Take the time to do your homework before jumping into launching a communications strategy. Photo via Getty Images

Co-founder of the Hackett Center for Mental Health, Maureen Hackett, once told me, "Newman & Newman applies the science of communications." I had never heard our approach to marketing communications described that way, but I understood her point. Before we produce promotional materials, digital campaigns or social media platforms, we research answers to fundamental questions for delivering a positive return on investment.

So many leaders want to jump straight into producing tangibles. I understand, they want solutions they can see, touch and hear, and they want them now. It can be tough to employ thoughtful strategies when you're pressed for results. The good news is that research doesn't have to delay taking action, but it has everything to do with how successful those actions will be.

Investing in communications research

Just as you wouldn't hire a marketing communications specialist to design a medical device, founders of a life science company are rarely trained in the proficiencies of strategic communications. Clearly, they possess the vision, but translating that vision into compelling language, and ultimately impactful marketing tools, requires an applied science all its own.

In formulating communication strategies, we study what you do and why it matters, as well as the perspectives of your key audiences to better understand their motivations. Much like a life science engineer applies research findings to develop new products or processes, we use the results of our research to develop messages and marketing tools that connect the purpose and impact of your innovative device or service with the unique priorities, needs and concerns of each group you are targeting.

Though necessary, it requires skill and insight. In their Industrial Biotechnology article, Marketing and communicating innovation in industrial biotechnology, biochemist Hamid Ghanadan and co-author Michael Long wrote, "The challenge is that most life science products and services address multiple market segments, fit within multiple applications and workflows, and are sought by multiple types of audiences. Thus, marketing management has to create a chameleon that can be compelling and convincing on very targeted terms."

Targeting your message on their terms

Organizations sometimes limit the focus of their marketing communications to sources of funding, investors and clients who contract their services or products, and telling them why they should. To prevent missed opportunities, it's important to research the full spectrum of your company's audiences. For instance, what key influencers in the innovation ecosystem have the potential of facilitating valuable connections for you or represent strategic partnerships? If you're a B2B2C company, who are your customer's customers whose satisfaction, compliance and understanding of what you've developed can influence the future of that contract?

Once each key audience is identified, what does it mean to speak their language? Because when it comes to formulating audience-specific messaging, one size does not fit all. The more tailored your communications, the more you incorporate their vernacular into your story, the better the results. This too requires research for effectively connecting the solutions you offer with what's important to a given audience. Ultimately, it's a merging of your knowledge and intentions with the unique interests, concerns and needs of those you want to reach.

Every organization is founded on answering a need. It defines your purpose. What is the significance of your organization's purpose and how is it clearly communicated in messaging that influences opinion and motivates action in your target audiences? Answering that fundamental question is the first step in research that I've yet to see not reveal significant results.

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Kelli Newman is president of the Houston-based communication strategies firm, Newman & Newman Inc., where she leads a talented team of marketing professionals advancing the success of their purpose-driven clients.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Barbara Burger of Chevron, Ashley DeWalt of DivInc, and Kelli Newman of Newman & Newman Inc. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — energy venture, sports tech, and communications — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures

Chevron Technology Ventures made two recent investments from its brand new fund. Courtesy of CTV

In February, Chevron Technology Ventures LLC launched its newest $300 million Future Energy Fund II to build on the success of the first Future Energy Fund, which kicked off in 2018 and invested in more than 10 companies specializing in niches like carbon capture, emerging mobility, and energy storage. The initial fund contained $100 million.

"The new fund will focus on innovation likely to play a critical role in the future energy system in industrial decarbonization, emerging mobility, energy decentralization, and the growing circular carbon economy," Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures says in a February 25 release.

Now, a few months later, Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, has announced that the fund has made its first two investments — one in a company with offshore wind turbines and one that's working on an alternative energy source from ammonia. Read more.

Ashley DeWalt, managing director of DivInc

Ashley DeWalt, managing director of DivInc, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss diversity and inclusion, sports tech, and all things Houston. Photo courtesy of DivInc

Houston has a huge opportunity for sports innovation, says Ashley DeWalt, and he should know. He's spent over 15 years in the industry at both the professional and collegiate levels.

