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Don’t Forget Industry Analysts in PR Programs

Even before English economist William Stanley Jevons and other 19th Century luminaries formalized the idea of marginal utility, business people grappled with sustaining customer desires for their goods and services.

While Jevons had commodities in mind, I believe marginal utility is relevant to PR programs, too, especially in our digital world.  Keeping stakeholders informed with fresh, compelling news, perspectives and content is a necessity to maintain their interest and attention.

One key group with which to build and cultivate such relationships is industry analysts.  These influencers are different than traditional members of the media and bloggers, and an organization’s approach to them must be different, too.

Here are six recommendations for building a strong analyst relations program – one that will create third-party validation for a healthcare company’s services and technologies:

  1. Don’t treat analyst briefings and media interviews the same
    • In a media interview, the reporter asks the questions, and the source answers them while bridging to her own messaging and agenda as the opportunities arise
    • A successful analyst briefing, however, is a dialogue, where the client tries to gain as much insight from the analyst as the knowledge it imparts about its company, positioning, and go-to-market strategy
  1. Work with analysts and their schedulers weeks in advance of desired briefings
    • Unlike reporters that expect sources to be available on a moment’s notice for their assignments, industry analysts often work on longer lead times
    • Use such lead times to orchestrate the objectives of your analyst briefing, even scripting what an ideal briefing looks like
    • Follow scheduling protocols; often, analysts require a company to work with scheduling colleagues, and not directly, to secure briefings 
  1. Avoid lengthy PowerPoint presentations in the actual briefings
    • Time is currency, and analyst briefings don’t happen with the same analyst firm frequently unless there is a paid relationship
    • Provide a thorough background on your company from a strategic perspective and with the market clearly in mind, but leave the lengthy presentations as leave-behinds – or better yet, provide these materials ahead of the briefings (a requirement with some firms)
    • Focus on how your offerings address current market needs and elicit analyst feedback; remember, industry analysts are experts in specific market segments, so leverage that expertise to the extent they’re willing to share their views
  1. Avoid making product announcements the sole messaging points in briefings
    • While product launches and technology enhancements are important to keep key stakeholders informed, use analyst encounters to discuss corporate positioning, larger market issues and company strategies
    • That’s not to say analysts should not be briefed on new products, but put those products in the context of the challenges the sector is facing and the problems the new products solve
    • Product details can be incorporated into PowerPoints, or via links to company web sites or microsites, for further study and reference
  1. Gaining coverage in analyst reports should NOT be the only reason for engaging analysts
    • For smaller HIT companies, securing feature coverage is often difficult
    • However, a successful analyst relations program builds trust and credibility
    • Over time, those benefits can accrue by having an analyst drop your company’s name with her own clients as a problem-solver worthy of industry consideration
    • Securing an analyst as a media reference is another worthwhile pursuit, if the analyst is amenable
  1. Don’t overplay your hand
    • Unless there is a paid relationship in place, analysts customarily accept one, or maybe, two briefings from companies they cover in their market spaces each year
    • Instead of inundating analysts with news releases and briefing requests, build a steady cadence of meaningful connections – perhaps even summarizing events in a quarterly e-newsletter
    • Use industry conferences, such as HIMSS, to connect with analysts in-person

Keeping these recommendations in mind, plus the thoughts of my colleague Matt Schlossberg, can produce rich analyst relationships and help companies advance their PR and marketing goals – even when they don’t have the means for paid relationships.

Analyst Briefings Best Practices

Analyst Briefings Best Practices

Earned media bylines and interviews get the most attention in healthcare public relations programs, but in many ways analyst briefings are even more critical to companies navigating a noisy and fiercely competitive marketplace.

Admittedly, analyst reports don’t have the curb appeal of a slick vendor profile in a top-drawer health IT publication. But they make up for it in other ways.

Many of your potential customers use the reports generated by KLAS Research, Gartner, AITE Group, The Advisory Board and others to evaluate vendors and solutions; better understand emerging healthcare categories, such as artificial intelligence and blockchain, and how they are defined; and leverage the valuable primary and secondary research to make technology investment decisions.

Analyst reports are also beneficial to vendors. They can be invaluable for testing market positioning, providing clarity on where a given solution type is on the hype cycle, and how close competitors are responding to the ebb and flow of market trends.

If your PR executives are good, they are already researching all of the healthcare-specific analyst firms—and many of the cross-industry outfits—and scheduling briefings. If they are smart, they are helping you prepare to make the most of this opportunity.

