HarrisCom Blog has moved!

December 6, 2011

We’ve moved!   Please visit us at http://harriscom.com/harriscom-blog/.

Companies should certainly prepare for the possibility of a product recall–but  “no matter how prepared you are,  you will never be prepared enough.”  So said Lisa Adler, VP Corporate Communications at Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company,  in moderating a panel  on “Communications During Product Recall.”    The panel, held on September 19,  was sponsored by the company and MassBio.

In her experience, Adler said, “things never go smoothly.  You need to anticipate that. ”

Panelists recommended that companies have a “war room” in which stakeholders–including  decisionmakers from legal, regulatory,  and other key departments– gather to approve everything that goes out.

Manisha Pai, Millennium’s PR director pointed out the importance of being prepared to use–and respond to– social media. “While you can’t get your entire message out in a 140-word Twitter message,”  she said, you can link it to more complete information on your home page.

[Boston Globe Reporter Rob Weisman and  thestreet.com ‘s Adam Feurstein both said that while they might follow a few companies on Twitter they consider such communiques “tips” or alerts” to follow up on, rather than news items in themselves.]

When Weisman asked fellow panelists whether companies’ communications efforts in recalls  are  meant to protect the company or the public,  Pai, of  Millennium responded, “It’s both. ”

As a consumer-focused company, she explained, “our reputation rests on our responsibility to consumers and on our role as a public citizen. We need to protect the public–and also the company. ”
Adler added that,  for Millennium, protecting the public comes first.

Feuerstein and  Arlene Weintraub,  Xconomy’s New York City bureau chief, both emphasized the importance of transparency–and telling the whole story as soon as possible.

Feuerstein said:  “Coverup is the biggest crime.”  It’s better to risk getting some negative press in the beginning if need be–because if you wait a few months to come forward,  the analysts “will nail you….You often can’t recover from that.”

Anita M. Harris, President
Harris Communications Group

HarrisCom Blog is a publication of the Harris Communications Group, an award-winning  public relations and marketing firm located inCambridge, MA.  We also publish New Cambridge Observer. 

The days of using  media hits  to measure public relations success  are long gone, according to research-and-measurement expert Ann Getman, Principal of Getman Strategic Communications in Cambridge, MA. 
At a recent meeting of the Independent Practitioners Network of the Public Relations Society of  America’s Boston Chapter,  Getman, who works with companies and nonprofits, advised measuring outreach campaigns in three phases: outputs, outtakes, and outcomes.
Outputs are “short-term quantitative measures of what was put out to target audiences, including process measures (activities directed at raising visibility) and product,”  Getman said. Outputs include events, meetings, appearances, presentations, trade shows, or press release, press kits, brochures, trade show booth, tweets and the like.
Traditionally, she  said,  PR  firms have measured their success by counting the number of times an organization’s name  appeared in print on broadcasts; column inches or length of broadcast;  potential exposures if every reader or viewer in the market saw the article or segment;  the comparable cost for  reaching as many people with paid ads;  or public opinion polls measuring awareness, opinion and intent at one point in time.
A more effective measure, in her view,   is of  “outtakes.”  That is, what audiences take away from the communication–whether messages were received, understood, recalled or retained.
 Outtakes may be  measured through direct responses via mail,  phone, fax, email or  Web pages; letters to an editor, organization or individual; calls to a hotline or 800-number;  recall and retention studies; visits to an office, program or site,  reported intent to behave in a certain way;  requests for information or materials; visits to a question and answer or FAQ page on a Web site, focus groups demonstrating a change of awareness; “before and after” surveys, or mentions in blogs.
Content analysis assigns quantitative values to the key elements of messages in order to measures changes in the tone, language or topics of media coverage; accuracy of key facts and points, or  sources cited. 
Outcome research, Getman says, measures the impact of communications programs on behavior and how well a campaign has fulfilled an organization’s  objectives in launching it. Was there a change in the communications flow, employee participation or retention? Were desired actions taken by opinion leaders? Have donations increased?  Response rate to direct mail improved?  Was the quality of job applicants effected?   The amount and quality of media coverage? What about the company’s market position,  customer awareness levels or recognition of its name?
Getman says it’s important to include measurement in a communications campaign before allocating resources for outreach. ” It’s impossible –and disingenuous–  to attach meaningful measures after the fact, and knowing in advance how you’ll evaluate will keep you on target and in focus.” 
I find that my clients m are sometimes  tempted to look directly at the bottom line in measuring success:  has increased media coverage led directly to increased sales?   Depending on the product and the type of company,  the answer is, sometimes, “yes.”
But, more  often, the coverage leads to Web hits or inquiries;  if the right audiences have been  targeted, it’s then up to the sales team to bring the customers in.
At times, though, it’s difficult to quantify just what led to a specific goal.
For example,  after a conference for which I garnered  national and international media coverage, my client, a small research institute,  received a  multimillion dollar grant from a health insurance company to launch a new research center.  Did the increased visibility and prestige help
Probably. Would the hoped-for grant have come through anyway? Much as I believe in quantifying success…that’s something we will never know.

