Life can take people in many surprising directions. For Martina Neville, PhD, her career took a long winding road back to science. Starting out in fashion, she now holds a PhD in mucosal immunology and runs a marketing training and consulting company called Detta. Along the way, she has worked for several marketing agencies, giving her an unprecedented chance to touch hearts and inspire action through her work. Her invaluable experience in scientific research, marketing, and writing, makes her the ideal person to kickstart the BioGraphers series!
Read on to learn more about Martina’s journey and how her past experiences enabled her to become a successful marketing coach and consultant in the biotech sphere!
PN: So you started your career in fashion. What inspired you to make the leap into science, and how did you do it?
MN: I fell into the fashion industry by accident because I had young children and I needed income. It was not a well-thought-out career choice. I have always been creative, so fashion felt like an obvious option.
But at school, the only subject I ever loved was science and by the time I got to the age of 30, I knew it was time to take the risk and start a new journey. Weirdly, it was my son’s primary school teacher who suggested that I enrol on an Access course. Then, it just spiralled from there. I did my undergraduate in Biomedical Science, I stayed on for my (MRes) Master of Research and then I completed my PhD.
Initially, that transition was quite difficult. Having not been in education for a long time, I was up against students that were just repeating a lot of their A-level (college) content. But I had no college education, so I was learning everything from scratch.
PN: Well you made that transition beautifully even with the difficulties! Reflecting on your doctorate experiences, how did finishing a PhD help you succeed in your work now?
MN: What a PhD does is teach you that, to be successful sometimes you just have to fail and move on. So that’s incredibly useful in setting you up to be a business owner. Things will fail but you just need to quickly figure out the problems and then try to solve them.
Aside from that, the practical scientific knowledge, and an understanding of common challenges in the lab means that PhD graduates are often in a unique position. Often you will hear people say, “You don’t need a PhD to be a science marketer” and that’s sometimes true.
However, having encountered several marketers in the life science space I can honestly say that having a PhD usually means you have a greater understanding of your client’s products and services.
PN: Seeing that the PhD helped you be where you are now, I’m wondering what resources helped you move away from academia. Where should students look to learn about potential career options?
MN: Moving away from academia was a no-brainer for me. I very quickly decided after starting my PhD that academia was not for me. I was quite lucky in that another PhD student in our lab went to a large Pharma company, so I had a lot of insight from her in terms of what to expect in industry. Additionally, one of my PhD supervisors kindly loaned me some books that covered the transition from academia to careers outside of academia.
That said, I can understand struggling to make the transition. In academia, it feels like you’re living in a different world. It can feel like you’re blinded to everything outside. That’s where LinkedIn comes in. When I look back, I should have spent some time on LinkedIn communicating with people that were already in different areas. I hence want to impart that advice to other students. Students should look to engage with people outside of academia. Make a great LinkedIn profile and start communicating with people in positions that you want to be in. Take advice from academics with a pinch of salt because they are in a very unique environment and have a very particular mindset.
PN: I find that really helpful because I do often see a distinct lack of awareness about the many options a student has career-wise outside of academia.
MN: That’s very true. What I really think needs to happen here is that the onus needs to be taken away from the students and put on the universities themselves. Universities should be offering advice and career talks from their previous students that have moved into non-academic fields using their science degrees. I can’t recall the exact statistics, but the overwhelming majority of life science students will choose not to stay in academic research so why universities focus so much of their time and effort in promoting academic research as a career is baffling.
PN: Well I’m glad you made the transition to marketing so well! That said, what inspired you to get into marketing consulting and training?
MN: I had been thinking about setting up on my own for quite some time and there were several reasons. While working for other life science marketing agencies I began to spot gaps in the market that had huge potential. I’d also reached a point in my career where I needed to be the decision-maker. There is nothing worse than working in a company where you can see poor business decisions being made and you have limited influence. That said, I appreciate that it’s incredibly difficult to run a company and manage a team of people. Nevertheless, I came from an understanding that there are better ways to do things and I wanted to do that without undermining anyone.
That’s why I got into marketing consulting training. What I want to do is help companies internally, not take business away from agencies that already exist. I do so by training around general marketing strategy and managing marketing teams, along with a focus on specific marketing areas. For me, that specialist area is search engine optimization (SEO) and content development. This is where I’ve seen the largest gap in the biotech market. By filling this gap, I want to show that internal training is a robust way to improve the relationship between biotech companies and their marketing agencies.
PN: SEO. We’ve seen that term float around a lot in the marketing realm, What is it, and why is knowing about SEO so important in life sciences marketing?
MN: I think what is key here is that I start with what SEO is not. SEO is not creating content to beat an algorithm. Yes, search engines use algorithms, it’s no big secret. But the reason those algorithms exist in the first place is to ensure that humans get high-quality content as quickly as possible. Technically speaking, SEO is a broad spectrum of things; there’s on-page SEO, off-page SEO and technical SEO. Each of these is a specialism and it can be difficult to find marketers that understand all aspects.
SEO should be a top priority for a life sciences marketer to achieve their goals. Almost everything we do is related to SEO. Ultimately, it’s about driving organic traffic to a website and keeping the right people there.
PN: You’ve certainly showed the importance of SEO in any marketing strategy here. But why is developing a marketing strategy so important when promoting a product or service?
MN: When we think about the word strategy essentially what we’re saying is that what you do needs to be considered and planned. While strategy is great, what often happens in businesses is they spend huge amounts of time in this planning/strategy stage but then nothing is executed.
I would then say that while strategy and planning are important, what’s really key is that you follow that strategy. Of course, there will be times when you will need to move outside of that because unexpected things may pop up. But without that roadmap, you’re just winging it and wasting huge amounts of money.
You might be wondering who in their right mind would be spending huge amounts of their budget without actually thinking about it. But I see this daily in my work.
PN: With any strategy I imagine that a lot of people would be involved in curating and executing a marketing strategy. Who are those people, and how do they play a role?
MN: Of course, the obvious answer is that internal marketers, freelancers, and agencies are crucial. Together they will drive success in terms of deliverables. What companies often overlook is the importance of the people in contact with the customers like the sales and business development team and any technical or application specialists.
This is the single largest issue I see in life science and biotech companies globally. There is a real lack of effective communication between marketing and sales. It’s not an easy issue to overcome as there is often blame from both sides. Nevertheless, if companies want their marketing and sales efforts to succeed, they need to create a more inclusive culture between teams. Whereas the marketing teams provide the content to build brands, the sales teams determine how to translate the marketing campaigns into sales. The two teams will benefit by learning from each other and combining their efforts to drive brand awareness and facilitate sales.
PN: I imagine marketing teams have a lot of tools that would help sales teams get the job done too. What are the most common forms of written content, and how should companies determine which mediums to use?
MN: There are so many types of written content that biotech companies can develop and use. Two main points should be considered: what stage the company is at and what the end goal is. From there, you can reverse engineer your strategy.
As a company, it’s important to think about how you will support potential customers through the journey from awareness to decision. Content will vary based on where customers are in the journey. For example, at the awareness stage, high-level informational content such as blogs and infographics is crucial. Then as the customer becomes closer to the decision-making process, they will be looking for evidence that you’ve got a great product and that you support your customers. It’s here that content such as case studies, customer interviews and white papers make a huge impact.
One point to add here is that companies frequently underestimate the power of content at the awareness stage. There’s a misconception that content such as blogs and infographics is a waste of time. However, if all you create is bottom-of-the-funnel content then you’re failing to futureproof your market.