Medical device companies need to tell slightly different versions of their stories depending on the intended audience—investors, suppliers, regulators, clinicians, and patients—and each version must be strategically crafted and told in order to convey the right message.
In this episode of the Global Medical Device Podcast Jon Speer talks to Brad Perriello, who previously cofounded MassDevice and now current founder and principal at Circle Hill Life Science Communications, about his unique line of work helping medical device companies learn how to effectively tell their story.
Listen to this episode now to learn what your company can and can't say to different target audiences and how to effectively communicate your company’s core message and story so it positively resonates with the listener.
Some highlights of this episode include:
- Brad Perriello, alongside fellow journalist Brian Johnson, founded the online medical device business journal MassDevice based on his belief that small businesses and startups drive everything that lead to the biggest outcomes.
- Although medical device companies know their story best, they do not always effectively tell people their story, what they do, and why they do what they do.
- Startups telling their story is applicable and important to raise funds, but engineers are not strong narrative writers or speakers. They tend to focus too much on details, which can derail the intended message.
- A medical device company’s core message and story is the same, but is communicated differently. For instance, investors want to know the ROI, patients want to know if it’s safe and effective, physicians want to know about safety, efficacy, and cost.
- When hiring outside help with communications, they should be familiar with the medical device industry because the regulatory environment is strictly unique.
- Be aware of quality systems, design controls, and reimbursement issues.
- Some things change over time, and some things never change. Find an unmet need and help patients and others by figuring out what they need to hear. Be able to effectively communicate with all audiences.
- Social media evolves quickly and provides powerful communications tools with massive reach. Companies succeed by having a dedicated team member who knows how to leverage each platform based on the audience.
Memorable quotes from Brad Perriello:
“These folks know their stories really, really well...but they don’t know how to tell them all the time.”
“Through no fault of their own, they’re not really effectively telling people, this is our story, this is what we’re about, and this is why.”
“The old adage is that engineers can’t write.”
Announcer: Welcome to the Global Medical Device Podcast, where today's brightest minds in the medical device industry go to get their most useful and actionable insider knowledge, direct from some of the world's leading medical device experts and companies.
Jon Speer: How many times have you had to tell your story as a medical device company? Yeah. If you haven't, you're going to. Whether that be to investors or to physicians, or clinicians, or key opinion leaders, or to patients, and even to regulatory bodies. You're going to have to tell your story and there might be slightly different versions of your story, depending on who the audience listening to your story is. So, getting that right is really important. What you can say based on what you're claiming, what you can't say based on what you're not claiming. All of these things are factors into your story. Well, joining me on this episode of The Global Medical Device Podcast is Brad Perriello. Brad is the founder and principal at Circle Hill Life Science Communications, and he has a long history and experience and expertise in storytelling. You might have heard of MassDevice. Well, Brad is one of the principles that founded that initiative many, many years ago. So I hope you enjoy this episode of the Global Medical Device Podcast. Hello, and welcome to the Global Medical Device Podcast. This is your host and founder at Greenlight Guru, Jon Speer. And joining me today is Brad Perriello. Brad is the founder and principal at Circle Hill Life Science Communications. Brad, welcome to the Global Medical Device Podcast.
Brad Perriello: Thanks, Jon. It's great to be here. I'm really pleased that you asked me to join.
Jon Speer: Absolutely. So one of the things we're going to talk about... And folks, you might have heard me mention this a time or two on previous episode. And if you didn't, no big deal. We're going to talk about it. It's more in depth today. But you're a medical device company. And I think this resonates maybe even more true for earlier stage company, but you have a story to tell. You're developing a product, that product is going to solve some sort of medical need in some way, shape or form. You're going to help patients. And so good news, Brad is an expert at helping companies tell their stories. So Brad, I guess maybe that's the first place to start. How did you get into this? I guess first and foremost, maybe before we get to that, what do you do? What is Circle Hill Life Science Communications? What do you guys do? How do you help companies?
