Editor’s Note: This piece was written before Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial.
Now, don’t get me wrong.
Medical device public relations expert Beverly Millson does not think PR is useless for medical device companies.
In most cases.
Beverly has done outstanding work for her clients Össur and Ekso Bionics. In our discussion, Beverly shares some major client victories and tells us when “PR is useless.”
Joe Hage: Welcome to #MedDevice chat, Beverly. I found you on the Medical Devices Group and was intrigued by your work for @EksoBionics.
Beverly Millson: Thx for having me, Joe. It would be my pleasure to discuss PR for meddevices, especially what I’m doing with Ekso Bionics, the pioneer in exoskeletons, and Össur, a global orthopaedics leader.
I have managed Ekso Bionics’ PR for two years and Össur’s for 10.
Joe Hage: Have you spent your whole career in public relations? Have you always focused on medical devices?
Beverly Millson: I’ve been in advertising, marketing and PR for 30 years, the last 12 in medtech.
May I begin with a story about Össur?
Joe Hage: Yes, please do.
Beverly Millson: Össur develops and makes noninvasive orthopaedic devices, including prosthetics.Össur is known for its bionic prostheses, as well as the Flex-Foot Cheetah that bilateral amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius runs on.
I had the opportunity to see Oscar run at the 2004 Paralympics. That’s when we knew we had to sign him up. Oscar is a one-of-a-kind athlete, so I persuaded Össur to pitch his story to US media.
As you can imagine, the story about a bilateral amputee from Pretoria who runs was not an easy sale.
Joe Hage: I think it’s a fascinating human-interest story. I’m surprised it wasn’t an “easy sale.”
Beverly Millson: Well, let me tell you what happened next.
Oscar Pistorius signed on Team Össur as an ambassador in 2006. Then the IAAF, the sports-governing body for Olympic track and field, denied him the right to compete.
IAAF denied Oscar the right to run on grounds that his prostheses gave him an advantage over able-bodied runners!
Össur is an ethical company, and it vehemently disagreed with the IAAF, saying that in no way did he have an advantage.
Wired magazine began working on a huge story about Oscar, including trips to Iceland and South Africa.
Joe Hage: So this experience was a gift for you. That’s pretty rare in #MedDevice PR, I would think.
Beverly Millson: It was a gift and killer. Soon after the Wired story broke in March of ’06 calls came in 24 hrs a day for months.
Joe Hage: That’s the kind of “killer” my readers would “kill for.”
Beverly Millson: The main story is always the user. A big mistake that med device companies make is that they only work B2B.
Joe Hage: I’m going to disagree a bit. Yes, I can blog all I want about the benefits of an ECG exam. Patients can read it. They may even go to their doctor and request a heart exam.
That’s no reason a doctor, GPO, hospital, or purchasing agent is going to think about replacing their ECG machine. It’s well made, it lasts forever, and capital budgets are constricted.
Beverly Millson: If the product is outstandingly well made, lasts a decade and is already in all hospitals, why spend money on PR?
Joe Hage: So you agree, then? There are some companies that should NOT DO PR?
Because that’s quite different than what you said earlier. “every med device has a good story, if it’s a good product.”
Joe Hage: Yes, then it will be good to have had a retained agency which understands the product and the market.
Beverly Millson: There are products out there – not medtech – that advertise just to keep their customers feeling the status symbol.
Joe Hage: Right, but a different target and a different market.
Let me change subjects a bit. The reason I wanted to interview you was I found the Ekso product so compelling. Please tell us about it.
Beverly Millson: As @EythorBender, Ekso Bionics’ CEO, says, the Ekso is to exoskeletons as the wooden foot is to prosthetics.
Joe Hage: Interesting analogy, “wooden foot.”
So “wooden foot” is like Prosthetics 101 and Ekso is Wearable Robotics 101? Is that what you mean?
Beverly Millson: Exactly. Ekso is just the beginning of an entirely new platform. Wearable robotics … now for paraplegics, later for all.
Ekso Bionics also developed HULC, which they licensed to Lockheed Martin. HULC enables the wearer to carry up to 200lbs for hours over all kinds of terrain.
I weigh 120 lbs, and could carry a 200-lb box for hours wearing HULC. It increases strength and endurance.
There are numerous industrial, geeky, and even sports-oriented possibilities for wearable robots.
Joe Hage: So the primary benefit is “extra strength”? Or restoring mobility to the injured?
Beverly Millson: It’s both. Ekso isn’t a prototype anymore. Ekso Bionics has begun selling the device to rehab centers. Craig Hospital was the first recipient of the commercial Ekso exoskeleton on Valentine’s Day!
Joe Hage: You were saying it’s very difficult to bring bionics to market. What makes that #MedDevice category different?
Beverly Millson: Bionics are generally expensive and unknown by regulatory and payer audiences. A challenge in almost every way.
Joe Hage: I can see where PR in that category would be very important.
Beverly Millson: Yes. Ekso Bionics’ CEO, Eythor Bender, is the world’s top expert on bringing bionics to market. I could talk all day about them.
Joe Hage: I am interested and may well follow up with you on that. In the meanwhile, Eythor’s Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) presentation, “Eythor Bender demos human exoskeletons,” was recently named among the best ever by HuffPo. I’ve attached it below.
For now, I’d like to close with the question, What would you like to tell the Medical Devices Group audience? What can we do for you?
Beverly Millson: I’m so happy to have found the MedDevice group on LinkedIn. Community in PR is everything. Let’s help each other.