A word about making history

Mickie Kennedy has an interesting post this morning about writing books for their media-relations value. To summarize his thesis, even in a digital age the printed work can give you credibility and a reputation as an expert in your field. I learned that first-hand when the company now known as Sanofi Pasteur US hired me to write a book about the organization’s rise from horse farmers to suppliers of vaccines to the world.

Brand_New_Day_cover 2While the company paid for the first printing of The Spirit of Swiftwater we arranged the second printing with a university press just itching to publish a business book. That attracted the interest of several thought-leaders in the industry. I knew we’d struck gold when one of the world’s most influential virologists, a doctor who’d been working with WHO to contain bird flu in Asia, visited the company and accepted an autographed book.

Those of you who know me know that I live to write large-scale works that appeal to a wide audience. I think there are several reasons why an executive or an individual would hire a writer or a ghostwriter to create one of these: to promote the organization or the person, or to be more altruistic, to leave a legacy. I often tell the story of Marco Polo and his travels along the Silk Road. His father Making_History_cover 2and uncle made the journey years before they took the young explorer yet few people know their names. Every kid who’s splashed in a pool knows about Marco. The reason is simple: Marco wrote about the journey.

If you’re fascinated with an elegant tool for marketing, or just a fleeting moment of fame, I have a few resources for you, including two documents that detail the rationale, project scope and budgetary outlines of a book-length project. You can download Brand New Day and Making History from this website.

Good luck on the journey.

Betting the Farm

The Pocono Biological Laboratories started on a hill where cattle and horses grazed in the hamlet of Swiftwater, Pennsylvania, more than a hundred years ago. Today those labs are part of one of the world’s largest vaccine-makers, Sanofi Pasteur. With the recent interest in my history of the facility, The Spirit of Swiftwater, generated by the TV show “The Haunted,” I thought I’d post a small portion of the book. Enjoy.

Betting the Farm
The stakes were enormous. Early in 1989, Dr. Howard Six walked into the office of Dave Williams with the proverbial good-news, bad-news scenario. The lawsuits and press coverage from the DTP scare had nearly ruined the company, along with most of the vaccine industry. Both knew the only way to survive was to produce a better diphtheria–tetanus–pertussis vaccine. The antigen of choice — an acellular pertussis component — was available in Japan. The good news was that Swiftwater had acquired this component from Biken and had gone into clinical trials, and the trials were going well.

As the first signs of green spread among the stone buildings of campus, Six, the vice president of Research and Development, delivered the bad news to his president: Through another Japanese company, Lederle Laboratories had done the same, and it looked as if Lederle would deliver its product first. Both men knew the first company to reach the market with what was perceived as a safer product would enjoy the accolades, as well as the profits.

Swiftwater book cover 72The stakes were even higher for Swiftwater. The new technology embodied in the acellular vaccine would drive the industry into the next century, leading to the creation of an innovative pipeline and helping Swiftwater to differentiate its products from the competition. And finally, Swiftwater did not have the luxury of funding research and development with revenue from pharmaceutical sales. If Connaught Laboratories was ever going to be a world leader in pediatric vaccines, the company had to move quickly. That meant money. And that raised a concern. Swiftwater was no longer a single company; it was now part of Connaught Laboratories Ltd.

In Canada, Dr. Don Metzgar, senior vice president of Connaught Laboratories Ltd. and the person with the purse strings, listened to the story on the speakerphone. Dr. Six had a plan. Biken’s clinical trials in Sweden had gone well. Under normal circumstances, Swiftwater would proceed step-by-step, waiting for each phase to be completed, analyzing the results, and then planning the next phase. But the labs did not have the time to proceed in sequence, not if it wanted to beat Lederle.

Swiftwater would plan the clinical trial phases in their entirety.

“Let’s assume everything will work and do it all at one time,” Six proposed.

Williams said he agreed. So did Metzgar. “If we’re going to go for it, let’s do it right,” Metzgar said. “Let’s increase the trials from 500 to 1,000.We’ll double the budget.”

“What about Lederle?” Six asked.

“We can catch them,” Metzgar replied.

And they did. Through hard work, long hours, and innovative clinical-trial planning, Swiftwater became the first company to receive an FDA license for an acellular pertussis product for infants in the United States.

It was another example of a gutsy decision by Dave Williams and his team.

“This was the only hope we had to be first to market,” he said. “Pertussis is an important product in pediatric immunization. It’s often called the keystone of the pediatric vaccine marketplace. It was also the key in the coming combination vaccine market. The decision had more to do with strategic positioning in the marketplace.”

Williams said the decision “would be challenged many times along the way” by people inside and outside the company.

