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 ‘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. 



David Carr and Michael Arrango report in today’s New York Times  that   the  board of directors of the Tribune Company is about to ask for the resignation of Randy Michaels, the controversial chief executive of the company–a move, in my view, that is long LONG overdue. Here’s why:
I couldn’t decide whether to cry or puke when I read David Carr’s Oct. 6 article on the situation at the Times Mirror Corporation since real  estate magnate Sam Zell purchased it for $8.2 B in 2007. Not only has the company filed for bankruptcy, slashed resources at the Tribune newspapers and television stations and let go more than 4200 employees–but it has fostered a culture hostile to women–and to journalism’s truth seeking role in the marketplace of ideas.

I interned Newsday (which was  a Times Mirror paper) in the mid-1970s where my first story, on the first women to enter the US Merchant Marine Corps, was changed to lead with the fact that the women succumbed to tears after being teased. I myself fielded a fair amount of sexist “humor” because, on the lifestyles beat, I covered women’s lib.

At Columbia Journalism School, a professor told me that women should not go into radio–because he didn’t “like the sound of their voices.”
Later, in another prestigious news outlet, I experienced sexual harrassment and pay discrimination.
Just as I was completing a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard,  a bigwig at a  TV network said not to bother applying for a job– referencing a need for “blondes with big bazooms” and a PBS producer wanted, for some reason, to discuss women drivers and menstruation.  At this point, I left TV news  to write and teach, hoping to help the next generation of women stand strong in/change the profession. 


That was almost 30 years ago. 


Today,  that TV program has a female executive producer and the network has hired some brunettes to cover wars, disasters, the White House–all sorts of major beats.   Women hold high office, serve on the Supreme Court, and  run  huge corporations.
Now a communications consultant, in my client work, I see male CEO’s struggling to share  childcare with  working wives and chastising 20-somethings for “unprofessional behavior” for making inappropriate jokes.  (True, I also see men “borrow” women’s scientific  findings without crediting them, refuse to promote female colleagues who refuse their advances,  and denigrate/sabotage women’s successes—but at least today men know that is wrong).

In his piece, Carr reports that Randy Michaels, a former radio executive and disc jockey, was ” handpicked”  by Sam Zell, the Times Mirror’s new controlling shareholder,  to run much of the media company’s vast collection of properties, including The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, WGN America and The Chicago Cubs”.
After Mr. Michaels arrived, Carr writes, according to two people at the bar one night, “he sat down and said, ‘watch this,’” and offered the waitress $100 to show him her breasts. “ Carr learned from interviews with more than 20  past and current Chicago Tribune employees, that “Mr. Michaels’ and his executives’ use of sexual innuendo, poisonous workplace banter and profane invective shocked and offended people throughout the company. Tribune Tower, [once]the architectural symbol of the staid company, came to resemble a frat house, complete with poker parties, juke boxes and pervasive sex talk.”



What is more, Carr points out, the company’s employee manual encourages such an atmosphere.  “’Working at Tribune means accepting that you might hear a word that you, personally, might not use…,'” it reads. “You might experience an attitude you don’t share. You might hear a joke that you don’t consider funny. That is because a loose, fun, nonlinear atmosphere is important to the creative process.’ It then added, ‘This should be understood, should not be a surprise and not considered harassment.’”

As I wrote in a letter to the New York Times,


OPINION | October 13, 2010
Letter:  The Troubled Tribune
I’m appalled and saddened by the irresponsible attitudes and actions of those now in command of a once respected, trustworthy pillar of the fourth estate.  Even if (especially if?) those in charge care more about making money than fulfilling their privileged societal watchdog role they must be subject to the same laws prohibiting sexual discrimination and harassment as are all other businesses across the land.

Anita M. Harris, Cambridge, MA
Anita Harris, president of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA,  is the author of Broken Patterns: Professional Women and the Quest for a New Feminine Identity (Wayne State University Press, 1995).  A former journalist, she has reported for Newsday and the MacNeil-Lehrer Report (now the Newshour), and has taught journalism at Harvard, Yale and Tufts Universities, and at Simmons College.


The New York Times doesn’t need me to provide free advertising (I hope!) –but I found today’s business section fabulous for anyone interested in social media and media relations and thought I’d share some of the wealth.

First–David Carr, in The Zeal of a Convert to Twitter writes about  how long-form magazine journalist, Buzz Bissinger,  the author of “Friday Night Lights,” got hooked on twitter… 

Then, there are Noam Cohen’s piece on Wiki Leaks: A Renegade Site, Now Working With the News Media

and Claire Cain Miller and Ashlee Vance on   Bing and Google in a Race for Features .

 Robert Cyran opines on how the growing popularity of the Ipad could present problems for many tech industries in  iPad shift may wreak havoc on parts of tech sector

and Jenna Wortham describes “tumbler,” a blogging platform that sounds like a cross of Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress, and which, supposedly, many media companies are starting to use to promote themselves.  Media Companies Try Getting Social With Tumblr .

