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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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.

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