This post will assume that your PR firm has secured an analyst briefing and is helping you with strategy and tactics to maximize your opportunity. (If my assumption is wrong, let me know).

Phase 1—Preparation

A good PR firm is going to provide solid guidance on analyst firms to pursue. The 500-pound gorillas like IDC and Gartner seem like no-brainers, but smaller firms that specialize in specific areas of healthcare can be just as valuable. (Long-time Amendola client Health Catalyst has a terrific breakdown of most of the major healthcare and cross-industry firms.)

Once a briefing has been secured, it’s time to prepare—even if the briefing is several week or months out. Preparation for analyst briefings can be resource- and time-intensive.

A media interview may run 15 to 20 minutes and be handled in-person or on the phone. Analyst briefings can last an hour—if not more—and often involve prepared slide decks, input from multiple executives, a demonstration of the solution or platform, the willingness to provide detailed answers to questions about your company’s history, competitors and financials.

Your PR executive should have a detailed understanding of what the analyst wants from this briefing, then help you edit and shape the presentation to align with those needs.

Phase 2—Who’s Invited

Many analyst briefings veer off in the wrong direction because the company hasn’t invited enough people—or simply too many.

We recommend that unless directed by the analyst, no more than three company representatives join the call. Those people should include the CEO, who can provide company positioning and higher-level commentary; the Chief Product/Solutions Executive, who can provide detailed information regarding the solution or platform; and the Marketing Executive, who can ably describe market positioning, customer outreach and information regarding competitors.

Of course, other company representatives are free to join, but they should quickly introduce themselves, then place themselves on mute for the duration of the call. The goal of this briefing is to provide the analyst will a smooth, clear, coherent narrative about your company. That can’t happen with people talking over each other, drawing the conversation down a half-dozen blind alleys, and random background noise intrusions.

Phase 3—The Slide Deck & Demo

Sometimes, companies are tempted to throw the kitchen sink at the analyst, covering every conceivable base from every conceivable angle. The intention is good, but attempting to cover everything since the Big Bang drowns the potential for telling a compelling story.

We encourage our clients to keep slide decks and demos short. Not more than 10-15 slides and a demo lasting no more than 10 minutes. You want to explore the details, not get bogged down in them.

As such, your slide deck should address your company’s most important competitive differentiators; provide a brief history of your company and a brief overview of its most relevant products; and offer compelling, results-oriented client success stories.

Ancillary information that may provide helpful context can be delivered to the analyst pre- or post-briefing, for them to peruse on their own time.

Phase 4—The Presentation

About a week before the briefing, we recommend a dry run. For this exercise, your PR executive and an internal communications manager should stand in for the analyst. Run through the briefing. Here are some useful metrics to judge by:

  • How long did the briefing take? Ideally, you should have left a generous space—at least 15 percent to 20 percent of the allotted time—for questions and conversation.
  • Did the subject-matter experts talk over each other or contradict each other? Were their responses thoughtful without also being epic monologues? Were their answers transparent and sincere, or riddled with meaningless jargon?
  • How was the flow of the presentation? Did anything feel missing, superfluous or out of place?
  • Did the presentation hit on all the agreed upon value propositions?
  • Did you finish with case studies and proof points?

Phase 5—Stick the Landing

After your main presentation is done, the analyst will likely have final questions. This is a key intelligence-gathering opportunity for companies. Unlike media interviews, where the questions go in only one direction, analyst briefings allow for more back and forth.

This is a good time to test your assumptions and theories about your positioning in the market or mine valuable insights from an analyst well-versed in your area of healthcare.

Also be sure to leave your analyst with some takeaways—case studies, white papers and blog posts—that will provide additional context to the presentation.

 

Analyst briefings require a lot of preparation, but done correctly, they can be invaluable sources of information about your market and a rich source of customer prospects.

Determining whether to hire a PR agency starts with asking the right questions.

Checklist: 10 Questions to Determine if the Timing Is Right to Hire A PR Agency

Like so many companies, you want to promote your company brand and unique value proposition far and wide. But convincing others to pull the trigger on hiring a PR agency is proving to take more time than you anticipated. Or, perhaps you’re the one who isn’t sold—yet—on bringing in agency expertise. It’s a big decision, no doubt—in some ways, as important as choosing a spouse! But there’s also one surefire way to assess if you should hire an agency: Is the timing right?