Brad Perriello: Sure. So you kind of said it, we help companies... Mostly early stage. I wouldn't say that's a special focus, but it seems to be where the need is most acute, really tell their stories. In my experience, as a journalist covering the industry for 10 years. And as you know, it's driven largely by these small companies that sort of fuel all the innovation. And then on the other side of the fence, as a communications guy, these folks know their stories really, really well. I mean better than you or I ever will, but they don't know how to tell them all the time. They don't always know how to tell them. Just because they're in the weeds and it's hard to get that outsider's perspective. It's not within their skillset, they don't have someone on the team. It's not something that they've ever really thought about because they've been so focused on the development, or whatever the task in front of them is. But through no fault of their own, they're not really effectively telling people" This is our story. This is what we're about and this is why." So, that's really sort of my stock and trade. I got into it with a fellow named Brian Johnson. Who's now president of the MassMEDIC, the Massachusetts Medical Device trade lobby. And we were journalism guys, we'd gone to graduate school together for journalism, had worked together at a daily newspaper. And he had left journalism briefly after just grinding it out at a Daily for a while, which trust me, it can wear you down. I wasn't far behind him. He was working for his father who was the architect of the former US Surgical, which many corporate evolutions later now, I think is ultimately part of Medtronic. But he had developed this really rigorous sales training program. And US Surgical was the gold standard of medical device sales training at the time. So then he went out on his own and was consulting and Brian was working for him and noticed that, although all the big name companies got a lot independent journalism coverage in The Wall Street Journal, and The Boston Globe, what have you, there really wasn't a lot of on the ground coverage of the small companies that really drive everything. And really sort of recognized independent journalism vacuum there. So we founded a company called MassDevice. And in our young man's hubris at the time, we were aiming to be like The Wall Street Journal of the medical device industry. Very narrow focus on just devices, but very, very, very deep. Ranging from seed angel, seed round/ angel round funding all the way up to developments of the major, big name corporations. So I did that for about 10 years. We were writing 10 to 15 stories a day. So it was quite a grind, but I literally covered every aspect of the medical device industry at every level and every sector for 10 years. And that foundation lets me really from pretty much the jump, understand what each particular business client I might have is facing in terms of their communications, how they're telling their story, what audiences they're seeking to reach, and how best to reach them.
Jon Speer: Yeah. When I had had a chance to catch up with you the other day, I was like," Oh, yeah. I know Brian." Greenlight's done some mobile events and device talks and road shows and things of that nature. And Brian's been the MC at a couple of things. But I remember following... When I first discovered MassDevice back... Gosh, that's been a day or two, but-
Brad Perriello: Yeah, we founded it in the very beginning of 2009.
Jon Speer: Yeah. This is back in the day... I don't know if they even still have this, but RSS feeds. I was like" That's one I've got to subscribe to-
Brad Perriello: Yeah. I mourn the day the RSS feed, kind of got deprecated.
Jon Speer: Yeah! I guess the way I would always describe your work at MassDevice, it's kind of like Crunchbase for med device or tech crunch for med device. This is candy for me. I was just reading these fascinating stories, and kudos to you and to Brian because there was nothing like that at that point in time.
Brad Perriello: At the time. Yeah. There's a lot more out there now. And that's basically why we did it is we sort of recognized that there was this opportunity, and nobody else was going to do it. Or maybe they were, but we wanted to get there first. So...
Jon Speer: Yeah. That sounds like that was a good springboard, because you were telling snippets of stories anyway, for a lot of these companies. And-
Brad Perriello: And over the years, describing the entire story, our narrative arc of these companies, little story by little story, by little story. And those are good and bad stories as we know, but yeah, it was good. It was great foundational training for what I'm doing now, which is actually super interesting to be able to see... You go under NDA and you get to see what's under the kimono and it's really been fascinating... Just sort of juxtapose that with the public facing side and whatever I could chisel out of these folks, it's one thing. But behind the scenes, it's a completely different story and you get to see far down the road in their pipeline and I've just found the whole aspect of that really, really enjoyable and fascinating to see that other side.
Jon Speer: Yeah. I want to go back to something that you hinted at a moment ago, and let's talk about specifically more the earlier stage company, the startup company.
Brad Perriello: Yeah.
Jon Speer: A lot of times, the earlier stage companies, the people who founded the business are oftentimes either the person who had the original idea, or very close to the person who had the idea. And generally, at least in my experience, the early startup team is usually pretty technical in nature. Hiring somebody from marketing communications background, or a storytelling background is not on the docket for a long, long time in their journey as a medical device company. But it's so important, because as you're an early stage company, there's lots of times where telling your story is applicable. Most of these companies are raising funds, right? And telling that story is pretty important to the fundraising process. Can you maybe elaborate on that a little bit?
