also not due to their completeness or simply their topic, but may be a more general phenomenon of their being the largely spontaneous and natural emanations of the human mind. (Major memory for microblogs abstract: Mickes L, Darby RS, Hwe V, et al.)

We’ve been witnessing the rise of social media to help people lose weight, get exercise, eat right, among a sea of many other activities. It is the telling and the reading—all on a fairly spontaneous level—that has great persuasive powers. Not to belabor this point, but it is not just reading about others’ success that can motivate behavior change. It is when we ourselves record our progress (and lack thereof) (in public and not) that also motivates change. If you’ve ever recorded the calories you eat in a day or the money you spent in a day, you know how awareness jumps to high alert.

Can these facts about human motivation and memory be harnessed by physicians? Should healthcare have a social component…generally? Privacy on the web—always a moving target—would seem to have hit the immovable object of what the US considers protected health information: those rules the medical community follows to ensure medical records stay private. But encouraging patients to share what they are comfortable sharing, is there a possible positive health outcome in that? Maybe. Maybe not. Who is itching to read about their friend’s infection (sorry: bad word choice)? I have no desire to read colonoscopy stories. But on the other side, will we start to see spontaneous-ish declarations from our friend the corporate doctor/robot that encourage us toward healthful habits—based on our Facebook feeds?

One wonders.


Image credit: Ben Giles via 2headedsnake

Written by kirkistan

February 25, 2013 at 10:56 am

My Doctor the Telephone

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Where Patient is King/Queen/Parliament

One segment of the healthcare market expecting continued explosive growth is telehealth—so reports Arundhati Parmar in MedCity News. Parmar cited IMS Research which projects 55 percent growth in telemedicine in 2013. Telemedicine covers a wide swath of care, of course: from a simple phone call to email and web-based approaches to a variety of technologies employed in diagnosis and follow-up for everything from minor ailments to chronic and acute care.

Telehealth is inherently interesting for the medical device community in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro. Each of the big three medical device companies markets some variation on telehealth—especially focused on implanted pacemakers, defibrillators and cardiac resynchronization devices. But in some ways we are quite behind in considering the preferences and patterns of patient communication. For too many years our community has focused on marketing to physicians. But perhaps 2013 will be the year our community wakes to the fact we must talk simply and effectively with a much, much wider group of audiences. As patients continue to grasp the nuances of the power to choose, they will choose to engage with companies with whom they can develop relationships. They will demand clear and succinct information that doesn’t condescend. The days of doing whatever the physician says are quickly coming to an end.

Brand will be an even bigger deal when the patient is king.


Written by kirkistan

February 13, 2013 at 5:00 am

DIY Drama Queen: a Cop, 2 Boots and a Homeless Guy

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Tell Your Old Story in Today’s Conversation

E933KL97LPPQ8T5E-rszw514-11302012Not so many days ago a New York cop bought some boots for a homeless, shoe-less guy. The photo went viral because it was remarkable—stuff like that doesn’t usually happen. The telling of the story warms the heart and we want to share it.

Communication-types talk endlessly about stories and narrative and narrative arc. All this literary-criticism lingo has made its way from academia through the land of communication and advertising and out into mainstream speech of the news anchor, for instance. Behind all this talk is the simple notion that people respond to stories.

Because people respond to stories, we give assignments to our outward facing employees to snag potential customers and engage clients with precisely those stories that feature our product or service in a key role. Maybe the product saves the situation. Maybe the service is a vehicle of freedom. Certainly the product enriches the identity of the people using it.

But what about inside the company? Where are those engaging narratives in our ordinary, daily conversations? Does story have a place in our workdays? Should it?

One medical device company I worked for held a company-wide meeting around this time of year where patients came on stage and told stunning stories of how they could now walk (or stand or eat or breathe) again. They talked about how their lives were changed by the very products we all worked on.

And we all got weepy.

But ordinary, daily conversations produce no such tears—how could they? We’re all about work and getting stuff done, after all. We’re not here to tell stories. But some smart bosses are telling larger stories. Some meeting leaders are starting with the narrative arc that includes patients being healed and lives restored. Some team members are embedding in their discussion how their product makes it easier to turn solar energy to electricity—and why that has meaning for today’s work. Bringing those stories to the mundane conversations can seem like a cynical, manipulative ploy—but only to those intent on cynicism and manipulation.

