In communicating product recalls, transparency is key

September 20, 2011

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. 

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