Brad Perriello: Sure! You know, the old adage is that engineer's can't write. They're numbers guys. They're great at describing specs and really getting very, very detailed in the kind of writing they have to do. But when it comes to storytelling and more narrative writing, it's not their skillset, it's not their wheelhouse. And for me, I just love the startup environment. I love how these folks are just so driven, and so dedicated. And really focused on for what I think should be everyone's bottom line, which is the patient, and improving outcomes and addressing unmet needs. But you're not going to be able to do that unless you can raise some money and depending on the classification of your device, that could be a very expensive prospect.
Jon Speer: Yeah.
Brad Perriello: So I think it's important early on to think about. You really want to sort of take that really complicated story of all the different threads that is your company, and distill it down to a few core principles, core pillars, that will be the foundation of your messaging platform or structure. And one of those pillars, especially for early stages, you point out, is the investor/ strategics audience. Which has changed a lot, I should say. You know, since I really started closely looking at this industry in the late aughts... Used to be, you could get VC to do device. And then there was a great sort of terrible Gobi Desert period where that was very, very scarce, which was tough. But also, I think helped drive the turn towards private placements and more importantly, at least on a bigger scale, the role of strategics in both investing in companies, but also in acquisitions. Which they've kind of always done, but I think they probably kind of always done some investing, but not... I mean, now you see big companies that have a venture arm.
Jon Speer: Yeah.
Brad Perriello: And that's what they do, is they spread their bets around in the sectors or treatment areas they want to cover, and they pick the best ones if they can, and try to get in on that relatively early. So that to me, I think is the importance of the early stage involvement in thinking about how you're communicating your story.
Jon Speer: Yeah.
Brad Perriello: You definitely need these investors, strategic audience, depending on the device sector you're in, you may want to be directly addressing patients, direct to consumer. You certainly want to be talking to physicians. And now, last five, 10 years, you really have to be talking to the hospitals on sort of two levels. The payer, the insurance company, who is actually fueling the thing. And then also the physician, and also the decision maker within the hospital administration who actually signs the check for that institution. And for our industry, those are kind of the big buckets of audience that you really want to be looking at. And although your core message is the same, the way you communicated to those audiences differs. Things that an investor or a VC or somebody at a strategic wants to hear, are different from what a patient wants to hear, and is different from what the physician wants to hear in the payer. So you have to have, the core thing is your technology." This is our technology. This is what it does." But for the investor, you want to say," This is the potential addressable market. This is the value it creates. And the costs that takes out of the system. This is the ROI, and this is how we're going to improve the business model." Or" This is why our business model is great for patients." It's safe, always first, the number one, it's not going to kill you. It's not going to maim you. It's safe. It's effective, and more effective than the standard treatment, or the current treatment, or what you're most likely to see when you go to the doctor for this. And then physicians are going to want to have safety and efficacy, they are probably their things, but also cost, especially if they're running their own practice. They're going to want to know if I introduced this tech into my practice, how much is it going to pull out of my workflows, my cost of operations? Is it going to streamline things? Is it just going to add another step? So yeah, there's a lot that goes into telling that story, once you've figured out what the core story is.
Jon Speer: Yeah. I think it's so important. I mean, confession, I am an engineer. Back in the day... Well, I've started-
Brad Perriello: No offense! No offense!
Jon Speer: No, none taken! But I know where my strengths are, and I know where I'm not as strong, and years ago when I started my first company, I didn't appreciate the art, so to speak of telling my story. I would interact with people, and one of the first one of the first companies I started was this service provider business. So I wasn't really pitching investors per se, but I was pitching companies to hire me and the needs for my services. And it was kind of a struggle. At least those first several iterations of giving that pitch, because I didn't have my message dialed in. And I have to give a lot of credit to the good friend of mine from back in the day, Scott Derlacher. I don't know if Scott listens to this, but anyway, he met me for lunch and this is the first time I met him through the course of networking and mutual connections said," Hey, you guys should talk." So we're sitting down and he's asking about my story, I'm just spewing things. He's like," Man, I don't know what you do. Because I don't know what you... Do you do this?" And it was like"Well, I can!" And"Do you do this?" I'm like" Well I can." And that sort of thing. So that interaction was so key, because I realized, oh, get to the point, tell your story, be matter of fact about it. Don't make these egregious claims that you can't corroborate and support. And I think that's really important for medical device companies. Don't say your thing does this, when it actually does something completely different. Don't stretch the truth, so to speak, but tell the story in a way that resonates with your audience. And that's what I'm hearing from you. You got different audiences that you have to be cognizant of.