"We have a very high concentration of current and former professional athletes that live in Houston," DeWalt says, "and I truly believe — and the data shows this — these professional athletes are going to invest in sports tech."

DeWalt — who is the Houston-based managing director at DivInc, which just expanded to Houston — joined the Houston Innovators Podcast last week to discuss sports tech and diversity in the Houston innovation ecosystem. Stream the episode and read more.

Kelli Newman, president of Newman & Newman Inc.

In her guest column, Kelli Newman explains missed communications and branding opportunities for Houston innovators. Photo courtesy of Newman & Newman

Chances are, you aren't making the most out of branding and storytelling opportunities. At least that's what Kelli Newman, president of the Houston-based communication strategies firm, Newman & Newman Inc., found in her recent research into the Houston innovation ecosystem.

"For two months we interviewed investors, accelerators, industry customers and entrepreneurs themselves, asking for missed opportunities they may be seeing in what and how companies are communicating," she writes in a guest column for InnovationMap in which she explains her findings.

From setting yourself apart from the competition and tapping into empathy, Newman shares her tips from her findings. Read more.

Don't miss a messaging or communications opportunity for your startup. Photo via Getty Images

Here's what Houston's innovation community is missing out on when it comes to messaging

Guest column

By definition, companies throughout the innovation ecosystem have a purpose-driven story to tell. As communication strategists who specialize in purpose-driven clients, we wondered if influencers of Houston's entrepreneurial community see any recurring communication challenges getting in the way of companies successfully securing funding, acquiring customers and even recruiting talent.

For two months we interviewed investors, accelerators, industry customers and entrepreneurs themselves, asking for missed opportunities they may be seeing in what and how companies are communicating. Below are our findings, with corresponding recommendations organized into four key points of action.

Distinguish yourself from your competition

"They may have an incredible concept, but terrible messaging," was a surprisingly common response to our investigation of communication obstacles.

Many innovators think that simply describing the inspiration for their company, perhaps the illness of a loved one or an observed struggle, is enough for explaining the Why of their story. In fact, investors, potential customers and even employees are looking for something more substantial.

First, what distinguishes your company from others like it? Regardless of how pioneering the solution you offer, it will be compared to whatever else is currently available to address the need, including nothing at all. Simply explaining how what you provide works is not enough. Our research substantiated the need for also addressing your company's relevance and differentiation. Characterizing the unique essence of your company is an important distinguisher from the competition that helps cut through the noise.

When formulating a client's organizational messaging we not only examine their purpose, we study their values and culture so that it is reflected in language the company uses to describe itself. Potential customers we interviewed said the compatibility of company cultures and values weigh heavily in their considerations for partnering. So, you're overlooking a key distinguishing strategy if you think target audiences are only interested in the nuts and bolts of what you do.

Speak the language of different audiences

More than the fundamental act of communicating, messaging is language specifically tailored to articulate an organization's unique purpose, significance, values, and culture. Messaging delivers the greatest impact when it functions as a tangible asset. In other words, a formal document of composed language that ensures continuity and is utilized as talking points for investor presentations, content on the company's website, themes reflected in digital advertising, etc. However, it should not be viewed as one size fits all.

Information with universal relevance, known as organizational messaging, is essential, but so is audience-specific messaging that addresses the unique perspectives, priorities and concerns of individual groups. The need for companies to recognize this important distinction was another of our findings.

While both investors and customers are interested in the viability of your company's technology or services, they each have very different needs and priorities. To motivate desired action, you must speak each audience's specific language, which means getting out of your head and into theirs.

If you're a B2B2C company, you may even need to speak the language of your customer's customer. Several research interviews expressed how companies shoot themselves in the foot when they don't take the long view of an audience's needs. If, for instance, your customer is having difficulty explaining to their patients how your innovative medical device works, composing instruction language and even producing patient education tools may be an added deliverable necessary for you to retain that contract.

Not recognizing employees as a key audience and overlooking the importance of strong internal communications was also identified as an obstacle to success. Clearly, attracting funding from investors and business from customers is a core objective of effective communications. However, employees should also be considered a priority with messaging that keeps them informed, inspired and on track. Afterall, they're the team that will take your vision over the finish line.

