Meet Melissa Musiker, our new SVP and Life Sciences Lead

I am excited to welcome Melissa Musiker to the Mission North family — she joins us to lead our life science and health practice, which includes our clients leading in advancements from synthetic biology, plant-based foods, agricultural tech, pharma, and food innovations. Today we highlighted the momentum in this practice area and had a chance to formally welcome her to our team. 

Her background sheds light on the power that communication has in shaping and supporting consumer validation and adoption, influencing regulation and policy, or gaining investment, just to name a few major milestones. But how Melissa got into communications and public affairs paints the bigger picture of how the world is just starting to inch towards trusting these innovations with the help of storytelling. 

As registered dietitian by training, Melissa started her career in in-patient pediatric critical care and community nutrition. Working in a children’s hospital, she quickly learned the true meaning of crisis communications. As a WIC dietitian, she noticed the alarming gap between how policy and thought leaders talked about food and nutrition and the different demographics’ access to it. As the Obama administration ushered in a new spotlight on health and following her Master’s from Georgetown, Melissa took a role with the Consumer Goods Association and then eventually at APCO Worldwide. She used her frontline knowledge and training to influence public policy, advocacy programs, and helped some of our largest CPG companies navigate the new expectations put upon them to embrace healthier lifestyles. 

I sat down with Melissa to learn more about her vision and passion for the industry: 

What inspired you to shift gears from being an onsite dietitian in a healthcare environment to focusing on the public affairs side of the science?

In the beginning of my career, I was focused on the challenge of advocating for things that were really hard to advocate for. At APCO, I got to work with clients where everything around them was changing. Mostly driven by science or external and political pressures, big brands had to rapidly adjust in major ways. As we know, big industries don’t like change. Through our work with brands like Mars and PepsiCo, we built a practice dedicated to facing these challenges and creating more trust between the industry, the brand, stakeholders and consumers. 

Technology and science have advanced in so many categories, but from a communications perspective, the framework and basic needs of storytelling for these brands are still the same.

Fast forward a decade later, what role do you see PR playing in emerging life science and health industries blossoming from smaller companies? 

Technology and science have advanced in so many categories, but from a communications perspective, the framework and basic needs of storytelling for these brands are still the same. Our job is to focus on telling the humanizing stories about where things come from, reflect evolving sentiment around safety and health, and build better trust between science and consumers. Skepticism in technological innovation, especially in the form of products for our family like food or medicine doesn’t magically go away. But the future depends on adoption of these innovations to thrive — whether it’s environmental or medical or something else.

You were in-house at McDonald’s leading international public affairs before coming back into the agency world, what drove you to consider leading a practice again?

It’s really about the opportunity to work with young, emerging companies that are not just disruptive but are tackling big challenges. I wanted to learn from the team at Mission North who are expert communicators for this type of company. I am looking forward to the flexibility that comes from working with emerging brands, their agile nature, and appreciation of big ideas.

What excites you about the role here at Mission North?

Working with rapidly growing brands in life science gives an incredible opportunity to shape their messaging around science, health, safety, and societal value (the potential long-term negative effects if we continue to ignore the holistic impact of how we live). Whether these clients are improving planetary outcomes, addressing human, plant and animal health challenges, or reconsidering how we develop and manufacture drugs, the goal is that we are priming the environment for their success. External audiences want to know how corporate values align to their own and want tangible proof that companies are following through on those values. These expectations are the same for consumer-facing industries and those brands that are more b2b, like plant pharma or ingredients. At Mission North we are helping our clients build financial equity by sharing with the world how they are building societal value through their innovating and meeting these expectations. 

The reputation of the life sciences sector is going through a big reframe and the industry is getting the positive spotlight it deserves as a solution provider for global challenges.

What is your hope for this industry in the next 5-10 years?

We are in the midst of a renaissance of trust in science. At Mission North, our clients are driving that renaissance. The reputation of the life sciences sector is going through a big reframe and the industry is getting the positive spotlight it deserves as a solution provider for global challenges. 

President Biden chose Dr. Eric Lander, a geneticist, to head the Office of Science and Technology Policy and also serve as a cabinet-level science adviser, marking the first time the position has been part of the presidential cabinet. This is a major step in acceptance and trust coming from the top and an endorsement of the power of life sciences and fields like synthetic biology. Dr. Lander will be tasked with thinking about applying more preventative measures and science research to ensure the generations that come after us are set up for success. My hope is that his leadership signals enhanced investment, attention, and trust in the value of the life sciences and health sector.

With COVID, we have had to confront the uncomfortable truth that many people don’t trust the advice of experts or the health innovation that could end this pandemic. America’s epidemic of non-communicable disease, poor diet and health disparities has only compounded the negative outcomes of this crisis of distrust. But there is opportunity that can come from a willingness of innovative business leaders to address these entrenched challenges with novel approaches.  

The scientific skepticism and distrust of the past four years caused us to backtrack on previous progress and an enormous amount of human capital resources and investment in prior research was wasted from lack of support. Now, with the hundreds of thousands of lives lost and the impact of the pandemic on our economy we realize this lack of attention to health and research was devastating. We have some incredible challenges ahead, but it feels like we’re moving in the right direction.