It’s time to bring those stories back into our conversations. Not as ploys. Not as manipulative levers. But because of our universal need to make meaning. Especially to make meaning of our daily work.

We’re moving into a season where we tell lots of old stories: When I was a kid Christmas looked like this. When we were first married, we did this for the holiday. Way back when a virgin had a baby. In a stable. And everything changed.

Be the drama queen in your part of your company or organization. Take center stage and demand attention. And tell the remarkable story you heard.

Stories help us make meaning and are worth passing on.


Image Credit: Politix

Work isn’t what it used to be

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But was it ever?

Yesterday I ran into a friend and colleague from a medical device company we both worked at. He’s still there but said 70 percent of his staff was recently laid off, which mirrors what I had heard from other parts of the company. My friend surprised me by saying most of the jobs had gone overseas. He also said the expertise of the replacements was noticeably sub-par.

Sour grapes? Maybe. Maybe not. We already know that people with experience cost more to hire and keep then people without experience. This is good news for people wanting into an industry. This is not-so-good news for those invested in life with one company. But life in one company—was that ever a realistic expectation? I grew up thinking that was the norm. Dad worked for IBM and IBM never laid people off. Until they did.

My own decades of work experience show companies large and small shucking employees as a natural part of the business cycle. It came to be an expected—if morose—part of all my generation’s experience. Without exception. Human capital is still, well, capital.

From all our political talk about “Jobs!” you might expect the return of those old high-paying jobs you stay at until you wake up dead at your desk one day. Those days are gone. Today the best offense and defense are the same: anticipate change. Build bridges with people. Sharpen skills.


Image Credit: Never Rider via 2headedsnake

Written by kirkistan

October 29, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Indiana Wants You

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Collaboration as the new metric for evaluating employee success


A sponsored topic in MedCity News presents the CEO of Eli Lilly and Company as bravely moving forward with emotional intelligence. Dr. John Lechleiter cited the need for more collaboration between universities and industry. Lechleiter sees the “…primary function of Indiana’s great research universities is to assist with tech transfer, to bring products…to the society to which they owe their existence.”

While I disagree with that as the primary function of any university (I’m of that old-fashioned tribe that believes learning and research need not always lead directly to a pot of gold), I respect the impetus to find practical outlets for learning.

The brave bit of emotional intelligence is where Lechleiter says Lilly will use a new metric for gauging employee success:

He called businesspeople to task on the lack of collaboration as well. He said that a new measure of an employee’s accomplishments at Lilly would be how many collaborations the person fostered within the state.

That’s radical stuff—and scary—for managers and employees who know only how to bludgeon underlings with orders and monologue. Success will require a whole new tool set, with dialogue anchoring the daily practice.

Lechleiter’s is an attractive stance for a smart, innovative workforce that has grown up with having their voice heard.

Lord You Can’t Go Back There

Minnesota drug lords/pharma execs, students and medical innovators, please disregard this post.

Minnesota wants you (unless you are an outlaw poet).


Image Credit: WILFI

Written by kirkistan

October 24, 2012 at 9:32 am

Endo Brochure Silent on Vital Bits—2 Skills for Tonight’s Debate

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Read the White Space. Hear the Silence.

Campaigns, Inc.: My Antiheroes.

MedCity News reports on an Endo Pharmaceuticals brochure under scrutiny by the FDA. The problem was a lack of transparency about the dark side of the therapy—a therapy designed to slow the growth of prostate cancer cells, namely:

  • paralysis that may result from the risk of spinal cord compression
  • the increased risk of diabetes/heart attack/sudden cardiac death/stroke

In a lively debate in comments section of the Pharmalot blog, the consensus seems to be that the FDA made a good call. Commenters began by speculating this was likely more than just a slight oversight as the Endo communicator skipped regulatory/legal review in a rush to meet a deadline. Then commenters started tracing the language to the Vantas Implant website and began speculating on the rest of their messaging and promotional literature.

The debate amuses me because it is the rare product brochure that is read outside of a sales presentation. And it is even rarer for a brochure to withstand extended exegesis. That the FDA does this regularly earns my respect/awe/fear. Love them or hate them, the FDA’s dogged attention helps medical copywriters and marketers hew to the high road.

