CommonSense Blog

Why Adam Feuerstein Rules

By Ryan Flinn | Jul 22, 2013

If you’ve never heard of Adam Feuerstein, then you must not be in healthcare. For the un-initiated, Feuerstein is a columnist at The Street and writes about healthcare and biotech stocks. A decade or two ago, before the rise of social media, he wouldn’t have been that significant a player. Yet today he’s one of the most powerful voices in the industry.

I’ve seen company shares move simply by him tweeting a question about clinical trial data. He pretty much brought down the embargo policy at a major medical meeting a few years ago. Once, when I retweeted one of his posts about some bad news a company had, I got a call from the company’s CEO within the hour to make sure I understood their side of events.

He is also someone you don’t want to cross. Check out his twitter feed – it’s full of profanity and tear downs of drugs, companies, executives, business decisions and random people he happens to overhear talking at the hotel gym or at Starbucks. His feed can also be hilarious, and he says stuff lots of journalists think but would never write down anywhere traceable. You can easily freak out a biotech’s communications team by asking them, “hey, did you see what Adam tweeted about you guys?”

So what makes him so compelling and powerful? Well, like it or not, he speaks his mind. And he’s a self-professed skeptic, so a lot of what he says isn’t fluffy featurey bits but glass-half empty views. He’s also not afraid to antagonize investors who are particularly excited, sometimes unrealistically, about new drugs.

As a journalist at a top news company I got giddy whenever he mentioned me on twitter, even when he was trashing me. It meant that someone was paying attention, and frankly, I also hoped it would raise my social media profile.

What Feuerstein succeeds in is having a strong opinion (as a columnist, that’s his job) and broadcasts it freely on social media, no matter who he offends. This is something journalists can’t really do and exposes a weakness that the media face in an online world – a struggle to be relevant.

When it comes to social media, journalists are in a crux. Some actively seek to build their online reputations, others only linger long enough to post their own stories and still others choose to ignore it completely as a waste of time. The problem is, in order to get attention, you need to be interesting, which usually entails saying provocative things. But journalists also don’t want to expose any personal feelings on controversial topics, lest they be accused of having a “bias.” So they’re stuck tweeting their stories and talking about things not directly related to their beat.

Into that void stepped Feuerstein, and he has dominated it since.

While Feuerstein rules the healthcare social media world, he’s certainly not alone in wielding influence. The journalists that I greatly respected and paid attention to were bloggers and trade pub writers who are as prolific as they are smart. People like Luke Timmerman at Xconomy, Ron Leuty at the San Francisco Business Journal and Matt Herper at Forbes. They’re not as outspoken as Feuerstein, yet they also seem less constrained to speak their minds online than I at least felt as a journalist. And they often drive online conversations on industry topics, which can affect stock prices, investor perceptions, patients and other journalists.

This new dynamic is something everyone in the industry needs to understand.

 

  • Fat Tony

    “He [is] also someone you don’t want to cross”? Didn’t realize he’s become a mob boss too. You should also give more credits to real journalists such as Deena Beasley of Reuters (in addition to Luke and Matt you mentioned). Instead of tweeting other people’s ideas, she actually attends the medical conferences and talks to the doctors who presents the data. Then again, Reuters is a real news organization…

    He also someone you don’t want to cross.
    He also someone you don’t want to cross.
    He also someone you don’t want to cross.
    He also someone you don’t want to cross.”

    • Anonymous

      I love Deena. She does great work. I often get a chance to hang out with her AT MEDICAL CONFERENCES WE BOTH ATTEND.

      • Fat Tony

        That’s weird. I send my associates Johnny Tightlips and Tyrone Biggums to most of the medical conferences and they never see you there. Then again, Johnny always say “I didn’t see nothing!” and Tyrone usually ends up getting high with the PIs…

        • Ryan Flinn

          The point I was trying to make in this post isn’t that people like Deena aren’t influential — they certainly are — and you would expect them to be, based on where they work. What I am trying to get across is that social media has allowed people who don’t work at the WSJ, NYT, Bloomberg, etc to gain a great deal of influence. Like it or not, Adam holds a lot of sway in the industry. Not like a mob boss — feel free to cross him if you want — but he’ll bite back, whereas a “real journalist” (like myself, before I jumped ship to PR) would mostly grumble to myself about it. So some people can choose to ignore this reality, or recognize the change. As a “flack” my job now is to give clients advice on their media strategy, and I usually say pay attention and court those people in the industry who have a big online presence, since the mainstream journalists they want to talk to are likely reading and trusting what they report.

          • Fat Tony

            I definitely don’t dare to cross him – he’s got the support of an pack of “enthusiastic” SRPT investors. I have not seen this kind of enthusiasm since the angry mob for DNDN.