CAREERS: Pandora's Problem Page

Q: I work for an agency that represents a lot of pharmaceutical and

healthcare companies. One of our clients is the manufacturer of a

prescription drug that was once thought to cause serious and provocative

side effects (which I don't want to go into for reasons of

confidentiality). A healthcare related website, which has no real

influence or profile in the industry, is reporting wildly inflammatory

things about this medication, taking the extreme point of view on the

problem. One of the company's VPs and I have already answered their

questions on this subject. Meanwhile, several respected medical journals

and major newspapers have covered the issue in-depth and have reported

the company's research and positions on this issue accurately and

fairly. We consider the issue concerning this product effectively

closed, but the website persists in its attacks. Should we make an

effort to educate the editors and redirect the coverage, or give it up

as a lost cause?

Mr. D, Chicago

A: Healthcare PR can be a minefield of sensitivity and regulatory

issues, so I dared not answer your question without assistance. I turned

to the estimable Michael Durand, head of Porter Novelli's New York

healthcare practice, for advice.

"If this publication has a point of view that is not going to change,

you do not want to get into a dialogue with them via e-mail or

postings," he answers. "If you engage in that, then all you are really

doing is perpetuating the situation." Michael adds that usually the best

way to handle such a problem is to ignore it, especially if the

publication is not influential.

However, if the site has a radical political or environmental point of

view, one that needs to be addressed, it is best to use a third party to

get the correct message across. Michael also warns that PR agencies and

companies need to be careful about responding to specific accusations,

because the FDA might ask for data to back up anything that is said.

Q: I work for a major food company. My boss, the VP of corporate

communications, has asked all of her staff to do volunteer work at the

battered women's shelter that the company helps support. I really resent

her asking me to do this, because I engage in a lot of volunteer work on

my own time, doing things that interest me like literacy programs and

after-school clubs for disadvantaged kids. I consider my charity

involvement a private issue, and I don't like the fact that we are being

asked to spend time helping out an organization just so we can make the

company look good.

Should I refuse?

Ms. L, address withheld

A: No company should require you to engage in involuntary charitable

work, unless it is a direct part of the company's business. You did not

say whether the volunteering is expected within or outside company

hours, but let's assume your indignation stems from a loss of your

personal time.

No doubt, your boss would like to see more people giving back to the

community, and it is not wholly a cynical ploy to make the company "look


If you explain to her that you are already committed to a number of good

causes, I'm sure she will recognize that you represent the philanthropic

spirit that she is trying to engender in other staff members. I would

also suggest that you take a look at what sort of services the women's

shelter is offering. You may be surprised to find an opportunity to help

there that matches your own interests.

Do you have a problem that no one else has been able to solve? Try

Pandora. E-mail her at

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