With 25 years of experience in PR, including owning the fastest-growing agency in healthcare technology, I can help you sort it out. The first step is to determine what your goals are. Why do you want to be front and center in the news? Reasons can vary—some of our clients want to stand out clearly from the competition; others want to gain a share of voice on industry trends, and still others want to position their company for a strategic acquisition or IPO.

Once you’ve identified why you want to effectively and consistently promote your company, products, services and thought leaders, then you can move on to 10 key questions to help you make a decision about hiring a PR agency now or in the future. The questions fall under five categories—and your answers will give you an honest assessment about whether or not you need a PR agency at your side.

STRATEGY:

#1–Do you have a precise understanding of your target audiences and which media outlets they are mostly likely to engage with? Are you reaching them now or do you need to?

#2–In the event of an unexpected challenge from a competitor/member of the media/credible industry insider, do you have sufficient resources readily available for a rapid response?

#3—In the event of a crisis, do you have the right PR resources in place to quickly gain control of the public dialogue?

MEDIA RELATIONS:

#4–Are you successfully cultivating and maintaining media relationships with key influencers in your space? Are you sending them interesting pitches based on their beats to secure ink for you and your clients?

#5—Are you reaching out to the right media outlets? Every day I hear from prospects that they want to be in the NY Times or the Wall Street Journal but are those the outlets your buyers are reading…like the niche pubs in your own office lobby, or the ones they hand out at targeted key trade shows?

CONTENT MARKETING:

#6–Are you creating and distributing enough information to educate today’s information-driven buyers at every step of the buying process? Establishing your educational/thought leadership position through each phase is often critical when it comes time to making purchasing decisions.

#7—Are you getting your thought leaders’ messages out to your targeted markets and media outlets?

SOCIAL MEDIA:

#8—Do you have an effective social media strategy in place that is getting you noticed and talked about by industry/digital influencers?

ANALYST RELATIONS:

#9–Are you getting cited in the most widely read industry reports where your competitors are?

INDUSTRY RECOGNITION:

#10–Do we receive the recognition we deserve through different awards, speaking opportunities and trade show presentations?

Now, time to assess the results. If your answers have left you feeling somewhat alarmed about your own company’s “PR readiness,” don’t worry—help is just a free consultation away. And now that you know where you’re particularly vulnerable, you can have this consultation tailored to your most pressing needs. We’re here to help you make an informed decision!

Climbing Jacob’s Ladder of Analyst Briefings

In the Old Testament, Jacob’s Ladder refers to the connection between earth and heaven that Jacob dreams about during his escape from his brother, Esau. Healthcare tech companies dream of a similar ladder – the connection between the grounding of their value proposition in the market and the steps up and to the right of their competitors in the Magic Quadrant, MarketScape, Wave or Market Trends Reports.

In last week’s post, we talked about why and when you should do briefings with industry analysts such as GartnerIDCForresterFrost & Sullivan and Chilmark . Other analyst firms who may benefit from a briefing with your organization throughout the year – and not just before HIMSS – include OvumIHS and Alterum.

This week our focus is on the next steps up the analyst version of Jacob’s Ladder – the ethereal briefing itself.

One Step at a Time

There has been an explosion of healthcare technology companies seeking to mine the gold rush started by the Affordable Care Act. And there has been a corresponding growth in the number of analysts and analyst firms covering the healthcare IT market.

Unfortunately, many tech marketers and executives today do not have a clear view of which analyst influencers they should be briefing, nor what story they should be telling, nor how they should tell that story.

Analyst firms add credibility by providing independent, third-party validation to IT buyers in healthcare and several other vertical industries, including financial services, pharma and consumer goods. They also provide deep expert insights on the market to vendors during briefings – sometimes only through a paid relationship, but often as part of the discovery process for their industry market reports.

The Gartners, IDCs and Frost & Sullivans of the world have scores of analysts who at first glance you might think should all be interested in your company and technology. However, usually only up to four analysts participate in briefings – it is much more likely that only one or two analysts will attend the briefing.

That’s where your PR firm can help. If your PR rep has a strong track record in working with the industry analysts, that person will be able to quickly separate the wheat from the chaff – both in terms of which firms will have the greatest impact, and also when it comes to which analyst(s) within those firms are the best target(s), based on their coverage area(s). Firms often have several analysts focused on different points along the HIT horizon for payers, providers, pharma and consumers – so you may need to schedule multiple briefings for the different target market segments.

