Media Interview: Jan Norman, OC Register

jannorman.jpgJan Norman has been writing for the Orange County Register since 1981 and frequently covers the area’s many emerging medical technology companies. Renowned for her knowledge of small businesses and entrepreneurship, she is the author of four books: What No One Ever Tells You About Franchising, What No One Ever Tells You About Financing Your Own Business, What No One Ever Tells You About Marketing Your Own Business and What No One Ever Tells You About Starting Your Own Business.

She recently spoke with Med Tech Sentinel about life on the med tech beat and what small companies can do to increase their chances of coverage, and about Orange County’s burgeoning medical technology community.

What’s one thing you wish emerging medical technology companies were better at that would make your job easier?
The lingo is so daunting. Medical device companies rarely use a nickel word if a silver dollar word is around. And then they string those incomprehensible words together. Because you’re cutting edge, most people aren’t going to understand you. There’s a saying many attribute to Albert Einstein, although I can’t prove that he actually said it: If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. The work many medical device companies are doing is exciting life and death, so find simple ways and analogies to communicate that work and the media will beat a path to your door.

Read on for full interview.

How long have you been writing about the medical device/technology industry?
I have been a reporter at daily newspapers in Arizona and California since 1970 and at the Orange County Register since 1981. Like most reporters, I started with general assignment, cops, schools, city councils. In 1985, the Register was expanding its business coverage and as your entrepreneurial readers can appreciate, I jumped at the opportunity.

After covering many different industries, from telecommunications to real estate to retail, I took over the Register’s “It’s Your Business” column in 1988 and gradually expanded our coverage of small businesses and entrepreneurial issues to a full-time beat. Because Orange County is so strong in medical devices and eye care, I can’t avoid covering the small, entrepreneurial med tech ventures on this beat.

It’s sometimes hard for smaller companies to get media attention. What kinds of things do you look for when deciding to cover a med tech firm?
You’re right. Small companies struggle for even a rim of the spotlight at many mainstream media. However, the Internet and specialty publications are opening opportunities that didn’t exist just a few years ago. I always urge smaller companies to try to get coverage in publications/blogs/Web sites their customers and financial backer read. They may not be Time magazine, but their coverage may have a greater impact on the company.

I tend to favor a good story, a challenge overcome, a problem solved, especially in starting and managing a small company. Many in your audience shouldn’t have a difficult time with this idea. Venture capitalists and private equity guys also love a good story. Unlike the money guys, I don’t have to envision a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow to find the tale appealing. I don’t take this approach without reason. I’m looking for things to interest my readers.

Here’s a hint: As you try to think of stories to pitch to the media about your own company, consider the audience. I write for a general audience, so I’m always trying to help them understand the basics of emerging technology, to see that businesses are really about people and that many of the management issues for the most far-out technologies aren’t that different from the tool maker or corner shop. However, many companies want to have their story told in a technology-oriented publication or Web site. They might find appeal in a different kind of problem solving story. Study the publication or Web site first and see what they’re writing. That will give clues about how to approach them.

What sector of medical technology is hot right now?
A couple of sectors come to mind quickly: those related to helping people who are getting older and to surgeries without incisions.

In the first category are companies like Glaukos, which is developing glaucoma treatments. Venture capitalists invested $40 million in this company in the first quarter of 2007. Another is Advanced Medical Optics, which is making artificial lenses for the eye that can correct both near sightedness and farsightedness. As someone who’s got both problems, I’m “watching” this technology closely. And a third is Epinex Diagnostics, which is working on diabetes tests that patients can administer at home more frequently and for lower cost than current tests.

In the second category are USGI Medical, working on gastrointestinal surgeries without incisions, and CoreValue, working on replacing heart valves through a catheter without open heart surgery. The exciting story to tell in this category is the rapid recovery patients will have. Again, I have a personal interest. My granddaughter was born with a defective heart and had open heart surgery when she was 13 days old. She still has valve issues. What a blessing if eventually doctors can correct the problem without cutting her open again and have her up and running in days.

Orange County is home to a lot of emerging medical technology companies. What attracts them to the area?
Birds of a feather flock together. A few med tech companies had success in Orange County so others were attracted to the neighborhood. Also, those early successes trained and developed managers, executives and entrepreneurs familiar with medical technology, so other med tech companies could find good human resources in the county. The service professionals like attorneys and accountants in Orange County became familiar with the industry, so they could provide higher quality assistance and the financial and professional resources vital to young companies.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Jan.

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