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Pharma Crisis Communications in the Fast-Paced Digital World
The J&J/McNeil Case Study

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A conversation with Bill Silberg (Principal at Silberg Consulting), Melissa Davies (Social Media Practice Lead at Return on Focus) Michael Parks (EVP, Vox Medica, Inc.), and invited ePharma Pioneer Club members about "how-to" and "how-not-to" when it comes to crisis communications in the faced-paced digital world of blogging and Twitter. (See guest bios.)

Interview Date: Tuesday, June 8, 2010

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Background

Ever since seven people died from ingesting cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules back in 1982, the reaction to the crisis by Johnson & Johnson -- the makers of Tylenol -- has been the "gold standard" for crisis management communications. Johnson & Johnson immediately recalled and destroyed 31 million Tylenol capsules and the "affable CEO, James Burke, appeared in television ads and at news conferences informing consumers of the company's actions. Tamper-resistant packaging was rapidly introduced, and Tylenol sales swiftly bounced back to near pre-crisis levels (see wikipedia).

In contrast to that Tylenol crisis, the current recall of sub-par quality Tylenol and other medications for children by McNeil (a unit of J&J) and the subsequent communications from the parent company is more like the gold standard for how NOT to do crisis communications. First, McNeil delayed implemented a full recall. Then it botched the job. And after weeks of the story being in the news, Bill Weldon, the current CEO responded only with a 250-word post to the corporate blog and a short interview on a daytime cable financial news program. As one commenter to Pharma Marketing Blog (see below) said, "Does J&J really think most mainstream US Moms are reading its corporate blog? No, they are gathering in other places like Facebook. Where's J&J's response in social media?"

This discussion will focus on comparing the 1982 episode with the current situation from a communications point of view. We will also expand out from this case to look at the broader landscape and how, crisis or otherwise, one deals with the breakneck pace and two-way, consumer-driven nature of digital communications.

Questions/Topics Discussed

  • Review of the recent McNeil/J&J recall
  • What has been the response by J&J? Has it been adequate? What should they have done that was not done?
  • What's the role of social media in crisis communications?


Guest Bio

Bill SilbergBill Silberg is a communications and publishing professional with 30 years experience in editorial development and management, strategic communications, media relations, journalism, and continuing professional education. He has worked in the non- and for-profit sectors and held senior positions in the academic, foundation, professional association and publishing worlds. Specialties

Bill specializes in helping organizations transition their communications publishing operations from a traditional to a digital focus or in maximizing their growing online capacities. He is an expert in developing and implementing content strategies; building teams and programs; improving editorial and production process; and creating and growing professional relationships and collaborations. He has deep expertise in speaking to professional audiences, consumers, and in connecting the two.

Melissa DaviesMelissa Davies heads the Social Media Practice at Return on Focus, a marketing effectiveness firm dedicated to assisting biopharmaceutical companies in obtaining the highest level of evidence possible to support their investment decisions. As Social Media Practice Lead, Melissa strategically analyzes online conversations to help clients better understand what motivates patient/caregiver decisions and how they can apply the valuable insights gained to improve the effectiveness of their brand’s marketing efforts. Melissa is passionate about the transformative power of social media and believes that it is compelling a more proactive, evidence-based approach to customer engagement.

Michael ParksMichael Parks is the Executive Vice President, Public Relations and Marketing Communications at Vox Medica. Prior to joining Vox Medica in 2010, Michael was the President and Founder Pitch360, a PR consultancy established in 2008 for small to mid-size Pharma, Biotech, and Nanotechnology companies. Before that he was the Vice President of Corporate Communications at Centocor, Inc., an operating company of Johnson & Johnson. In this role, he acted as the company's Chief Communications Officer with communications responsibility for the protection and enhancement of the company's image and products from a commercial, research & development, and manufacturing perspective. Prior to that, Michael held executive positions at Pharmacia Corporation and Searle Pharmaceuticals, and led efforts related to the launch of a number of blockbuster products. Michael has been a pioneer in social media for the pharma industry and was also the Executive Producer of the groundbreaking documentary, INNERSTATE, a film that chronicled the devastating impact of chronic disease and the promise of innovation. This documentary was a first for the pharmaceutical industry and just part of Michael's broad portfolio of innovative approaches to effectively communicating complex issues to a wide variety of audiences.


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