Brad Perriello: Yeah. I'm actually glad that you brought up the claims issue, and making claims because as you've rightly pointed out, can be a big no- no.
Jon Speer: Slipper slope! It can be.
Brad Perriello: Yeah. And I would say to any company that's looking to get some outside help for their communications, that they really need to investigate and make sure that the folks that they're looking to hire are familiar with the industry. Because there's a lot of awesome folks in PR and communications that don't know anything about device. I've seen that happen, where they go with a company that's great PR, and then the campaign is just terrible for the company, because they don't understand you can't make that claim. And there's a huge sort of learning curve of" No we can't do this. No, we can't do that." Because the regulatory environment is very strict. There's reimbursement issues. You got to be... I mean, you know, the quality systems... You got to be aware of all this different stuff in this business. So, whoever you wind up going with, it should be someone who really knows the business.
Jon Speer: Absolutely.
Brad Perriello: And there's lots of folks out there who do.
Jon Speer: Right.
Brad Perriello: Who specialize in this in our little neck of the woods.
Jon Speer: All right, and when we come back here from this break, I want to dive into the regulatory perspective. Maybe dig a little bit deeper on the claim side of things with respect to the story of your company. So let's take that break, Brad. I want to remind folks that I'm talking with Brad Perriello. Brad is the founder and principal at Circle Hill Life Science Communications. We know a little bit about how Brad can help you, but Brad, tell us more, how can folks reach out to you or connect with you?
Brad Perriello: Sure. Thanks, Jon. So the easiest way is probably brad @ circlehillcommunications.com, that's my email. I do have a website, but it's very bare bones. And I was actually looking at it this morning, and there seems to be some sort domain issue, which I was knocking engineers earlier, but being a word guy, I could probably use some engineering help with that. But email is probably the best way to reach me. And I should also do a little shout out for the folks at Pazanga Health Communications, who I work with when I need help with things that are sort of beyond my skillset. Web design, web development, that kind of thing. Laura Nobles at Pazanga and her team, which, one are great. And if you want to contact them, it's a pazangahealth.com.
Jon Speer: Yeah, and if you want to get a hold of Brad and learn how he can help you tell your story, brad at circlehillcommunications, all one word, no spaces, hyphens or anything like that. circlehillcommunications.com. While we're taking this break, I want to remind folks about Greenlight Guru. Greenlight Guru is the only medical device success platform in the market today. It's designed specifically and exclusively for medical device companies like you, it's been designed by actual medical device professionals like me. So within the platform, there are workflows to help you manage your design and development, your risks, your documents, and records, your quality events, things like CAPAs and complaints and nonconformances, and it's all within one single source of truth. That's right. Single source of truth for all of your medical device, quality needs, your development needs, all right there at your fingertips. Again, check it out. www.greenlight.guru. We'd love to have a conversation with you understand your needs and your requirements. And hopefully we have products and solutions that can help meet your needs and help you get to market just a little bit faster with products that are a little bit more safe and less risk involved. So check it out. www.greenlight.guru. So Brad, right before the break, we're talking a little bit about claims and I want to shift to the regulatory side of things a bit, because you've got to tell your story to the end- user. You've got to tell your story to the patient. If you're early stage, you're probably going to be telling your story to investors. But you also need to tell your story to the regulatory bodies. And one of the vehicles, at least in the U. S. from an FDA perspective that I'm a huge advocate of, is the thing called the pre- submission. I like that for a lot of reasons, but one of the reasons I like the pre- submission is it gives you an opportunity to engage and interact with the FDA very early in your process. But it's really important that when you're engaging with FDA, you have to be able to tell your story. It's your product. You should be able to tell your story. What sort of experiences have you had telling that regulatory story?
