Client: Myriad Genetics (Salt Lake City)
PR Team: Noonan/Russo Communications (New York)
Campaign: DNA testing for victims of World Trade Center attack
Time Frame: September 11 - ongoing
Budget: Part of normal PR budget
After it became apparent that no more survivors would be found in the
wreckage of what was once the World Trade Center (WTC), the New York
State medical examiner's office contacted Myriad Genetics. The
biopharmaceutical corporation, based in Salt Lake City, had previously
worked with the New York State Police Department on a number of unsolved
crimes, as Myriad can analyze human hair and skin samples to find the
identity of a person's remains.
While he was at home with his wife, Ernie Knewitz, a VP at Noonan/
Russo, watched TV with surprise as the medical examiner's office
announced that Myriad would be analyzing the DNA from body parts of the
Knewitz, who had represented Myriad for three years, called Bill
Hockett, Myriad's spokesperson, to devise a plan to convey to the press
what the company was going to do, why, and what its message would
Myriad wanted it made clear from the outset that it wasn't looking for
free publicity, but was only doing its part for the recovery effort.
Myriad also wanted it known that it wasn't profiting from the work, as
it was performing the tests for free.
As the medical examiner's office took to the airwaves and asked those
who had lost someone in the attack to come forward with DNA samples from
old hairbrushes or toothbrushes, Myriad was being inundated with phone
calls from a curious press that was looking to it at as a source to
explain DNA testing to the public.
To discuss the best way to implement and explain what it was doing, the
company held a conference call with Noonan/Russo to discuss messaging
and make sure that the scientists, spokespeople, and CEO were all on the
One of the main points that Myriad wanted to communicate was that DNA
testing isn't an immediate process. The company didn't want people to
think that the tests could be taken and results found in an hour. In
some cases, the tests take up to several weeks. To emphasize the point,
Myriad brought its lead scientists to the forefront to explain in clear,
concise language how the tests work, the difficulties that the group
faced, and how soon results could be expected.
As the scientists taught an eager public about DNA testing, Noonan/Russo
was prepping reporters for their interviews with Myriad. Noonan/Russo
provided background information on Myriad, as well as the basics of DNA
testing to make sure that the media understood the role the company was
playing in the crisis.
Another focus for the company was making sure that the public understood
that DNA analysis was not its core business, but that Myriad develops
"We wanted to keep the corporate positioning straight, and have the
internal resources to manage this product, while not losing focus on the
core area of developing drugs," says Knewitz.
On October 11, Myriad unveiled new research on an HIV project that it
was working on. Bloomberg and CNBC both picked up the piece. "It showed
that Myriad was continuing with its main business while still being able
to fully handle what's happening in New York," Knewitz says.
Myriad was also the subject of stories in The Wall Street Journal, NBC
News, the AP, and two separate pieces in The New York Times (one of
which was a company profile).
The campaign will continue to run as long as rescue workers are still
finding bodies at Ground Zero, and the task to rebuild lower Manhattan