Anita Harris

Anita M. Harris is president of the Harris Communications Group, a public relations and marketing communications firm in Cambridge, MA.

Koch Institute Gallery

The Celebration  of Innovation in  Kendall Sq—held on April 29 at  MIT’s David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research-–  definitely lived up to its title.

Among other innovations I’m still celebrating:

  • A university president (Susan Hockfield of MIT) walked over,  introduced herself and actually seemed interested in learning about ME.
  •   21 speakers got through their material in 25 minutes,  total. (Good thing, because the audience of approximately 150 stood, sipping wine, throughout).
  • Living” bronzed” statues of dead inventors Ben Franklin, Ada Lovelace, and Thomas Edison walked silently around the room–stopping, occasionally,  to pose for photos.
The event, sponsored by MIT and the Kendall Square Association,  was  introduced by Sarah Gallop of the MIT Office of Government and Community Relations and KSA.
Here’s a link to a video of the event–which Gallop sent me a few weeks after the event.
 Hockfield, the first speaker,  described some of the 150  new restaurants and corporations now populating the area.
Community leaders, scientists, technologists,  businesspeople and students then  provided brief rundowns on historic and present day scientific, economic,  community,  and  technologic advances associated with Cambridge.
  • Rudi Belliardi of the Wellington-Harrington Neighborhood Association described the development of polarizing lenses and quinine
  • Daniel Heller, a fellow at the Koch Institute, said that the Robert Langer Lab, where he works, is seeking ways to target cancer using nanotechnology.
  • Barbara Broussard, president of the East Cambridge Planning Team,  spoke about the development of  synthetic penicillin.
  • Noubar Afeyan, chair and co-founder of Joule Unlimited, explained how his company is developing renewable fuels from waste carbon dioxide.

    Tom Waggener, Physioanalytics and Susan Hockfield, MIT

Economic Development 

  • Dan O’Connell, president and CEO of the Mass Competitive Partnership, provided an overview of economic development  in the Kendall Square Area.
  • Alex Laats, partner Commonwealth Capital Ventures, outlined the origins and importance of  the Internet.
  • Bill Aulet, managing director of the MIT Entrepreneurship Center, spoke about  the rise of entrepreneurs.
  • Yi-Han Ma, co-president of the MIT Sloan Venture Capital and Private Equity Club, went into the growth of the venture capital industry.
  • Tim Rowe, Founder and CEO of  the Cambridge Innovation Center, and President of the Kendall Square Association, described the area as a “Startup Hive.”