Brad Perriello: That's an excellent question. I don't have a ton of experience helping folks deal directly with FDA. Because, as you know, that is such a-
Jon Speer: It's specialized!
Brad Perriello: ...Regulation. Yeah, it's very, very specialized.
Jon Speer: It' very specialized!
Brad Perriello: What I will say, is that I think... And I agree with you, I think pre- submission is great. I think the earlier that you can engage with any regulatory body, the better. And develop, hopefully a sort of helpful relationship with them. The way I approach it when I'm working with a new company is, I give them a big long questionnaire. It's three pages of questions. And definitely the CEO will fill it out. And then hopefully it, two, three members of his or her team will fill it out as well. And it really helps sort of elicit from them, the key elements of their story. And then I can take all of that and sort of amalgamate it together, and refine it and distill it. And in communicating with them, figure out these are the pillars of the foundation we're trying to build here. And I feel like that exercise is the kind of thing that you would want to go through before your first meeting for pre- submission, so that you can walk into that meeting and say clearly and succinctly," This is who we are. This is what we're about, and this is what we want to do. And this is what we hope that you'll see as we go through this process."
Jon Speer: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's really important too, when you're telling that story with the regulatory body, having a really good grasp on your claims is part of that story. Because what you say you do is important, but what you don't say you don't do is also important and all those sorts of things.
Brad Perriello: Right, right.
Jon Speer: And when you get that audience with regulatory, it's not like you have a half day opportunity to tell all the nuances, you have to be very succinct and polished and tell the executive summary of where you are, who you are, where you're going, why it's important, and all those sorts of things. Because you're trying to get awareness, is probably a better way with that regulatory body. So that those next steps after that pre- submission, you want to make sure that you're focused on the right things, going down the right path. And-
Brad Perriello: Not when you've built that rapport with you or whoever the official is on the other end, where when the inevitable problem crops up, it's not a brick wall. It's" Hey, how can we work together to get around?"
Jon Speer: Yeah, because later in your journey as a medical device company, you're probably going to have additional regulatory submissions in order to get to market. Things like 510( k) and that sort of thing. Yeah. You don't want to get to the 510( k) or what you think is that final submission to get to market and realize," Oh, I just hit a brick wall." Another time to tell the story is like a 510( k) submission, or CE mark tech file. That's your story too.
Brad Perriello: It is!
Jon Speer: Now granted, it's a way more technical version of the story, but it is part of your story too.
Brad Perriello: Yeah. One thing that struck me while you were mentioning that, is it also points up how important it is to have input from all sectors of your team, into the communications plan.
Jon Speer: Yeah.
Brad Perriello: So you need your regulatory folks to be looking at the master messaging documents to make sure you're not making any claims. Obviously that would be very bad. But also just to make sure that it makes sense to them, and it's something they feel comfortable... Because after all, the idea is that this messaging is consistent across all your communications platforms. So if they're not comfortable expressing it and going into a meeting and saying" Yeah, this is us. That's what we're about." And agreeing with the language claims aside, it's not going to be as effective a tool for them. And same is true for... obviously legal, but other departments as well. Design, engineering. Think about even if you're at a barbecue with your neighbor, or as you were saying with the lunch with your friend there." I have no idea what you do."
Jon Speer: Yeah.
Brad Perriello: You should be able to communicate that. And that's what I do. In a nutshell.
Jon Speer: Yeah. And communicating it at the appropriate level. If you're talking to your friend-
Brad Perriello: Right-
Jon Speer: ...atthe barbecue-
Brad Perriello: Audience appropriate communication, right?
Jon Speer: Yeah. You know, you got to have the infamous elevator pitch, but that should be buttoned up enough. So in 30 seconds or less, you can communicate according to the appropriate level. That was another mistake I made earlier on after starting my own business. Somebody would ask me what I would do and I would just sit there and ramble on and on. And they were polite, because I live in the Midwest probably, but they were polite, and they didn't cut me off-
Brad Perriello: We're polite here too, but They would just talk about you behind your back.
Jon Speer: But they would walk on... But they had no idea what I did. It was like"Come on." Yeah, just messaging is really important. Well, I guess I'll ask it as a question. So compare and contrast storytelling for med device companies, from when you started MassDevice to today. Because back then we just mentioned earlier, we had things like RSS feeds and you were in a white space, there weren't a lot of other media outlets for this sort of thing. And today we get inundated with everything.