Why is it important to take the first initial steps one at a time? If you think back to HIMSS 16, everyone seemed to be locked in to positioning themselves for population health, patient engagement or care coordination throughout the hall. Those topics cover wide swaths of the HIT landscape. Your PR rep should first drill down within those broad categories to target the most relevant one to four analysts at each firm, and then submit a compelling briefing request through the analyst bookers to secure briefings.

This usually involves creating a brief synopsis explaining your company, its HIT solutions, and your target market, as well as background on the healthcare IT experience of the executives presenting the briefing. Other information that may be requested includes revenues (past and projected), market size and competitors (more on that later).

Getting the briefing, the first steps up the ladder, is actually the easiest part. The steps get a lot more difficult as you begin to shape your vision, market position and messaging for the analyst influencers.

Tighten the Knots

There are several reasons to brief analysts – it may be just to introduce them to your company, review your go-to-market strategy, or provide an update (we recommend updating analysts at least once or twice a year). You may also have a new product launch or significant corporate news, such as a merger or acquisition. Or the analyst may be doing research for a report that you want to be included in.

To have the most impact on the analyst and subsequently the tech buyers they are advising in the marketplace, it’s important to tighten the knots on the story that you tell. Usually, analyst briefings last no more than one hour. So the story your team tells has to be compelling, concise and complete – all while still leaving plenty of time for you to tap into the analyst team’s market insights as well.

What makes a compelling story? First and foremost are client success stories you can share with the client. Yes, you want to provide a brief history of your company and a brief overview of its most relevant products, but don’t get lost in the weeds for either of those topics. Analysts are looking for proof points, so just like working with the media, the more compelling success stories you have to share, the more weight that will carry with the analysts.

We recommend organizing the presentation in this format:

  • Make Introductions
  • Encourage Analysts to Ask Questions at Any Time
  • State the Desired End Result (“If you get only one thing out of this briefing, it is…”)
  • Preview a Success Story (should reinforce the one “get” for the briefing)
  • Provide Market Overview (targets, size, challenges, competitors)
  • Share Company Background (history, size, locations, top executives, number of employees)
  • Provide Solution Overview (with demos and product roadmap)
  • Share Key Partners (if applicable) and Customers
  • Highlight Customer Impact (cost savings, improved outcomes, streamlined processes, success stories)
  • Request Analyst Input (questions, feedback, market insights)
  • Confirm Next Steps (schedule next update, discuss pending reports, meet at upcoming conference)

Who’s Climbing the Ladder?

Frequently, there is an internal debate that may occur when it comes to who should be included from your team for the briefing. There is no hard and fast rule – it really depends on the knowledge level of the person or persons who have the most insights on the target market, your solution and the competition.

However, Amendola usually recommends that no more than three members of your team sit in on a briefing – a senior healthcare business executive, someone from product marketing/development, and/or a CTO or VP of technology (to cover the more geeky questions). More is not necessarily better. One really good executive briefer is better than three mediocre briefers.

The call should be hosted by your analyst relations or PR agency rep, who should then become a (mostly) silent partner who starts the call with introductions and finishes the call with a brief recap of the information covered and a summary of the next steps. This person should also serve as the scribe for the call, so the other participants can keep their focus on communicating their key messages to the analysts and probing them for market insights from the analyst’s perspective.

Lighten the Load

One of the biggest mistakes made in analyst presentations is trying to cram 100 pounds of company/solution/market information into a five-pound rucksack as you climb Jacob’s Ladder. You do not – repeat, do not – want to fall off the ladder because you tried to pack too much into your PowerPoint presentation.

The ideal length for a presentation is 10 to 15 slides – no more. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, it should leave them hungry for more, so it gives your analyst relations rep or PR firm a reason to follow up with additional information such as white papers, case studies or data sheets (if their questions are more technical in nature).

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be prepared to expand in detail about your slides. While you want to send a clean deck to the analyst firm, use the Notes view for your team to have information they need readily available for questions you anticipate from the analysts.

Second, most analyst firms request that the presentation be sent to them for review at least one day in advance of the briefing. The reason for this is that the analysts want to cut right to the chase in the call. By being able to review your briefing ahead of time, the hour can be spent in a more productive way than just reciting bullet points on a slide that their own two eyes have already seen. That is time better spent on exchanging insights on the market opportunity, competitors in your space, unique differentiators of your solution, or the seaworthiness of your corporate strategy and value proposition.