  • Cambridge Mayer David Maher introduced the topic of  “community;”  Margaret Drury, the Cambridge City Clerk, described her pride at officiating at the nation’s first same-sex marriage ceremony.
  • John Durant, Director of the MIT Museum, told us about the upcoming weekend’s Cambridge Science Festival.
  • Program directors Rebecca Gallo and Caitlin McCormick, described their work at the East End House;  children Selena, Nubian, Ralph and Christelle acted out roles to bring out the current and historic importance of the Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House to the city’s immigrant population.
  • Jane Hirschi, Executive Director of CitySprouts, explained the importance of school gardens and kids growing food.
  • Travis McCready, Executive Director of the Kendall Square Association, described a recent low-tech camping experience in order to emphasize  the growing role of technology in daily life.
  • Gavin Kleespies, Executive Director of the Cambridge Historical Society–which provided historical background for the event– spoke on the development of microwave Radar
  • Susan Athey, Harvard Economics Professor and Microsoft’s Chief Economist, described the growth of Internet search–confessing that, perhaps for obvious reasons,  she is biased toward Microsoft’s Bing.
  • Roscoe Thomas, the Area IV Neighborhood Coordinator, told of  the trials and tribulations experienced by Elias Howe before he became  the first in the US to patent a sewing machine.
  •  Rod Brooks,  MIT Professor Emeritus  and Founder of Heartland Robotics and iRobot, spoke on the past and future of robotics.
After the event,  walking by sidewalk art by Robert Guillemin,   the Whitehead Institute, Novartis, and Amgen on the way  to my car,  I felt energized by the creativity, forward-looking spirit and excitement of the gathering. And I mused at how far Kendall Square has come since I first visited there in the 1970s–when it was inhabited mainly by run down factories and empty lots.

Xconomy  senior correspondent and  San Francisco editor Wade Roush says  he’s done with news embargoes.

In a column entitled, “The News Embargo Is Dead. Tech Crunch Killed It. Let’s Move On,”  he writes that he’ll no longer agree to being “pre-briefed” by tech companies or  PR firms with the understanding that he’ll wait to publish until the stories are  made public— because he’s been burned one too many times.

What happened?  TechCrunch went to press early with an embargoed story that he was also covering–making him look like an “also ran.”

In an email,  Roush explained:
TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington…[claims]  that TechCrunch has never broken an embargo. His implication was that in the cases where TechCrunch seemed to be publishing stories before the agreed embargo time, they’d been authorized to do so by companies or their PR firms who gave them an earlier embargo. Of course, an embargo where one party gets special treatment is no embargo at all, and if Arrington is to be believed, then the PR community (and not just Arrington himself, who long ago proclaimed “Death to the Embargo”) shares in the blame for the breakdown of the embargo as a reliable way to manage news. It’s a rotten system that I’m happy to walk away from.

Speaking as a former journalist who now works in PR,  I am of two minds (or more).
Certainly,  as a journalist, I didn’t liked being “scooped”  when I honored an embargo. And no reporter wants to feel that s/he is being used  to manage a company’s image. But, in covering health and science for national public television,  I much appreciated  having time to fully  understand a development before I wrote about it.
From the PR side– I use embargoes because they  allow me  to research individual story angles  rather than blast out the same pitch, to all reporters, all at the same time.   True, those  blasts can occasionally  lead to a rush of interview requests—but sometimes you get so many that busy scientists or execs can’t respond to them all–leaving some journalists empty-handed.  And, with today’s 24-hour news cycles, too many important stories are hastily written and errors  are made.
I might mention that  it’s not only journalists who get burned:   I once sent an embargoed announcement to a reporter who  did an end run–going to someone for information who was not in the know.  The reporter beat out the pack but got the story wrong,  pissed off his competitors,  my client, and me.  He no longer gets advance notice of my clients’ upcoming news.
I do think it’s great that Roush is NOT saying that he’ll knowingly break embargoes. Like  Wall Street Journal reporters,  he simply asks that sources not send him embargoed stories; he’ll wait to the info goes public,  then decide what to do.
Will he  still accept “exclusives”–in which a source promises that only he, Roush, will have the story, so that he can break it first?
Yes, I still love exclusives, as long as they turn out to be truly exclusive.  If I learned later that a PR firm had given the same story to someone else, then that would destroy my trust in that firm and I’d stop working with them.
I do think it’s about trust in the end. 