Brad Perriello: Yeah.
Jon Speer: So what have you seen from then till now as important?
Brad Perriello: I think for all the noise, I think the same fundamental things... At least in this business, that were important then, are important now. Finding a good unmet need, and really helping patients is the foundation of everything we do. You got to be able to talk to the money people, and raise money because it's an expensive prospect. You got to be able to talk to the patients and the greater public, you got to be able to talk to physicians. Some of the particulars of each of those audiences have changed over time. For example, you used to have to be able to talk to VCs and private equity. And while you still have to be able to do that, you now have to be able to talk to family investment shop.
Jon Speer: Mm- hmm( affirmative).
Brad Perriello: And one high net worth individuals, and strategics. And wherever that branch of the money tree is, you've got to be able to walk out on that branch, and communicate with the natives. And that analogy is true across all of those audiences. You need to be able to figure out what it is of your story that they need to hear.
Jon Speer: Last thing I want to talk to you a little bit about today... Social media. Yeah. That's kind of my reaction too. However, I think it needs to have a place in some way, shape or form as a company is evolving. I guess I'll just leave it there.
Brad Perriello: Yeah.
Jon Speer: What role do you see social media playing?
Brad Perriello: It's super powerful and important. And unfortunately as a curmudgeonly old guy-
Jon Speer: Love- hate relationship!
Brad Perriello: Yeah, yeah! It's an increasingly important communications tool with just massive reach. The problem for me has always been that it's evolved so quickly. And just when this old fuddy- duddy gets comfortable with one platform, you change that platform or a new platform comes up and it's... I got these big fat fingers and I can't do the thing, but all joking aside, where I've seen companies really, really succeed with that, is having a dedicated person on their communications team, whether it's internal or external, usually a young person, who really understands these platforms and how they differ, and knows how to use them each to their maximum effectiveness. Because folks that you can reach on Facebook, aren't going to be reached on LinkedIn. And in our industry, LinkedIn is big, Facebook I think... Instagram, kind of negligible. Maybe some YouTube. Actually probably a lot of YouTube is used a lot for videos and animations, and maybe some presentations.
Jon Speer: But you have to have-
Brad Perriello: ...Andthere you have it, the old fuddy-duddy has run out of examples to say.
Jon Speer: No, but you have to know some of those out there, maybe into Snapchats and the Tik- Toks, and all those sorts of things too. And you need to understand what each of those different outlets-
Brad Perriello: Oh for sure.
Jon Speer: ...And how it might or might not be a good avenue to connect with your specific audience that you're trying to target.
Brad Perriello: And even how to write within them. Writing on Twitter is a lot different from writing on LinkedIn.
Jon Speer: Yeah exactly. Brad, any other tips, pointers, things you thought we hoped we would cover that we didn't, that you want to leave the audience with?
Brad Perriello: No, I think we did a pretty good job of covering the basics. I would like to pitch my social media platform idea.
Jon Speer: All right, let's go for it.
Brad Perriello: I call it Drop chat.
Jon Speer: Okay!
Brad Perriello: The target audience is guys just like me who have very low tolerance, and are late adopters of new technology. And basically what it is, is you download the app and then you push the button, and it basically destroys all of your communications devices, and completely isolates you from the cloud and drop your chat. Drop chat! You heard it here first!
Jon Speer: I love it! Man, let me know when that's ready to be added to my phone.
Brad Perriello: Electromagnetic pulse. That just goes, boom!
Jon Speer: It takes me off bread automatically.
Brad Perriello: There you go! There you go.
Jon Speer: That's hilarious. Folks, if you're going to develop Brad's idea, at least send him a residual or something like that. Brad, thank you. I appreciate you taking time to chat with me. Folks. Brad Perriello. Again, Brad is the founder and principal at Circle Hill Life Science Communications. And you can reach Brad via email at brad @ circlehealthcommunications.com. Again, this is your host and founder at Greenlight Guru, Jon Speer. And you have been listening to the Global Medical Device Podcast, the number one Podcast in the medical device industry. And that's because of you, loyal listeners, you've been telling your friends and you've been telling your colleagues. Keep doing so we greatly appreciate it. So, until next time!
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