Aug 06, 2015


by Grant Goad

Thermo Fisher Scientific, Illumina, Bruker, GSK, Molecular Devices—each one of these companies has called on life science marketing agency Chempetitive Group to help them reach their audience.

The team at Chempetitive is passionate about science. Whether a client is in pharmaceuticals or cutting-edge lab equipment, they pride themselves in tailoring creative marketing communications strategies that drive results.

Erik Clausen is a managing partner at the agency and runs their San Diego office. He’s also a talented storyteller and leads their PR team. Who better to fill us in on the basics of life science marketing?

If you’re a scientist/founder just starting a new drug discovery outfit, or perhaps run a larger firm with a couple rounds of angel or venture funding under your belt, then you’ve probably had more than a few questions about PR and marketing. Erik Clausen’s generously offered experience and insight will help.

When and why should a life science start-up begin to think about marketing and PR?

Every life science company should first think about brand from the very moment the company is formed. Brand first! When and why to begin communicating that brand via marketing and PR should be dictated by the strategic goal. In other words, where does the company want to go next?

For example, an early stage life science company may be seeking to raise financing, secure commercial partnerships, recruit scientific and/or business expertise, or even begin conditioning the market in advance of commercialization.

Each of these goals dictates a slightly different set of messages and channels for reaching those audiences and driving toward the strategic goal.

Should I hire a PR and marketing firm?

The advantage to hiring a PR and marketing agency is immediate access to experience and expertise, as well as relationships that can accelerate the time to those strategic goals mentioned.

Keep in mind, though, that hiring an agency does not remove the fact that a start-up has to invest some time and energy to empower the agency with information and materials, knowledge of the business, and an understanding of its goals. It has to be a partnership in order for it to work.

Should I hire multiple specialist firms to handle PR, digital marketing, or graphic design separately?

If the goal dictates an intense amount of activity in a single area of marketing, then specialist agencies—or a specialist team within a larger agency—make sense.

If a more comprehensive, integrated, and balanced approach is dictated, then an integrated agency that can bring together a variety of specialist teams—who work together efficiently—is the way to go.

What about hiring a marketing person in-house?

Obviously, an in-house person who is solely focused and dedicated to a single company will live and breathe the company’s marketing program everyday. That should enable them to be highly effective, but may test their limits.

The disadvantage to hiring in-house is that a single person or even a few people will have limits to how much time, energy and bandwidth they’ll have to drive a marketing or PR program forward. Also, a single in-house role may lack the range of skills needed if the program is comprehensive, complex or integrated. They need a team.

If a company is ready to hire an agency, what should they look for? What criteria should they use to make their choice? 

They should look for domain expertise, sector-specific experience, and transparency in all aspects of the relationship. Judge them based upon the questions they ask, so you can see how they think. Questions are good. In the end, it’s about the relationship and trust, because you’ll be in the trenches with them.

What role does social media play in life science marketing? 

Although social media’s adoption in the life science markets remains behind mainstream or consumer sectors, it is quickly closing the gap. The maturity of social media platforms, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, LabRoots, Reddit and others, combined with the growing number of social media savvy (or dependent) millennials in research and professional roles in the life sciences means that the time for social media has arrived.

Social media—as a function of PR—is also among one of the most efficient and cost-effective marketing tactics available for early stage companies.

Which other platforms are important to include in the life science marketing mix? What percentage of each do you recommend?

There are so many tools now available in the toolkit—from traditional advertising, tradeshows, events and communications, to digital marketing, which is probably the most exciting area of marketing in life science at the moment.

Digital marketing capabilities have grown exponentially in recent years with new technologies and platforms extending the reach of marketers. Foremost, the ability of organizations to self-publish and share their brands via content marketing is opening up entirely new channels for direct engagement between companies and their audiences.

Tell us a little more about Chempetitive Group.

Chempetitive Group is a team of more than 40 former scientists, in-house marketers, professional communicators, and failed (we prefer struggling) musicians who have a passion for science, medicine, and marketing.

For more than a decade, Chempetitive Group’s squad—based in San Diego, San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston—has helped science-driven companies to create great brands and nail their strategic goals through marketing, content, PR, and digital marketing.

What types of clients do you work with?

We specialize in life science and healthcare, and work with companies of all sizes and at all stages of growth—from start-ups to blue chip public companies. More important to us than the size of the company is whether or not we can successfully help a company through its marketing challenges.

More specifically, we work with companies that seek a true partnership with their agency team. For us, a client engagement is a personal thing. We form bonds with our clients that transcend the agency-client relationship and often form lasting friendships that extend well beyond a project or campaign.

Do you ever do pro-bono work?

Yes, we do—where we believe that we can help the cause. We’ve done pro bono work for a range of organizations.

Locally, we’ve worked to support Drugs & Diagnostics for Tropical Diseases (DDTD), which is doing amazing work to develop treatments for malaria, river blindness, and other diseases that have gone largely neglected.

They need more than Chempetitive Group’s support and people can contribute to their cause at

What makes you feel good about your job?

Professionally, I enjoy developing a strategy for clients and then seeing it unfold and have the desired effect. There’s nothing better than seeing a plan come together.

Personally, I feel good about my job for two reasons. First, I chose to focus on the life sciences versus other markets because—quite simply—it serves a higher purpose. Human health and longevity—our collective future—are dependent upon research and discovery. Science is truly awesome.

Second, the people with whom I work—clients and colleagues alike—inspire me. They challenge me, and I challenge them. We speak openly, directly and without ceremony. We try to have fun in the process and enjoy the ride. It’s about the work, our relationships, and getting better at our craft.

Together, we move forward.

Take a moment to visit the Chempetitive Group’s website. >>

Eric also runs the Life Science Network in which ALT is a sponsor.