Also, if you are doing a demo, it is critical that the demo has been rehearsed, tested and aligned with the story you are telling in your presentation. Ideally, the demo is reflecting a real-world situation, walking the analyst through the process of how your solution solved the challenge and benefitted the customer.

Please note: demos should not go on for more than five minutes at the most. Again, this is an opportunity for your rep to set up an additional call down the line for a more extensive demo, if the analyst is interested.

The Next Rungs

Once the briefing is over, your work is not done. It is important to follow up on the action items summarized by your analyst relations or PR agency rep at the end of the call. This provides multiple opportunities to continue on up the next few rungs of the ladder – influencing the influencers, so to speak, as they evaluate your climb up and to the right in the market they cover.

The next rungs could be in the form of regularly providing relevant content such as press releases, white papers, case studies or research reports; insights on the market you can share with the analyst; reviewing the relevant section of a market report that includes your company and its solutions; or providing an update in advance of a milestone event, such as a product launch. In order to sustain your relationship with the analysts, it is important to be in touch with them throughout the year, and not just in the month before HIMSS.

The Benefits of “Earned” Analyst Relations

There is still a misconception that persists among many PR and marketing professionals today that analyst briefings are not worth doing unless their organization has a paid subscription with the analyst firms. We often find that analyst relations is one of the first things that marketers want to cross out of our PR proposals.

Our take – Vitare loquitur coniectoribus periculo tuo.

Or, for those former parochial school students like me still struggling with Latin: Avoid opportunities to speak with analysts at your own risk.

Even if your organization does not have a paid relationship with an analyst firm, we strongly believe it is worth your time to do an “earned” briefing – similar to the earned opportunities your PR team is proactively seeking from the media outside of the paid/advertorial opportunities that those outlets’ sales teams are pitching. As long as the privilege of an earned briefing is not abused, analysts are usually open to scheduling calls or even in-person briefings. But make sure you have something important to say, and that you are prepared for tough questions about your company’s direction, target markets, customers, and even its financials.

Analyst recommendations are among the most important influencers for those executives looking to make significant buying decisions about healthcare technology solutions. With all the noise in the marketplace – from walking around the HIMSS show floor last month, there are too many companies to count who lay claim as the answer to population health, or personalized medicine, or care coordination – it is critically important that your organization is included among vendor recommendations when your prospects check in with analysts.

Yes, you’ll probably have to take a sales call along with the briefing. But the intrinsic, long-lasting value of getting in front of key analysts who decides to make out the lineup for recommendations makes the briefing makes that 30 extra minutes listening to a sales spiel about their services and events well worth the effort. Plus, the media often turns to analysts for expert insights, and while they usually don’t reference specific vendors in their quotes, you do want them to be aware of your positioning so when they are quoted in the media your organization’s vision and positioning are helping to shape the thinking behind their comments.

Which are the key analyst firms you should consider targeting for “earned” briefings? In general, the most well-known firms are still Gartner, IDC, Forrester, Frost & Sullivan and Ovum. But it is just as important to hold briefings with other analyst firms who also have significant influence over buying decisions in the healthcare technology market, including (but not limited to) Chilmark, IHS and Alterum.

Your analyst relations strategy should incorporate regularly scheduled briefings with the relevant analysts at these firms. The first step is to reach out to the analyst firm to request a schedule of reports they plan to publish in the next year. Then, build out a briefing schedule, not only based on those reports, but also based on significant milestones you expect to hit with your corporate positioning and/or roadmap.

Keep in mind that analyst briefings do have a much longer lead time, so it is important to know the process through which briefings are coordinated. For instance, Gartner, IDC and Forrester have central bookers who schedule the briefings. Even if you have spoken by phone or in person with an analyst previously, you or your PR firm will still need to contact the booker or fill out a form on the analyst firm’s website to schedule the briefing. Give yourself 6-8 weeks lead time, so if you have a big launch coming up three months from now, you should be requesting a briefing now.

So you got the briefing booked. Now what? We’ll be covering the Do’s and Don’ts of preparing and holding a briefing in our next blog post, as well as the follow-up that is needed in a timely fashion to make the briefing a successful one.

Check back next week for our next post on prepping for and holding a briefing, as well as how to handle action items that need to be addressed coming out of a briefing. But in the meantime, share your insights in the comments below on:

  • Which analyst firms you find have the most impact?
  • What works well with analysts based on briefings you have participated in?
  • What are some of the common pitfalls of doing analyst briefings?