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. 


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.

I’d like to appaud Barack Obama for Wednesday night’s eloquent and powerful speech on health insurance reform–and the Globe’s Kay Lazar for her excellent elucidation  of his points as they relate to the difficult situation faced by small businesses in Massachusetts.  Relief in State Health Plan Sought, Boston Globe, 9-11-09./

Much as I appreciate the Massachusetts Health Initiative requiring  health insurance for all,  not being able to join other small businesses or organizations in order to bargain with health insurers has has forced me and many of my colleagues to pay a very hefty price.
As an independent consultant pf a certain age,  I’ve had to pay nearly $10, 000 a year for health insurance. I’m fine with paying for insurance; eight years ago, Blue Cross  helped me through a  health crisis and I’ve been fine ever since.
But I don’t understand why, unlike other states, Massachusetts prohibits small businesses and the self-employed  from grouping together to bargain with insurers on behalf of individuals of different ages and categories of risk.  Nor do I understand why I should have to pay so much more than others just because, during economic ups and downs of the last decades,  they’ve managed to hold onto full time jobs.  

I wholeheartedly support the Obama plan–which incorporates the strengths of the Massachusetts initiative and omits the weaknesses. And  I wish Governor Deval Patrick success in his attempts to change the 1996 law Lazar mentions in order to give small businesses in Massachusetts the bargaining power they need to gain a much needed financial lift.
—Anita Harris, President
Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA

HarrisCom blog is a publication of the Harris communications Group, a strategic public relations firm providing writing, media relations, and thought leadership services for organizations and companies in health, science, technology, energy and environmental fields.

We also publish New Cambridge Observer.


 On Wednesday, July 15, 2009, media consultant Doug Bailey wrote in an  op ed column entitled  “Got a comment? Keep it to yourself” that space for comments at the end of online newspaper articles should be eliminated because they downgrade the quality of news. 

Bailey,  who does not disclose that he’s a  former Globe editor, suggests that rather than enhance communication, newspapers online forums are “insidiously contributing to the devaluation of journalism, blurring the truth, confusing the issues, and diminishing serious discourse beyond even talk radio’s worst examples.”

He  points out (without naming names) that  the comment sections allow  “anonymous”, “unverified,”  “agenda-driven”  “boneheads” to post inaccurate information that  can be picked up by bloggers and then by legitimate traditional reporters who publish “missives” –unaware that the bloggers’ information came from their newspapers’ own Web sites.

Yes, this is a problem–and  it is, as Bailey puts it, a bit  “insane”. But rather than ban readers’ comments, wouldn’t it make more sense for reporters to verify all sources?  Certainly, real reporting takes time–and traditional journalists are increasingly harried in these days of cost-cutting and layoffs.

But it is verfication and objectivity that separate  independent journalism from  disinformation. And, it is truth, and allowing readers a stake in it–that, in the end, will give us a reason to  pay for news.

Bailey ends his column saying, “By the way, don’t bother posting any comments directly to me when this article appears on the Web. I won’t see them. Instead, go start your own website or blog or buy a legitimate newspaper or write a letter to the editor, or an op -ed (and sign your own name to it). If  you really have something interesting to say, I’ll find you.”

(I was  amused–and glad–to see 168 comments after the online posting.

  • “Kachunk” says he’s posting for “the irony”
  • “Oldpink “says it’s ” nice for ordinary citizens to be given an opportunity to add something that should have been in the original column, while allowing others to rebut.Messy? Often a bit mean? Commonly inaccurate? Absolutely. Isn’t democracy grand?”
  •  “Sensibleman,”  writes that he’s using  the first amendment to tell Bailey “to stop submitting articles so if intelligent life ever scans our internet to determine how critical it is to stop at Earth they don’t pass over us due to stupidity.”)

I read Bailey’s column in the print edition–which is delivered  to my door (late, but that’s another story)  every day.   But the Globe allows almost no print space for letters to the editor which, in days past, might have helped keep reporters and columnists on their toes.  Hence, this posting–and comment #169 after Bailey’s piece, online.

But if  I did write in, I’d  include my name and  prior affiliations– and make  clear that like Bailey’s,  my not-so hidden agenda is to attract customers to  my consulting business.  

 Hint, hint:  Anita Harris, a former national journalist,  is president of the Harris Communications Group, of Cambridge, MA.

PS  Comments welcome!

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