Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Stem Cell Directors OK New PR Push to Improve CIRM Image

Directors of the $3 billion California stem cell agency today approved a new PR/communications initiative aimed at bolstering the image of the research effort and moving it closer to winning voter approval of additional billions of dollars within the next few years.

Without additional funding, the seven-year-old agency will not be able make additional grants beyond about 2017. It has only $1.2 billion left for research spending, an amount that does not go far when some grant rounds are topping $200 million.

CIRM directors approved the plan on a unanimous voice vote following a brief discussion. Chairman Jonathan Thomas described the plan as ambitious. It will be administered by a new director of communications who is expected to be hired soon. CIRM already has three persons working in communications. A fourth is likely to be added under the plan.

The board's action followed presentation of a $20,000 study of its PR efforts by the political and PR consulting firm of Townsend Raimundo Besler and Usher of Sacramento. The firm said CIRM's PR efforts have produced "less than satisfactory results," damaged its own public image, failed to stay abreast of the need to communicate with many different audiences and led to organizational "dysfunction."

Townsend recommended "rebranding" the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the official name of the agency, as the "Stem Cell Institute." Townsend's report said the agency's formal name "has proven not particularly effective in helping the public" understand its work.

Townsend recommended centralizing communications management, reorganizing existing communcations staff, creating an annual communications/PR plan and developing a set of messages that will generate public support. Also recommended were polling and focus groups to help formulate needed strategies along with specific ways of measuring the success of CIRM's communications plans. 

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