Science Marketing Masters Q&A: Ron O’Brien of Thermo Fisher Scientific

By C&EN Media Group

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Editor’s note: In this series, we talk with marketing executives from leading science companies to glean insights that you can incorporate into your media plan.  

If there’s anyone who knows how to talk to scientists, it’s Ron O’Brien. As director of public relations for Thermo Fisher Scientific — a $13 billion company with customers spanning the spectrum of biotech, health care and research — O’Brien develops and executes strategies that grow awareness of the company’s products and services. Here, he shares insights into tactics he’s found to be most successful.

C&EN: Before entering the world of science PR, you managed communications for companies in other industries. What’s the key to connecting with scientists versus decision-makers in other industries? 

O’Brien: In any industry, you want to know where your customers get their information because you want to reach them in the places they’re already going. Whether I’m at a trade show or an industry conference, I always take the opportunity to ask people where they get their information. The list they cite is usually pretty short. With career scientists, I’ve learned that they rely heavily on peer-reviewed journals, as well as publications put out by associations — and increasingly, the Internet. We tailor our message to the media outlet and the audience, but we find that Thermo Fisher is such a pervasive presence in the lives of scientists that we don’t need to conduct a hard sell. Simply making information available and providing scientists with the opportunity to purchase what they need goes a long way.

C&EN: You mentioned the Internet is a growing area for scientists. Can you share your observations of what works best when using social media to reach this group?  

O’Brien: As people graduate college and grow their careers, their personal life and work life inevitably start to overlap on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. We see people sharing information about products and services with each other, not even intentionally. So it is a valid channel for marketing to this industry, when it’s done in the right way. I am personally a big fan of the groups on LinkedIn. When I post a news story to my LinkedIn account, it tends to be something I consider to be of interest to people who are similar-minded to me, and I will generally get a response. I might post a teaser for a webinar and a few lines about what the webinar will help you accomplish. Or if there’s a great guest speaker at a conference, I’ll tweet that to make people aware that they have the opportunity to hear this person speak.

C&EN: What mistakes have you seen other marketers make as they attempt to win over a scientific audience?

O’Brien: I don’t think it’s effective to just run a single ad and that’s it. An ad has to be considered in terms of the selling cycle. If it’s a new product or a new version of an existing product, a single ad might make sense. But even then, I think there should be ancillary support either in the form of a webinar or an email campaign to provide more information. Video has also become an important part of marketing strategy, but it’s often overlooked. Showing someone what a product can do is more effective than telling them.

C&EN: A lot of companies today are struggling with tight marketing budgets. Can you offer any tips for making the most of your budget?

O’Brien: As marketing budgets become tighter, you have to decide whether your goal is to generate awareness or generate leads. If you want to generate leads, you have to provide something of value to your prospects. Invest your time in analyzing the audience and choosing the channel that is the most efficient in reaching that audience. When you do that, you’re more likely to get a return on your investment.

For more guidance on marketing to a scientific audience, visit C&EN Media Group’s blog, Marketing Elements. Do you have a tip that could help other science marketers do their job better? Tweet us at @CENMediaGroup.


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