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
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 email@example.com.