There are also articles on the UAR’s attempt to block blackberry messaging unless BB allows government monitoring, there, and  Clarie Miller’s piece,  New Site Aims to Connect Reporters and Publicists , which describes  NewsBasis,  a site on which journalists can get queries to potential sources, which  launched today.

Founded by Darryl Siry, a freelance writer for Wired and a marketing executive,  the new site sounds much like Peter Shankman’s  Help a Reporter Out, (AKA HARO) in that it allows journalists to post questions or search for sources–  asking questions anonymously to avoid tipping off competitors. 

Speaking as former journalist, I can’t imagine giving away ideas, even anonymously–tho fishing in public is certainly easier than digging for sources.

Evidently,  on NewsBasis, sources can also add a footnote to articles across the Web, so when reporters are doing research using their Web browser, a tab will appear indicating that a NewsBasis source has offered a different point of view or corrected a fact.

I hope this wasn’t too much information for one shot…but, hey, it’s the information age, we’re talking about here.  I’ll be interested in seeing how all of this works out.

Anita M. Harris

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

Sorry to read in today’s Boston Globe that both Business Wire and PR Newswire -which are paid to send out press releases–were hornswaggled by a media relations imposter for whom each posted fake stories.

According to Globe reporter Todd Wallach, last week, PR Newswire   sent out a fake press release claiming President Obama had ordered a probe into General Mills.

And on Friday, Business Wire sent a release falsely claiming that Javelin Pharmaceuticals had won a 5-to-4 victory before the Supreme Court with the aid of Justice Clarence Thomas.

In both cases, the releases were rescinded  before they could affect the companies’ stock prices, Wallach reports.

Both  included a New Zealand phone number at the bottom. 

When Wallach called the number,  Matt Reed, a 30-year-old database designer in Auckland told him that he’d sent the General Mills release to discredit President Obama.  And that he’d sent the Javelin release to push Business Wire and other press release companies to step up their security to prevent future hoaxes.

Odd, to say the least–but definitely a cause for concern.  And, Wallach reports, an FBI investigation.

As a media relations professional, I’ve found both Business Wire and PR Newswire (as well as Marketwire) to be above-board and careful–but can see how hoaxes like these can easily be perpetrated by anyone who has a credit card.

 Not sure if paid wire services need to require background checks before posting releases or if I‘d be willing to undergo one…but do think there’s a need for greater scrutiny of press releases–not just by the paid wire services but by bonafide journalistic wire services, as well.

Again, under my media relations hat, I was delighted when, several years ago, the Associate Press ran a press release I sent on behalf of a client verbatim–except for one minor change in wording.  (Uncredited, of course).

I like to think it was such a great release that nothing needed to be done to it–or that perhaps my reputation for honesty was known. 

But, under my journalist’s hat, I was appalled that no one from AP called me or my client to confirm that we had actually sent the release–or checked the facts– before disseminating it to the world.

Today the situation is even more serious: anyone with a computer and an Internet  can post anything to the world. 

On the one hand, this great boon to free speech and the sharing of ideas and information.

But on the other, the burgeoning of Internet use has eroded the readership, financial position and  gatekeeping power of the traditional press. In financial distress,  news organizations are cutting corners–and staff. Reporters and editors are being asked to do more, faster.  

 Not only is there less coverage, but it is becoming more to difficult trust the accuracy of what is covered. The traditional press has long been our nation’s main bastion for protecting the marketplace of ideas from the spread of disinformation. 

I hope that media organizations, bloggers, anyone in a position to disseminate information will do so responsibly. And that my readers, business owners, the American public,  will subscribe, buy ads, do what you can–to prevent a potentially dangerous situation from getting worse.

Here’s a link to the Globe article:

Anita M. Harris, president of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA, is a former national journalist who has taught journalism at Harvard, Yale and Tufts Universities and at Simmons College.

HarrisCom blog is a publication of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA. We also publish New Cambridge Observer and Ithaca Diaries.

A colleague asked me the other day if I think the field of media relations —in which public relations practitioners promote stories about their clients to the press—is  dead.  I don’t.  I believe it’s better now than it ever was.

It’s true that with the rise of Internet news, there are fewer traditional media outlets than in the past, and individual outlets are shrinking.There’s a smaller “news hole, “and, with social media responsibilities added to their reporting jobs, journalists are eeven busier now than  than they used to be.  

This means that  it’s increasingly difficult to get reporters’ attention–so that for media relations practitioners,  personal relationships and well-honed story ideas are key.

Still, just about every newspapers has an online presence, a 24-hour news cycle, bloggers, and links of its own—providing plenty of opportunity for companies and organizations to present news items that might, in pre-Internet days, have been overlooked.

Paid wire services—which I once avoided because reporters rarely picked up stories, there—now make press releases available online for  further dissemination by organizations, companies, trade media, bloggers, and twitterers—thus giving company news a presence all over the Web (and world).

