Strange bedfellows? Think again

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Day in and day out, ResMed and Respironics fight like crazy for a bigger share of the sleep market. But when it comes to growing that market, the two manufacturers have teamed up. In September 2004, the competitors hired a public relations firm to orchestrate a non-branded campaign aimed at building public awareness of sleep disordered breathing. The results have been impressive: 403 print and online stories, 340 television broadcasts and 642 radio stories. Combined, those stories reached millions of Americans, estimate ResMed and Respironics officials. Unlike advertising, non-branded PR promotes an issue--in this case sleep disordered breathing--not a particular company or product. By building public awareness, this behind-the-scenes approach also grows the market for sleep products. That's good for Respironics, ResMed, their competitors and HME providers. "Everyone's getting their money's worth," joked Don Spence, president of Respironics' sleep and home respiratory group. In April, Spence and Keith Serzen, ResMed's COO-Americas, discussed the ongoing PR campaign with HME News.
HME News: Explain a little more in-depth the concept behind the PR campaign?
Keith Serzen: The whole idea was, generally, that there's a public health problem with a known solution but very little awareness. We thought that if the general public understood that there was a solution, they would generate questions to their physicians. Questions to physicians would then lead them through a diagnostic channel and to a therapy channel.
HME: Why not ask other companies to participate? After all, everyone benefits from the campaign's success?
Don Spence: There wasn't an interest in bringing in other parties and probably there isn't at this time. One of the reasons is that it's working well. We compete in the marketplace but at the same time, we've been able to share a common view of the need to drive awareness and the need to get patients in for treatment. You start throwing in other parties and it'll only make things more complex.
Serzen: That's exactly right. The premise was a rising tide will float all boats, so what can we do together to make the size of the opportunity larger? If competitors benefit from that, they will benefit from that. But if we made the pie larger, and we are the market leaders in the industry, we will probably benefit as a result. So let's make the pie larger, and then let's go out and sell our products.
HME: The PR campaign has resulted in a lot of news stories. Are there other ways you measure its success?
Spence: To say that our sales last quarter or last month are related to this is hard to do. Keith and I have similar views from the standpoint of what we call the cocktail test. That is, at cocktail parties do people know what sleep disordered breathing is and what a CPAP is? What was it like five years ago and what is it like today? I'd say there is no question the awareness is getting out.
Serzen: I believe that the market growth here is significantly higher than anywhere else in the world, and that has been through the likes of this program. To me, that metric probably measures it more than anything else.
HME: What should HME providers take away from this PR campaign?
Serzen: This whole idea is to help patients, to help our companies and to help our partners. Anything that we can do to drive people into the diagnostic channel or therapeutic channel benefits everyone in this chain. I believe our HME partners all benefit as a result of our campaign.