The debate also serves as a reminder of the skills needed for watching tonight’s presidential debate. It’s the white space and silence that may be most eloquent. The skill of reading the white space and hearing the silence means the audience must be equipped with the fuller argument. The FDA certainly was. But to read Jill Lepore’s recent New Yorker essay (“The Lie Factory: How politics became a business,” Sept. 24, 2012) is to come away with all the history and reasons as to why the American populace remains a happily uninformed audience. Whitaker and Baxter of Campaigns, Inc. helped set the stage for the current state of our spectatorship:

“A wall goes up,” Whitaker warned, “when you try to make Mr. and Mrs. Average American Citizen work or think.”

In tonight’s debate, I’m trying to break free of my usual indolence to hear between the lines (as it were).


Image credit: The New Yorker

How To Pitch a Medical Device Company #4: Deliver Different (Not as Easy as It Sounds)

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Dumb idea. Wait. That might work.

“Of course,” you might say. “Naturally that’s the point of asking an agency to pitch.” But wait—this is not so easily accomplished. Words and ideas in MedTech become entrenched over time. There are reasons for this, not the least of which is the organization’s internal gating system, organized entirely around the claims they’ve decided they can legally make and can support with the scientific literature and clinical trial conclusions. The gating system also includes those words that fall within the risk tolerance introduced by the legal department. That risk tolerance gets tighter and tighter over time. The internal politics of retaining control over messaging is another reason for entrenchment.

What to do? On the one hand you’ve got seasoned creative minds ready to work out the benefits in a fresh way. On the other hand, it looks like you have a limited set of pathways to follow.

Being an outsider is a huge plus. Your track record outside of MedTech is a huge advantage in the pitch. It creates a platform for you to speak from. A reason for your audience to listen. They’ll be listening for something new, but their antennae will also be up for familiar words that indicate basic levels of understanding of their problems (of which I advocate not pretending).

Brief your team on how to work within and around the framework presented. To stay entirely inside the framework is the curse of living within an organization and heeding the internal rules. But that is not your arena. Knowing all you can about the target audience may help you turn a perceptual problem into an opportunity. One assignment I gave an agency was to turn a therapy largely perceived by spine surgeons as a joke and unproven into a viable option. We had the science behind us and knew how far we could go with the claims. The agency’s resulting concept was a hard sell internally but eventually made it through. The concept shocked the journals so much they initially refused to run it. Know the framework, but as a springboard not a straightjacket.

Don’t forget to play dumb. Being an outsider helps because you can do stuff an insider would know not to do. In fact, this is exactly where you do your best work. And isn’t that how the creative process works—eventually you stumble onto the right thing.

Courage! In the end, doesn’t it always come down to belief in the thing you are presenting? Help them see why it is such a great idea—but you know that. That is where you excel.


Image Credit: Bertrall O. via OBI Scrapbook Blog

Written by kirkistan

June 18, 2012 at 5:00 am

How to Pitch a Medical Device Company #3: Don’t Pretend

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Language is telling.

In Quebec City not so long ago I tried my lame bits of French when ordering or to strike up a conversation. Naturally, there was no hiding that I am an American. And this: if some Francophile took pity on me and answered in French, I was immediately on a slippery slope of wordlessness. Maybe one word in French? Oui. Two words? No.

Language says a lot about what we know the moment we open our mouths. And the game played by medtech firms involves a very firm grip on the language used to explain how their therapy works and the medical problems it solves. These language skills are honed through long discussions with physicians, clinicians and researchers. One doesn’t just pick up such a vocabulary. In some ways, it’s a kind of birthright of people who’ve grown up in the industry.

But just like the Canadian French speakers, they melted (well, a little) to hear my butchering of their language. It meant I was trying. In the same way, medtech firms want to know you are ready to learn. But mostly they don’t expect you to be ready. You’ve come with something else: a track record of ideas and executions that someone imagines refreshing their brand.

So don’t pretend to know the details of their business. Better to be a learner with a solid track record.


Image Credit: via Frank Perry

Written by kirkistan

June 15, 2012 at 5:00 am

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