Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Advice to All Pharma PR Bloggers Out There

Jim Edwards over at BrandweekNRX recently likened the J&J corporate blog JNJ BTW to the erstwhile commie newspaper Pravda. Here's what Jim had to say (read his post "J&J's New Corporate Blog: Is It Any Good?"):

"Think of it this way: One of the reasons TASS and Isvestia were so closely read in the West during the Cold War was that the publications were as interesting for what didn't appear in them as for what did. If a rising star communist official's name suddenly stopped appearig (sic) in Soviet news accounts, Western intelligence could deduce that he had fallen out of favor with the Politburo. Or been killed. Judging by this item, Christine Poon won't be getting an icepick in the head anytime soon.

"NJN (sic; he means JNJ) BTW is similar: It's a handy guide to the topics that J&J finds so controversial it dare not speak their name: So far, that's lawsuits, acquisitions, and "internal" corporate matters.

"There you have it: JNJ BTW is the Pravda of J&J."
Ouch! Tough love indeed!

But let's look at the glass half-full instead of half-empty, shall we?

Did you know, for example, that Pravda is the Russian word for "The Truth"? I bet you dinnit! Marc Monseau, the author of JNJ BTW, might take some comfort from being labeled "The Truth of J&J." At least he wasn't called the "CNN of J&J," which might be a much less flattering comparison.
DISCLOSURE: I know Marc personally and have had several confidential discussions with him about blogging. I have discussed some of the following ideas with Marc from time to time. Usually the discussion goes like this: "Hey, Marc! How you doing? BTW, you need a much BIGGER photo of yourself on your blog!"
Of course, "truth" is such a relative term. It's never really possible to be absolutely sure when someone is telling you the truth or what is the truth! Marc seems to be truthful when he is laying out the reasons why he cannot say this or that, or why he cannot respond to certain allegations, etc.

But Jim has a point. If a corporate blog remains silent on issues roiling around it, then suspicions are aroused. It's best to say something, even if it is to refer to the official company press release, which is some form of "truth" if not absolute truth. I suspect that's what Pravda would do.

Of course, this is not what we expect of blogs. But what should we expect from a blog like JNJ BTW?

Here's what I think J&J and other pharmaceutical corporate blogs should focus on: giving employees a voice.

Typically, the PR person is the sole "voice" of the top-down organization, whether it's J&J, Merck, or the White House. Blogging, however, is a bottom-up medium allowing the "common Joe" to have a voice equal to anyone else in the organization. Thus, corporate blogging is akin to hammering a square peg into a round hole. Something's got to give!

Here's my suggestion. Listen up!

Most of you have backgrounds in journalism or view journalists as your primary audience. Journalists look at you as someone to get around in order to get the real story. Don't run your blog that way. Instead, make it easy for journalists and other readers of your blog to get around you and hear from real people in your organization. And I don't mean just the CEO, CFO, General Counsel, Head of R&D, etc. Save those people's stories for your traditional PR role.

Your blog should include the voices of people much lower down in your organization. I've said many times that the best and most credible spokespeople pharma has are the scientists working within R&D (see "A Primer on Pharma Employee Blogging", for example). Put these people front and center in you blog.

I know, I know, you just can't let them say anything they want in a blog. But here's a way that you can do it and not be afraid of what they might say.

Let's use a recent post to JNJ BTW as an example. The post was about "Similar Biologics," which are generic versions of large-molecule patent drugs. In that post. Marc used a J&J example to illustrate how a small change in a non-active ingredient could lead to problems. Here's the main point I think Marc was trying to make:
"These products [biosimilars] would be 'similar' to a branded product, but they would not be the 'same' and therefore, scientists do not consider them to be generics. Since laboratory testing isn't enough to detect many of the clinically important differences in biologics, testing in humans will be necessary to ensure their safety and efficacy."
He mentions "scientists." Boing! which scientists? How about some scientists at J&J who had specific experience in this area? Why not get the scientists who were involved in the J&J product that Marc mentioned to tell their stories?

Imagine a pharma PR blogger acting like a reporter within his or her own organization. The task is to write a story about biosimilars, but it needs a human touch. Let's take a page from many Wall Street Journal articles that start with a person and rewrite Marc's piece:
"Clarence, a research scientist at Otho Biotech, in 1998 noticed a problem with Eprex (epoetin alfa). Post-marketing data showed an increase in reported immunogenetic responses, including a rare form of anemia called Pure Red Cell Aplasia — or PRCA — in patients receiving the product. 'It took us awhile,' said Clarence, 'but after about five years at a cost of more than $100 million, we ultimately identified the most likely cause to be ..."
Go on from there quoting Clarence's personal account about how he and his colleagues worked diligently to find the problem and solve it. It sunds like a good story! How Clarence may have lost many nights' sleep over it. How many false trails were followed. How he knew the reputation of J&J was on the line. Etc., etc.
Note: Drop the cost analysis -- that's a corporate concern. Your readers don't give a sh*t; J&J makes billion$! I am sure Clarence worried somewhat about cost, but his main focus probably was on saving lives. That's the story!
In other words, do what journalists do: interview real people in your organization and tell their stories. These people can be scientists like Clarence or they can be maintenance workers or administrative assistants -- the rank and file that your company depends on to get the job done.

That's my advice to ALL pharma PR bloggers -- not just Marc Monseau. Take it or leave it. No charge!


  1. Red Trivia: Pravda (which, as you point out, means "Truth") was the Party newspaper (officially the organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party).

    Izvestia (which means "News") was the government paper (officially published by the Supreme Soviet) and was generally more focused on foreign relations.

    The (sotto voce) joke during the Soviet years was, "There is no truth in the News...and there is no news in the Truth."

  2. Mario Cavallini12:31 PM

    For those who link through to the Brandweek NRx post, don't miss Monseau's reply, which is commendable for its brevity, good humor, and making of point.

    And yes, for pharmafolk who've been considering the cutting-edge pioneer move of starting a blog, you now have what you've been missing: precedent.

    For both, Monseau earns my applause.

  3. The problem is, most pharma companies hide so much information out and bury so much as a result of corporate censors that it will be hard to guess what's really going on. We're almost dealing with a blank slate when it comes to pharma communications. And it's hard to monitor and analyze a blank slate.

  4. Marc Monseau3:41 PM

    Great perspectives, John. In fact, getting others at Johnson & Johnson to tell their own stories on JNJ BTW is something I'd been thinking about doing since I first started the blog. As you know, the people who work for Johnson & Johnson (or for any other company for that matter) have some great stories to tell.

    Now as for a larger photo of myself on the blog -- do we really think the world is ready for that?


  5. Marc,

    Thanks for your comment.

    You are a good looking guy and I am sure at least half your readers would appreciate a photo that actually shows some detail!

    Now, which half is another issue!


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