Of course, media relations practice is  rapidly becoming “social media relations”: journalists are increasingly  reporting stories and finding ideas based on information from blogs, twitter, facebook and the like—and social media campaigns sometimes become traditional print stories in themselves.

 In March, USA Today covered a Chevrolet tactic in which people filmed and shared, via smartphones,  their experiences driving cross-country (in Chevrolets, of course)  to an auto show.  (     That tactic obviously worked big time: here I am, publicizing the article, Chevrolet, the trade show and USA Today, on my blog.

Whatever tactics you choose, it’s important to know your audience, provide accurate, well-written information –and maximize potential– through blogs, articles, white papers, links and SEO (search engine optimization). And don’t forget the possibilities using audio, visual, and other exciting new means.

I’m biased, but as far as I’m concerned, media relations is not just changing: it’s alive and well–and thriving.

These days, it’s no problem if that newspaper you slaved to get your client into gets used to wrap someone’s fish.

While the fast-changing Internet allows access to developments as they happen,  it also heightens our ability to store, search and share.  This means that (for better or worse) the information you put out stays out:  there’s no longer such a thing as yesterday’s news.

–Anita M. Harris
Anita M. Harris is the president of the Harris Communications Group, an award-winning public relations firm specializing in media relations, Internet content and social media. HarrisCom is based in Cambridge, MA.

Much enjoyed hearing members of the Boston health care press  admit (boast?) that they have almost zero use for social media.

Speaking on a panel at last week’s meeting of the Publicity Club of the New England,   journalists from the  Boston Business Journal (BBJ), Dow Jones Newswires, the Boston Herald and WBZ-TV) said they don’t “get”  Twitter--don’t have time for it, and can’t  see why anyone would want to use  it.

Jon Kamp, who covers medical technology and energy for Dow Jones said, “I’m 35 going on 100. I don’t get it; I don’t know what to do with it. When I’m 100, I hope I’ll be saying the same thing.”

Brad Perriello, executive editor  the year-old,  an online business journal covering the device industry,  said he mainly posts  news feeds to attract readers to the publication’s Web site.

Ryan McBride,  a correspondent for Xconomy, a national online publication with bureaus in Boston, Seattle and San Diego,  said he follows certain industry leaders on Twitter but rarely contributes, himself.

Several said they have linked-in accounts that they barely use and and none use Facebook professionally.

” Facebook is to show people pictures of my kid,” Kamp said.

McBride described Linked-in as “an online Rolodex that’s full of people I don’t talk to much. Facebook is friends and family and all the people in high school whom I didn’t know were my friends.”

Julie Donnelly of the BBJ can’t see the point of posting on Facebook.  “I’m not that interesting,” she said.

Debbie Kim of  WBZ-TV  said she doesn’t have time  and Christine McConville of the Herald, said that, as an investigative reporter, she doesn’t think it’s a good idea to make public the details of her life.  Plus,  “I can barely return my emails, get enough exercise, see my friends.   I certainly don’t have time for [Facebook].

She does, however, enjoy contributing to videos that appear online every three weeks or so.

The conversation was moderated by Michal Regunberg, vice president of Solomon McCown & Co,  a Boston public relations firm.  Regunberg’s questions focused on the ways in which cutbacks and other changes in the media are  affecting coverage.

All of the journalists agreed that the national debate over health reform has been the focus of their coverage in recent months (and that they’re tired of it).

All said they are working with less time, fewer resources and greater demands to produce more.  As a result, they have less time for research or feature writing.

McConville said she must write two stories  a day for the Herald. McBride covers two different beats for Xconomy. Donnelly writes for both the Boston Business Journal and Mass High Tech and is responsible for breaking stories on line as well as in print.   Debbie Kim, medical producer for WBZ-TV, must sometimes produce as many as four pieces in a single a day.

Kamp  mentioned that in the past, Dow Jones’ headquarters was relegated to offices in New Jersey but now shares the New York City newsroom of the Wall Street Journal–and that, in many newsrooms, there is tension over which stories should be posted online immediately and which should be  held for the print version of the paper.

All of the above means that anyone trying to get coverage faces huge competition for reporters attention and must provide information that is extremely clear and to the point, the journalists agreed.

The discussion  made me glad to be out of the pressure cooker journalism has increasingly become–but happy to see  a high level of competence, dedication and concern for truth in the Boston press corps.

——-Anita M. Harris

HarrisComBlog is a publication of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA. We also publish New Cambridge Observer and Ithaca Diaries Blog.


July 16, 2009

Butterfly1b-webHi–and welcome to, a publication of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA

 We’ll be covering and commenting  on issues relating to the traditional and new media, public relations, social media,  health care life sciences, and our clients.   We welcome links, pingbacks, comments and suggestions. Our materials are copyrighted, so if you’d like to use them, please email us for permission.

Thanks for stopping by!

 Anita M. Harris, President

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