Connect on an empathetic level

Research participants emphasized the need for factoring in a discovery phase that not only involves learning how to speak an audience's language, but gaining an appreciation for the challenges, goals, protocols and culture of those they're approaching as well. It requires assuming a level of empathy and understanding, rather than a singular focus on "sales," that ultimately culminates in rewarding, long-term relationships.

Effective communication is not a one-way exchange. Listening is critical. When what you've discovered is reflected in your marketing materials, that demonstration of a genuine commitment to connect is reported as being even more impressive.

Avoid costly consequences of poor communications

Companies operating without a Strategic Communications Plan risk the expensive consequence of functioning in a chronic reactionary mode with scattered results and lost credibility through inconsistency.

Yes, flexibility is important, but the research we've conducted reveals a clear advantage for those who recognize the importance of effective communications, particularly growth-stage companies that have gained their initial footing and are ready to build on their brand. The key is putting a blueprint in place that connects the dots of what you offer and your distinguishing essence, with the needs of your targeted audiences, by speaking their language. If not, you risk missed opportunities for securing funding, acquiring customers and attracting the best talent.

Changing the world is your passion, helping innovative entrepreneurs effectively communicate that passion is ours.

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Kelli Newman is president of the Houston-based communication strategies firm, Newman & Newman Inc., where she leads a talented team of marketing professionals advancing the success of their purpose-driven clients.

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How universities can help equip Houston with a skilled cybersecurity workforce

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With an increasing number of data breaches, a high job growth rate, and a persistent skills gap, cybersecurity professionals will be some of the most in-demand workers in 2022. It’s more important than ever to have people that are properly trained to protect individuals, corporations, and communities.

Demand for cybersecurity talent in Texas is high. According to Burning Glass Labor Insights, employers in the Houston metro area have posted over 24,000 cybersecurity jobs since the beginning of 2021. But the pipeline of cybersecurity workers is very low, which means many local and national companies don’t have enough people on the front lines defending against these attacks.

Unfortunately, it looks like the cybersecurity skills gap is far from over. An annual industry report from the Information Systems Security Association shows that the global demand for cybersecurity skills still far exceeds the current supply of traditionally qualified individuals, with 38 percent of cybersecurity roles currently unfilled. This shortage has real-life, real-world consequences that can result in misconfigured systems and improper risk assessment and management.

How can companies help close the cybersecurity skills gap within their own organizations? We believe it will become increasingly important to look beyond “traditionally qualified” candidates and view hands-on experience as the same, or even more important than, the certifications or bachelor degree requirements often found in cybersecurity job descriptions.

The top open cybersecurity roles in the Houston area include analysts, managers, engineers, and developers. Employees in these positions are essential to the everyday monitoring, troubleshooting, testing and analyzing that helps companies protect data and stay one step ahead of hackers. When looking to fill these roles, hiring managers should be looking for candidates with both the knowledge and experience to take on these critical positions.

Fortunately, Houston-based companies looking to establish, grow, or upskill their cybersecurity teams don’t have to go far to find top-tier talent and training programs. More local colleges and universities are offering alternative credential programs, like boot camps, that provide students with the deep understanding and hands-on learning they need to excel in the roles that companies need to fill.

2U, Inc. and Rice University have partnered to power a data-driven, market-responsive cybersecurity boot camp that provides students with hands-on training in networking, systems, web technologies, databases, and defensive and offensive cybersecurity. Over 40 percent of the students didn’t have bachelor degrees prior to enrolling in the program. Since launching in 2019, the program has produced more than 140 graduates, some of whom have gone on to work in cybersecurity roles at local companies such as CenterPoint Energy, Fulcrum Technology Solutions, and Hewlett Packard.

Recognizing programs like university boot camps as local workforce generators not only gives companies a larger talent pool to recruit from, but also increases the opportunity for cybersecurity teams to diversify and include professionals with different experiences and backgrounds. We’re living in a security-first world, and the right mix of cybersecurity talent is essential to keeping us protected wherever we are.

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David Vassar is assistant dean of professional and corporate programs at Rice University. Bret Fund is vice president overseeing cybersecurity programs at 2U.

