Are You Sticky?

An executive learns how to create messages that resonate in the workplace

Mary Stutts, senior vice president and head of corporate relations for Élan Corp. PLC

Élan Corp. PLC., a neuroscience biotechnology company specializing in biopharmaceuticals and drug technologies that support the research and treatment of major health concerns such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Crohn’s and multiple sclerosis, prides itself on leading the industry in conversations on changing clinical trial methodologies.

“Our stance on these issues is an outgrowth of our company’s value proposition,” states Mary Stutts, senior vice president and head of corporate relations for the Dublin-based firm. “Élan’s message energizes workers to excel, motivates patients to participate in clinical trials, secures the help of regulators, and attracts the necessary investment and buy-in from shareholders,” says Stutts.

Messages that are most likely to make their target audience pay attention, understand and remember them, believe or agree with them, or care and consider taking action, are those that are sticky, write Dan and Chip Heath, authors of Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (Random House; $26).

Stutts leverages these traits to transform the way Élan communicates the importance of its work and the impact of its results to employees, investors, regulators, physicians, patients, and third-party consumers:

Tell a story. “Opaque, abstract missions don’t captivate and inspire people. Stories provide both the needed knowledge of how to act and the inspiration to do it,” note the Heaths.

Stutts’ team has collaborated with constituents throughout the enterprise to develop Élan Excellence, a compelling, easy-to-tell narrative that melds the company’s successful breakthrough therapies and cures for degenerative diseases with its corporate macro messages of business strategy and organizational direction.

Keep it simple. The Heaths insist that sticky messages cannot have multiple goals of equal importance. It’s important to focus on core messaging even if it means discarding other great stories in order to let the most truly important one reverberate.

Stutts articulates the core of Élan’s work as: defining the future of neurological therapies. The company’s one-sentence mission statement and six core principles are simple, yet profound enough to perpetually align stakeholder behaviors without requiring “play-by-play” instructions from senior management.

Tap emotions. Ideas should be personal and relational, the Heaths suggest, in an effort to create empathy.  Even with Élan’s 40-year history of medical success, Stutts keeps the spotlight on people by capturing online stories of patients and their families affected by specific neurological diseases Élan works to cure.

This article originally appeared in the June 2010 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.

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  • Gabrielle F

    This could also be retitled “Being Unforgetable…Best Practices”. Tell a story they’ll remember, keep it simple and be personable! Got it! Ah, to have had solid advice like this at 18, would have been divine. C’est la vie. If you can catch a Mary Stutts seminar, do it. I’ve had Ms. Stutts on my ipod for about 2yrs for positive motivation.