Journalists on FDA Approvals: Building a Proactive Engagement Strategy for A Marketing Campaign

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Following years of R&D investment in a medicine, an FDA approval is a major financial victory for a drug maker. Without one, a pharmaceutical company cannot market a drug with medical claims. Accordingly, an approval is the ideal opportunity for a company’s communications team to execute on a carefully crafted media engagement strategy that results in coverage of the product’s entry into the U.S. market (i.e., CBS News‘ coverage of Vuity in 2021). In this scenario, working with a predetermined list of journalists who post frequently about FDA approvals on social media is the most effective way of identifying reporters who could add visibility to a marketing campaign. For a campaign to truly be successful, no single metric should determine which journalists are targeted for engagement. Instead, topic-related post volume and engagement rate, overall follower count, and connections to other influential social voices should help identify authors with topic-specific clout.

STAT News‘ Adam Feuerstein and Matthew Herper, Pink Sheet‘s Sarah Karlin-Smith and Wall Street Journal‘s Jonathan Rockoff are the past year’s most influential reporters on FDA approvals as measured by StratInt Research’s Influencer Score and their connections to healthcare-relevant accounts1. Adam, for instance, has the most connections (14) to pharma-relevant journalists (14) followed by Matthew (9), indicating that the former’s peers are more likely to interact and increase the visibility of future content. Although STAT‘s Damian Garde has a higher Influencer Score on this topic than Sarah and Jonathan, he has fewer healthcare-relevant connections and only one FDA approval-related post in the past 12 months, suggesting that despite his audience’s above-average engagement with the tweet, he rarely publishes on the topic and would not be an ideal candidate for proactive engagement. Based on the chart below, Evaluate Pharma‘s Jacob Plieth, CNBC‘s Meg Tirrell and Bloomberg‘s Drew Armstrong should be monitored closely for upward trends in their topic-specific Influencer Scores as all three have a notable number of connections to healthcare-relevant accounts. Getting reassigned to a new beat focusing on FDA news would likely generate more relevant content and increase their Influencer Score, especially if their audience responded positively.

Influencer Scores & Connections of Select Journalists*

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*Accounts for 12 months of Twitter data. The Influencer Score measures FDA approval-related tweet data from journalists, whereas the Connections are not topic-specific.

Aside from Influencer Score and connections, topic-specific volume of activity is an excellent barometer for future interest in the topic. The top journalists by volume are as follows: Sarah Karlin-Smith (58 FDA approval tweets), Adam Feuerstein (30), and Jonathan Rockoff (23). Matthew Herper also had a significant number of relevant posts (22). Strikingly, all four journalists had at least double (and in Sarah’s case almost seven times) more posts than Jacob Plieth, the next most active reporter on this subject. Of all the metrics that are factored into StratInt Research’s topic-specific Influencer Score, post volume is the strongest indicator of both the author and their outlet’s interest in the topic at hand, signaling a future willingness to cover the first stage of a drug’s life cycle (introduction) and perhaps a receptiveness to working with a pharmaceutical company when exclusive access to quotes from C-suite and other executives is granted.

Top Journalists by Volume

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Having identified Sarah Karlin-Smith, Adam Feuerstein, and Jonathan Rockoff as the journalists who have the optimal blend of metrics on FDA approvals-related content (greater-than-average total posts, strong Influencer Scores, and numerous connections to healthcare-related accounts), the next step is to determine the general sentiment of the reporter’s work on specific pharma companies. Given that posts on this topic are generally straightforward (unless a product has earned the unenviable label of “world’s most expensive drug”), it is more accurate to analyze an author’s traditional media content for overall brand sentiment as well as topic-specific sentiment. Does Sarah, for example, mostly write negative articles on the company regardless of topic or are there specific topics that she generally takes a more neutral approach on than others? Is her sentiment similar across the entire industry or are there certain companies that she routinely criticizes due to familiar industry-wide reputational issues like drug pricing or patent reform? Combining traditional and social analyses will offer a clearer picture of a journalist’s suitability for proactive engagement.

  1. Influencer Score is a proprietary dynamic scoring methodology that accounts for all available social metrics for an Influencer (followers, posts, engagement rate, etc.,) and updates in real-time based on topic, peer-group comparison, and a specified time range.