Houston's billionaire benefactors gift another $1 million to citywide charity

a united front

Arguably Houston’s most recognizable benefactors, Rich and Nancy Kinder have done it again. The billionaire couple, known for mammoth donations throughout the city, have just donated $1 million to the United Way of Greater Houston, the organization announced.

According to the United Way, the Kinders’ gift addresses the impact of the pandemic on the local economy, and how it has raised unemployment, drained household finances, and strained nonprofit basic needs resources.

“Lifting up the many hard-working families and individuals in our community and supporting their pathway to self-sufficiency is an effective and critically important approach,” said Nancy Kinder, president and CEO of the Kinder Foundation. “We support United Way of Greater Houston’s new strategic vision because we recognize the impact it can have on those seeking a sustainable quality of life.”

As CultureMap has previously reported, the Kinders are longtime donors to the United Way; this is the third consecutive year the couple has made a $1 million campaign gift at the nonprofit’s Luminary Leadership Giving level.

That Luminary Leadership Giving level is the highest within United Way of Greater Houston’s Alexis de Tocqueville Society, which is a group of generous individuals currently numbering more than 700. The group is noted for making gifts of $10,000 or more annually to United Way of Greater Houston. The group contributed more than $17 million to United Way last year, per a press release.

This year, the Kinders landed on the annual Forbes list of the wealthiest Americans. Houstonians will no doubt recognize the couple from other hefty local allotments, including the game-changing, $70 million donation to Memorial Park.

They are also behind the stunning and newly opened Nancy and Rich Kinder Building at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston med device company secures first patient for clinical trial

health care tech

The first patient has been enrolled in a nationwide clinical trial that will evaluate the safety of Houston-based Saranas’ device for early detection of bleeding during minimally invasive heart procedures.

The initial patient was enrolled earlier this month at Morristown Medical Center in Morristown, New Jersey. The trial will eventually enroll up to 265 patients across the U.S.

Saranas’ Early Bird Bleed Monitoring System aids the detection of bleeding during high-risk percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) procedures using mechanical circulatory support (MCS). In the clinical trial, the MCS will be the Impella heart pump.

PCI refers to minimally invasive procedures for opening clogged coronary arteries. MCS boosts heart function when the organ can’t perform at its best. The trial will test the ability of the Early Bird Bleed Monitoring System to detect serious or potentially fatal bleeding.

“As the field of minimally invasive, catheter-based procedures continues to advance, patient safety is paramount,” Dr. Babar Basir, director of acute mechanical circulatory support at Detroit’s Henry Ford Health System and co-principal investigator of SAFE-MCS, says in a news release. “This study will collect comprehensive procedural data in patients undergoing PCI with MCS.”

The data then will be reviewed to determine how real-time monitoring of bleeding can improve a patient’s health, Basir says.

Dr. Philippe Généreux, co-director of the Structural Heart Program at Morristown Medical Center, is the other co-principal investigator for the clinical trial.

“SAFE-MCS is the first prospective trial focused exclusively on the impact of integrating bleed monitoring in large-bore access for high-risk protected PCI patients,” says James Reinstein, president and CEO of Saranas, a medical device startup.

About one-fifth of patients will experience bleeding complications during “large bore” blood vessel procedures such as percutaneous MCS, transcatheter aortic valve replacement, and endovascular aneurysm repair. The estimated cost of one bleeding complication during these large-bore procedures is $18,000, adding up to an annual cost of $729 million for health care providers.

The Early Bird Bleed Monitoring System is the first and only device approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for real-time monitoring of bleeding problems during endovascular procedures for repair of blood vessels.

Saranas’ collaborators in the clinical trial are Proxima Clinical Research, a Houston-based contract research organization, and South Korea’s CardioVascular Research Foundation. The Early Bird study is expected to be completed by January 2023.

Since being founded in 2013, Saranas has collected $31.5 million in funding. This includes a $12.8 million Series B round that Saranas received this summer from Chicago-based Baird Capital and Austin-based S3 Ventures.

The Early Bird device was developed at Houston’s Texas Heart Institute. The FDA approved the device in 2019.