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The Power of Partnership: Lessons in Client Relationships from the Life Sciences

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Last month, PAN attended the MassBio 6th Annual CRO/CMO Symposium, part of Biotech Week Boston. While mingling with life science leaders, project managers, scientists and even other marketing folks in the biopharma outsourcing industry, we got the opportunity to deepen our understanding of the relationships between Clinical Research Organizations (CROs) and sponsor organizations. As we listened to each organization discuss challenges and benefits of these partnerships, we couldn’t help but recognize the parallels between the CRO/Sponsor relationship and the relationships we have with clients.

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Below are a few of our favorite takeaways for success in both spaces.

1. Find the partner that best fits your needs.

You can only have a great vendor relationship if you select one that is right for you. At the symposium, we heard a lot of discussion about whether sponsor organizations should partner with a large CRO or a small one, what level of expertise they should have (both as an organization and the individual practitioners within it) and more. The truth of the matter is that no vendor is perfect for everyone; the right partner is the one that fills your company’s gaps. For example, some sponsor organizations need a CRO that has deep experience and can run with a project to the finish line, while some may benefit more from a CRO they can work alongside each step of the way and educate them about the specific project.

During the panel, “Perspectives on Partnerships,” Evan Guggenheim, Senior Manager, Technical Development, Biogen said that during the vendor selection stage, its most important to give a voice to everyone who needs to benefit from the relationship – from scientists to project managers – to determine which qualities to look for in the vendor. Similarly, we at PAN know the best programs stem from the right partnerships, so when meeting with a prospective client, our top priority is making sure that the client/agency relationship will be the right match for the job. To do this, we engage in conversations to unearth the specific needs of that prospect to determine first and foremost whether our services are the right fit for that company.

2. Transparency and expectation setting lead to success.

Helen Ho, PhD, TCR2 Therapeutics said it best in the opening panel at the symposium: “The best partners are those you can call up with a question or concern and hear ‘I am on it, we will get this done’ and you trust them.” Seemingly a simple ask, this level of trust can only come from open communication and quality results that align with the client’s goals. The key is to be fully transparent about the entire process. Beginning even before contract negotiations, be sure to outline the end goals, strategy and process to get there, and the anticipated timeline. This is also a good time to discuss variables that may affect the results. For CROs this may mean having contingency plans for various scientific outcomes, or getting approvals from the necessary parties to move a project along. In our PR programs, we timeline our PR planning strategically to align with the media landscape, or to anticipate the need for spokespeople to move a media opportunity forward. Whatever the case may be, the more information you share, the more understanding there will be when it’s time to take action.

 3. Buy into the partnership and let them do what they do.

Once you build trust through open communication and transparency, the vendor should operate as an extension of the client’s team. Sponsors should trust their CROs to serve as experts who will provide counsel through the relationship lifecycle since it’s very likely an issue the sponsor is seeing for the first time is one the CRO has handled before. Similarly, PAN draws upon our experiences to inform our planned strategies and rapid-response scenarios, shaping them to clients’ specific goals and needs.

From CROs to integrated marketing agencies, the best relationships are built on trust and communication. Interested in learning more about how PAN approaches client relationships? Email us at

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