Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Consumers Offer Marketing Advice to GM: When General Motors vice chairman Bob Lutz blogged recently that the "this question of how do we increase awareness, improve our image and enhance public opinion of our cars and trucks... is weighing on everyone's mind in this company, from the plant floors to the boardroom," he received 235 responses from consumers with marketing advice for the company, according to this article at TechNewsWorld.

I'm not sure how useful the advice itself was but the process of getting consumers involved has tremendous value in itself. General Motors continues to demonstrate that it gets this stuff better than most Fortune 500 companies.
Human Rights Group Takes on Animal Rights Group: The anti-vivisection movement in the U.K. is pretty much the British equivalent of the anti-abortion movement here in the U.S., with a small number of extremists prepared to use intimidation and violence to achieve their objectives.

Medical researchers in the U.K. must be prepared to face harassment and death threats if they are to carry out their life-saving work. So must anyone associated with them: there have been campaigns targeting investors, construction companies, and suppliers—DHL and UPS have been targeted because they make deliveries to Huntington Life Sciences, one of the U.K.’s largest research organizations.

So I was interested to read that after years of getting their own way, the animal rights activists will now have to contend with human rights activists who are prepared to take a stand for the research community.

This Guardian article profiles student activists in Oxford who have held counter-demonstrations against the Animal Liberation Front and others, and recently attracted 1,000 people to a rally in support of the research community.

What’s interesting is that the group, which calls itself Pro-Test, appears to have sprung up spontaneously, rather than through the initiative of the industry. In fact, the industry has typically sought to avoid confrontation. Scientists are understandably reluctant to make themselves targets, but they have also been slow to recruit potential allies at the grassroots level.

Says one Pro-Test member interviewed by The Guardian: “Scientists and academic institutions have been too afraid to engage in the debate and, therefore, have allowed activists to set the agenda. Now I feel it is right to draw a line in the sand and say, ‘No more.’ We want to get that debate out in the open and win it based on reason.”

This seems like a rather obvious approach for the industry to take, and the fact that it took so long makes me wonder how many companies underestimate the support that exists for their positions, and how many are failing to mobilize and leverage the energy of ordinary citizens.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Why Announce?: Here's something that has puzzled me for a while, but I never got around to asking. Why do press releases begin: "XYZ agency today announced that it has hired John Smith..." rather than "XYZ agency has hired John Smith..."?

Obviously, I'm in the news business, and so looking at the release I think the news is the hiring, not the announcing. So why don't PR people write it the way a news person would? Is this something that's taught in college? Is there some technical reason for what seem to be a couple of extra and unnecessary words?

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Where Am I?: Light blogging only over the next couple of days, as I try to close out our annual Agency Report Card (which we'd like to get out on time this year) and start judging our 2005 SABRE Awards entries. Normal service to be resumed later in the week, I hope.

Monday, February 27, 2006

This is Why Nobody Trusts the Pharmaceutical Industry, Part 2: A few days ago, I posted in response to a Wall Street Journal article concerning clinical trials for a blood substitute developed by Northfield Labs. The crux of the story is this: in an earlier (though not recent, as I initially said) trial, 10 of 81 patients who received the fake blood suffered a heart attack within seven days. As current trials proceed, however, “several hospitals have told community meetings that previous trials showed PolyHeme to be safe, failing to mention the 10 heart attacks in their printed materials.”

It was—and remains—my position that pharmaceutical companies should adhere to the ethical principle of informed consent, which means that they have an absolute moral obligation to share any information regarding fatalities in a previous clinical trial with patients. In this case, patients are generally in extremis when treatment is required, and unable to give their consent at that time. So that means the companies have an absolute moral obligation to share the information proactively with the community, so that people can opt out, if they wish.

The article provoked an interesting response from at least two readers, both of whom—doubtless they have their reasons—elected to remain anonymous.

The first provided examples of the information being shared with the communities in two trial centers, presumably in an attempt to rebut my argument that they were not fully informed. In fact, the community information is worse than I had imagined. Not only is there no mention of the 10 in 81, there’s no mention of the word death. The language used—“serious cardiovascular adverse experiences”—is so vague, the only reasonable conclusion is that it’s deliberately misleading.

This deception is explained—if that’s the right word—with the information that “the company involved, the surgeons involved, and the FDA concur that the blood substitute was NOT responsible for the cardiac problems.” By all means, share those conclusions with the patient population. But those conclusion are not an excuse to refuse to provide them with the facts. One of the hallmarks of a democracy, and of true free markets, is that regulators (and companies) do not presume to decide what is good for us and what is not. People should be given the facts and then trusted to make those decisions for themselves.

Even more telling are the words of the second anonymous poster, who writes that I must be “caught up in the angry, self-righteous anti-pharmaceutical company mood” of the times. Leaving aside the fact that I have been accused of being an apologist for the pharmaceutical industry far more often than I have been accused of being a critic, I have always believed that this kind of ad hominem attack (the word “self-righteous” pops up three times in one paragraph) tell us more about the writer than they do about his (or her) subject.

A strong subset within the pharmaceutical industry is so convinced of its goodness that it is impervious to criticism. It sees the world in black-and-white terms and its thinking runs something like this: “We make products that save or improve lives. We are therefore the good guys. Anyone who criticizes the good guys must be a bad guy. Therefore, all critics are bad guys. Therefore all criticism is necessarily wrong.”

I now understand why my friends in the pharmaceutical PR industry are so frustrated. They offer sound public relations advice. They counsel greater openness and honesty. They suggest that when it comes to disclosure, the pharmaceutical industry should err on the side of providing too much information rather than not enough. They provide advice designed to improve the industry’s image—which is exactly what I did. And they are accused of being angry and self-righteous.

The difference is, they’re being paid to save the industry from its deceptive, authoritarian and arrogant impulses. I’m not.