From a communications perspective, this ranks up there with the worst PR disasters I've ever seen. J&J files the lawsuit against the American Red Cross, the comms team is on vacation, they allowed the ARC to paint them into a corner of the big bad pharma company, and what was J&J's reponse? Not much for the first few days.
Then, on their JNJBTW Blog, they slowly dribble out this story about Clara Barton giving them an agreement and they start telling their side story about how they really support the ARC and have given them $5 million, etc. Too late. The story is already out there. And the only way the general public would get these facts is if they knew J&J fronted the JNJBTW blog and went looking for it. None of this supporting proof points are on the J&J website.
Companies going into this put together information websites with background documents, timelines, etc. to spin their story. J&J should have been out there saying, "we took steps X, Y, and Z over time period M in order to avoid this..." J&J's comms team took bad situation and made it far, far worse.
This stands in stark contrast to the American Red Cross response. On August 8, the Red Cross put out their first press release announcing that J&J was suiting them. J&J got their statement on August 9, the next day (that was a big miss!). But on August 10, the Red Cross put out a second statement detailing their position more completely (read it here). J&J has yet to put out such a statement or providing any of the supporting points to their argument.
But perhaps I too harshly judged the J&J communications team. IF J&J Legal were running these plays completely independent of comms and comms had no knowledge of it, that’s a different story. I’d apologize to the comms team for my criticisms. Instead, I’d have to ask who’s in charge over at J&J? Who’s calling the plays? And more importantly, does anyone have a clue?
In industry polls, pharmaceuticals now rank with gun manufacturers and the tobacco industry for credibility. And with incidents like this, it is obvious why. There’s enough bad press of stuff that pharma shouldn’t be blamed for (dumb doctor decisions), that when you have incident like this, it only reaffirms public perceptions. Every other pharma company is sitting around saying two things: 1) thank god we didn’t do something stupid like this, and 2) what were they thinking?
That sound you hear is all the goodwill of Tylenol tampering incident going down the drain...