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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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
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.
Outtakes
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. 
Outcomes
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.


Explaining how agencies charge for media outreach is always an interesting challenge. Most work on retainer (receiving a monthly fee in return for promised services). Some operate on a project basis, or charge an hourly fee. The other day, someone wrote in to Harvard-Startups, a list-serve to which I subscribe, asking if some public relations firms work on a “results” basis–that is, get paid only for coverage they obtain, not just hours.

I was impressed with a response from  Sylvia Scott, who has worked in public relations and is now  Creator & Director of Realizing A Vision Conference, Girl’s CEO Connection. She said it would be fine for me to share it, so here goes:

By “hours” do you mean paid by the hour? Most good ones are not paid on an hourly basis as the norm may be a specific number of hours devoted to you per month and the fee is determined by many variables.

Paid by results –well let’s see-an article in the New York Times may be valued at $10,000 for some companies. For others it may be more- if your PR firm gets you on Larry King vs. say GMA how would you differentiate. I got a client on Fox Morning show in San Diego-now
what would be the difference in fee from San Diego and say Chicago or Dallas? AND if you get editorial in the Tulsa World that is picked up by AP and then the article or or let’s say you get a call to be interviewed by the New York Times how do you pay for that?

Some results may take 3 months and then others 6 months-also, if the pitches are going on and accepted yet there is another scandal in the White House like it happened with Bill Clinton and the scheduled interview or placement is moved or forgotten-which is not the fault of the PR firm-are you going to not pay them for their work?

I know I did not answer you directly-just wanted you to see that “results” may not always be the same and some times one result leads to another even though no extra hours were put into place.

*

I  chimed in  that the Public Relations Society of America Code of Ethics frowns on promising results that can’t be guaranteed, so most PR consultants won’t work with clients on a straight contingency basis. Because it can take three-to-six months to build relationships with reporters on clients’ behalf, I prefer to work on retainer. But I have occasionally worked on a project basis–charging a minimum fee to cover time and effort with a bonus for major media “hits”.

Media relations is a tricky business–especially in today’s shifting media landscape. If you’re hiring, I’d advise paying more attention to a PR consultant’s track record than to promises, plan on a six month minimum and, for that period, at least,  keep the faith.

—Anita M. Harris
Anita M. Harris is President of the Harris Communications Group of Cambridge, MA.


I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I am a secret admirer of Building 19′s copywriters–whomever s/he/ they may be.

I have friends who won’t set foot in the bargain stores–which, according to the latest circular, were founded in 1964, when a ship originally sailed by Christopher Columbus finally arrived in Hingham.  (That does make you wonder how long some of their merchandise-aka “good stuff cheap”–has been lying around). And I admit–that even I, the penultimate bargain shopper–have been known to remark that you need to take a shower after you experience shopping there.

But how can you not be drawn in to a come-on like this:

WOULD YOU LIKE A HIGH POWERED CAREER IN ADVERTISING?

And not laugh when it goes on to say, “If so, this is not for you.”

(The ad, on the front page of Building 19’s October 8 flier, continues: …but if you want to work on the Building #19 circular in a fun atmosphere, rework a few pages from this circular and send them along with a resume (preferably yours) to Human Resources or email: hr@building19.com).

And how ’bout the ad for “Hat’s entertainment–(featuring Halloween hats such as Fuzzy Brim the Pirate, the Don Corleone  Straw, the Linda Blair special–featuring devil’s horns)?

And the one for Liz Claiborne II,  a second and  “brand new shipment” of Liz Claiborne shoes? It  includes pictures of “the ACTUAL  stickers from the boxes ” and a warning to “Hurry in to beat the madness, this time around.”

My point is that  in writing copy, you need to understand your audience and what will motivate them to get out there and buy your stuff.  Building 19 certainly does have the knack: its home page even features a link to its “Classic Ads.”   But enough of this.  Life is short and  I gotta go–those shoes won’t be there forever.

–Anita M. Harris

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


I’ve been working with Instrumentation Laboratory, a Bedford, MA company, to spread the word about its new diagnostic test that helps prevent brain injury in newborns.  Newly cleared by the FDA, it’s first-ever, rapid point-of-care, lab-quality blood test for measuring  total bilirubin (tBili) in neonates.

Bilirubin, a toxin, can, in high amounts, lead to irreversible brain injury in neonates.  The new tBili assay is performed on IL’s GEM Premier 4000 critical care analyzer.    It allows clinicians to receive lab-quality test results in 90 seconds fromwhole blood in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), rather than wait up to an hour for results from the lab, using traditional chemistry methods.    

 During the first few days of life, the body breaks down fetal red blood cells, producing bilirubin.  More bilirubin is produced than the liver can remove, and it remains circulating in the blood. 

This results in jaundice, the most common condition requiring medical attention in newborns, present in approximately 70%.  However, in 8-10% of newborns, jaundice progresses to severe hyperbilirubinemia.  Left untreated, hyperbilirubinemia can quickly evolve into kernicterus, a devastating, irreversible neonatal brain injury. 

IL announced that it had received the FDA clearance for the test on Tuesday, at the annual meeting of the American Association for Clinical Chemistry. For more information,  check out the Instrumentation Laboratory (US) Web site-http://www.instrumentationlaboratory.com/ilus.aspx .

—Anita Harris

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

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