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.


Xconomy  senior correspondent and  San Francisco editor Wade Roush says  he’s done with news embargoes.

In a column entitled, “The News Embargo Is Dead. Tech Crunch Killed It. Let’s Move On,”  he writes that he’ll no longer agree to being “pre-briefed” by tech companies or  PR firms with the understanding that he’ll wait to publish until the stories are  made public— because he’s been burned one too many times.

What happened?  TechCrunch went to press early with an embargoed story that he was also covering–making him look like an “also ran.”

In an email,  Roush explained:
TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington…[claims]  that TechCrunch has never broken an embargo. His implication was that in the cases where TechCrunch seemed to be publishing stories before the agreed embargo time, they’d been authorized to do so by companies or their PR firms who gave them an earlier embargo. Of course, an embargo where one party gets special treatment is no embargo at all, and if Arrington is to be believed, then the PR community (and not just Arrington himself, who long ago proclaimed “Death to the Embargo”) shares in the blame for the breakdown of the embargo as a reliable way to manage news. It’s a rotten system that I’m happy to walk away from.

Speaking as a former journalist who now works in PR,  I am of two minds (or more).
Certainly,  as a journalist, I didn’t liked being “scooped”  when I honored an embargo. And no reporter wants to feel that s/he is being used  to manage a company’s image. But, in covering health and science for national public television,  I much appreciated  having time to fully  understand a development before I wrote about it.
From the PR side– I use embargoes because they  allow me  to research individual story angles  rather than blast out the same pitch, to all reporters, all at the same time.   True, those  blasts can occasionally  lead to a rush of interview requests—but sometimes you get so many that busy scientists or execs can’t respond to them all–leaving some journalists empty-handed.  And, with today’s 24-hour news cycles, too many important stories are hastily written and errors  are made.
I might mention that  it’s not only journalists who get burned:   I once sent an embargoed announcement to a reporter who  did an end run–going to someone for information who was not in the know.  The reporter beat out the pack but got the story wrong,  pissed off his competitors,  my client, and me.  He no longer gets advance notice of my clients’ upcoming news.
I do think it’s great that Roush is NOT saying that he’ll knowingly break embargoes. Like  Wall Street Journal reporters,  he simply asks that sources not send him embargoed stories; he’ll wait to the info goes public,  then decide what to do.
Will he  still accept “exclusives”–in which a source promises that only he, Roush, will have the story, so that he can break it first?
Yes, I still love exclusives, as long as they turn out to be truly exclusive.  If I learned later that a PR firm had given the same story to someone else, then that would destroy my trust in that firm and I’d stop working with them.
I do think it’s about trust in the end. 

From all sides of my mind—I definitely agree.  Trust is key.
–Anita M. Harris
Anita M. Harris is president of the Harris Communications Group, a  public relations and marketing communications firm located in Cambridge, MA. 


DOES YOUR BUSINESS WEB SITE NEED A MAKEOVER?
Free consultation with  the Harris Communications Group on Thursday, April 21, 2011
Social media is a wonderful outreach tool—but for landing customers, it’s only as good at the Web site it sends visitors to. During the recession, many companies and organizations neglected their Web sites —but as the economy improves, we are seeing great interest in replacing outdated content and clunky, old fashioned Web technologies with new material and functionality that is easy and inexpensive to use.
As part of Harriscom’s Third Thursday speaker series,  we will evaluate five Web sites for free.
If you’ll send your url to harriscom@harriscom.com, we’ll   meet with the first five companies to respond.
Meetings will be scheduled for Thursday, April 21, between three and five PM  at in the Cambridge (MA)  Innovation Center at 1 Broadway in a room yet to be determined.
  We’d  also be happy to look over forthcoming press releases and other marketing materials if you’ll send them ahead of time.
—Anita M. Harris
Anita  M. Harris is president of the award-winning  Harris Communications Group, a Cambridge, MA agency specializing in  strategic marketing communications, public relations and thought leadership for emerging companies in health, science, technology and energy fields.
  A former national journalist, Anita has reported for Newsday and the MacNeil/Lehrer Report of PBS, and served as a regular columnist for MSN.  She has taught communications at Harvard, Yale, Tufts and Babson and served as Public Affairs Director for the Harvard School of Public Health. 
In more than 12 years as a commumications consultant, she has developed Web content and navigation systems for  Inforonics, DIAMED, Radcliffe College, Center for the Study of Aging, and the St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center, among other clients. She has provided media relations and thought leadership services to  a variety of companies in the US and abroad. 




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.


 

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.

 


Pharma execs with blockbuster drugs on the market should be up staying at night strategizing in case someone comes up with a “companion diagnostic” that the FDA requires before the blockbuster  can be prescribed.

So write Scientia Advisors authors Amit Agarwal and Jonathan Pan in “Theranostics and Already Approved Drugs: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You,” published in the 2010-2011 Parexel Yearbook.

Disclosure: Scientia is my client.

In the article, Agarwal, partner, and Pan, senior associate, describe the situation that led the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require warning labels and recommend diagnostic testing for the blockbuster drug Plavix more than 10 years after the anti-thrombotic hit the market.  Plavix is marketed by Bristol-Myers Squibb and Sanofi-Aventis to prevent myocardiofaction (MI) or strokes.

As early as 2001, when Plavix had been on the market for four years, studies began to show that Plavix helped certain patients more than others, the authors write. By 2008, genetic testing by a competing pharmaceutical company showed that nearly one-third of Plavix users did not fully benefit from the drug.  Based on these and other trial results, in 2010 the FDA required that the manufacturers include a “black box” warning label and a diagnostic testing recommendation for the product.

In 2009, Plavix had worldwide sales of $9.5B including $5.6 B in the US. As a result of the FDA diagnostic testing recommendation, the authors project that by 2012, BMS and Sanofi Aventis will lose $450M to $575M in sales in the US alone– and more if regulators in other nations add requirements. “Given the need to maximize revenue in the face of generic competition across their portfolios, it is a significant amount to offset.” Other drugs, prescribed in conjunction with Plavix, will also most likely be impacted.

Agarwal and Pan recommend a number of actions that pharmaceutical executives can take to mitigate such potential post-launch losses.

  • Expand competitive landscape and threat assessment coverage to monitor the diagnostic environment for new research and clinical trials which could potentially impact the sales of marketed drugs
  • Upgrade skills, capabilities, reporting relationships and the organizational clout of the theranostic function
  • Develop organizational structures that allow knowledge of new biomarkers and clinical trials to reach commercial decision makers

Scientia Advisors’ article is available in the PAREXEL’s Bio/Pharma R&D Statistical Sourcebook 2010/2011 at Barnett Educational Services.

—Anita M. Harris, President, Harris Communications Group

Scientia Advisors, located in Boston and San Francisco, is a management consulting firm specializing in growth strategies for major and emerging companies in health care, life sciences, biotechnology and nutrition.

HarrisComBlog is a publication of the Harris Communications Group, an award-winning public relations and marketing communications firm in Cambridge, MA.

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