From all sides of my mind—I definitely agree.  Trust is key.
–Anita M. Harris
Anita M. Harris is president of the Harris Communications Group, a  public relations and marketing communications firm located in Cambridge, MA. 

Earlier this month, I attended  a great MIT Enterprise Forum  discussion on new medical devices designed to provide low cost tests far from laboratories or medical centers, in the developing world.

At the meeting, held by the Forum’s Health Care and Life Science Special Interest Group at the British Consulate in Cambridge,  former Mass Biotechnology Council  President Una Ryan described the paper-based  medical testing technology that her new nonprofit enterprise,  Diagnostics for All  (DFA), has licensed from the George Whitesides Lab, at Harvard.

The technology allows bodily fluid to accumulate in patterns on postage-stamp sized pieces of paper–to be used for  multiple  tests simultaneously. DFA’s first project, funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is a liver function test to monitor the effects of drugs for HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, to help manage viral hepatitis. Such tests, which ordinarily require laboratory evaluation, will first be sold in convenience stores in Africa at a cost of approximately ten cents each, Ryan said.

Bill Rodriguez, CEO of Daktari Diagnostics, showed a handheld, point of care, battery-operated diagnostics device the size of a small lunch box or portable radio that will first be used to test for AIDS in Africa–at a cost of $1.50 per test–starting next year. He pointed out that while drugs are available to treat the  33 million people worldwide who have  HIV– “ten million of them don’t know it.”

Scientia Advisors Partner Arshad Ahmed, who  served as moderator, (and is my client) pointed out in a recent blog that emerging markets may have the opportunity to adopt the latest point-of-care products, leapfrogging developed countries, in some instances–and that “emerging markets are where we will see the first application of low cost and inovative disruptive technologies at work.” Launching in the developing world allows companies to test out and market technologies before going through the rigorous approval process required in the developed world.

I was blown away by the prospects for  devices like these and asked when and how they will affect the  costs and structure of, say, US healthcare–and whether those who make and market our costly technologies will try to keep these new testing devices out.  While Ryan, whose nonprofit will have a commercial wing, responded that she does not expect opposition from stakeholders in our current system. But can that possibly be right?

Anita M. Harris

Anita M. Harris is President of the Harris Communications Group, a marketing and public relations firm specializing in health, science and technology industries, worldwide.

Free consultation with  the Harris Communications Group on Thursday, April 21, 2011
Social media is a wonderful outreach tool—but for landing customers, it’s only as good at the Web site it sends visitors to. During the recession, many companies and organizations neglected their Web sites —but as the economy improves, we are seeing great interest in replacing outdated content and clunky, old fashioned Web technologies with new material and functionality that is easy and inexpensive to use.
As part of Harriscom’s Third Thursday speaker series,  we will evaluate five Web sites for free.
If you’ll send your url to harriscom@harriscom.com, we’ll   meet with the first five companies to respond.
Meetings will be scheduled for Thursday, April 21, between three and five PM  at in the Cambridge (MA)  Innovation Center at 1 Broadway in a room yet to be determined.
  We’d  also be happy to look over forthcoming press releases and other marketing materials if you’ll send them ahead of time.
—Anita M. Harris
Anita  M. Harris is president of the award-winning  Harris Communications Group, a Cambridge, MA agency specializing in  strategic marketing communications, public relations and thought leadership for emerging companies in health, science, technology and energy fields.
  A former national journalist, Anita has reported for Newsday and the MacNeil/Lehrer Report of PBS, and served as a regular columnist for MSN.  She has taught communications at Harvard, Yale, Tufts and Babson and served as Public Affairs Director for the Harvard School of Public Health. 
In more than 12 years as a commumications consultant, she has developed Web content and navigation systems for  Inforonics, DIAMED, Radcliffe College, Center for the Study of Aging, and the St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center, among other clients. She has provided media relations and thought leadership services to  a variety of companies in the US and abroad. 

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