Metzgar, too, was aware of the magnitude of the risk. “I authorized the doubling of the budget, the spending of 1.2 million in Canadian dollars,” he said. “I had the authority to do so on paper, but I didn’t have the funds.”

The persistence showed by management paid well. After the U.S. Food and Drug Administration licensed booster doses of Tripedia in 1992, it licensed the vaccine for infants in 1996.

That strategy also allowed Swiftwater to capture a greater portion of the world biologicals market. Between 1985 and 1994, the U.S. vaccine market grew at a compounded annual rate of approximately 11%. During the same period, Swiftwater’s revenue grew approximately 23%. Over the last decade, Swiftwater has seen tremendous progress. During that period, revenue grew from U.S. $30 million in 1985 to approximately U.S. $242 million in 1996.

Between 1997 and 2006, the U.S. vaccine market is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of about 14%, from slightly above U.S. $1 billion to more than U.S. $4 billion. Pasteur Mérieux Connaught anticipates its share of that market will grow from about 21% to about 33%, with most of the growth occurring in the pediatric, adolescent, and adult segments.

That kind of progress is sustained by innovation — in research and development, in marketing, in managing the resources the company possesses. As Swiftwater moves into the next century, it plans to broaden its product line, influence public policy on age-appropriate immunizations, and better manage the process of FDA approval. But as the gamble with Tripedia illustrates, the name of the game is research.

The Preeminence of R&D
In the 1990s, the Swiftwater Labs looked at the market’s new emphasis on cost-cutting and decided that if it wanted to change managed care’s perception of vaccines, it had to alter its own views on the subject.

“We shifted from selling undifferentiated commodities to marketing vital technology,” said Damian Braga, vice president of Finance and Administration and one of the persons who develops Swiftwater’s strategic plans. “We changed how we would view our products, from commodities to vaccines that are an essential part of health care. We started to place an emphasis on developing innovative products and being the first to market with them.”

New Technologies
Senior management has learned well from the success of ProHIBiT and Tripedia. They have followed the example of Dr. Slee when he adapted the Pasteur Institute formula for the new technology of the time — glycerinated small-pox vaccine— and built a business from it. They understand the importance of innovation. Now, they intend to take science to the next level.

Building the brand (and career) through books

In the digital age, books may seem hopeless outdated. But as a marketing tool, they can generate attention and credibility in a world overloaded with messages.

DyanMachan“The entrepreneur with a book under her belt is no longer a schnook fighting for recognition; she’s a published author sharing her wisdom.” Dyan Machan (“Is a Book the New Business Card?”) writes at SmartMoney.

That dovetails nicely with today’s communications gestalt, which, like social networking, puts the emphasis on sharing.

Leaving a legacy

In 1271 the Polo family took the first step on a grueling journey of thousands of miles, from the canals of Venice through the desert plains of Persia to the fabled court of Kublai Khan. You know the name of that 17-year-old explorer (so does every child who ever hung out at a pool), but do you remember the names of the father and uncle who led the expedition?

Marco Polo’s famous descriptions of spice and silk, of desert raiders and healing springs, have fascinated people for generations. But Marco was not the first in his family to make the epic trip. In 1260, his father Niccolo and uncle Maffeo set out to sell jewels on the lower Volga. They saw many of the same wonders Marco would report eleven years later. Yet few remember them. Why?

Because Marco wrote about the journey.

Marco also put you in the scene. Readers can feel the grit of the desert and the soothing waters of the oasis at day’s end. Those details, along with the description of the clothing and conversations he experienced, turned a travelogue into a fascinating tale. Centuries later, he’s still capturing the attention of readers the world over.

Today we’d describe Marco’s technique as a simple version of narrative nonfiction. Modern writers from Tom Wolfe to historian David McCullough employ the tools of the novelist to create compelling stories. While basing their material strictly on the facts, narrative nonfiction writers seek to recreate the actions, scenes and feelings that shape a country or a company. They focus on ordinary people who do extraordinary things. They put the reader in the scene.

Stephen Covey (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People) places this ancient principle in a business context when he says one of our highest aspirations as humans is to love, to learn and to leave a legacy. One way to do so is by sharing your hard-won knowledge with others through a memoir. I had the great good fortune to receive a call from a well-respected publisher a few years back that needed a writer for just such a project. The result was One in a Million, the story of a nurse who took her company from the coal fields of Scranton to the Nasdaq.

I’m not comparing her life to that of Marco Polo’s but like the famous explorer she realized that in order to leave a legacy you have to write about the journey. This short video on YouTube talks about that process.

Enjoy the trip.