In addition to his global corporate affairs and CCO role, Michael Sneed is a member of Johnson & Johnson’s executive committee, to which he was appointed in 2018.
Since 2012 he has led the medical device, pharma and CPG company’s global marketing, communication, design and philanthropy functions. Sneed joined J&J in 1983 as a marketing assistant for the personal products company before working his way up the ladder.
What would your advice be for a young person entering PR in 2020?
Communication is an increasingly interdisciplinary practice that requires a wide array of skills and sharp business acumen. Whereas in the past, many people advanced in the communication profession by honing a discrete set of skills such as media relations, speechwriting, social media or internal communication, the lines between all of these practices blurs more each day.
My advice to young people would be to really understand the ins and outs of your business. You are most valuable as an adviser and partner if you are immersed in the broader business strategy your company is seeking to drive. Our profession’s leaders going forward will be creative problem solvers who can mix together communication approaches that earn stakeholder trust, boost reputation and generally create a more positive business environment.
How are the founding principles of PR relevant in today’s fast-moving and febrile comms environment?
From PR’s earliest days, its chief aim has been to earn, retain and grow trust. Even as our political, cultural and business environments shift feverishly, the fundamental, bedrock elements of trust remain the same. For trust to occur in any relationship, you need to do three things. First, deliver on your commitments. Second, offer trust in order to receive it. And third, demonstrate shared values. As communicators, these need to be focal points in all that we do.
How should the issue of introducing and distributing a COVID-19 vaccine be handled from a communications point of view?
Transparency is key to all successful communication around a COVID-19 vaccine and, frankly, to everything we do at J&J. As a global healthcare leader, we have a responsibility to ensure the latest information regarding vaccine development from the scientific community is easy to find for those who want to learn more.
That is why we created The Road to a Vaccine, a weekly educational video series hosted by Lisa Ling, featuring expert guests from around the world who help examine the latest efforts to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. We also need to make sure these updates reach everyone, everywhere, as studies have shown the pandemic is disproportionately impacting communities of color. We are working to advance racial and ethnic health equity through a series of targeted COVID-19-focused programs and partnerships, including an education-focused partnership with CareMessage.
What role should the industry play in combating racial injustice?
There is a lot the communication profession can bring to the fight for racial justice. For one, courage. In particular, the courage to push executive colleagues to be transparent and candid about where our organizations are in our own respective journeys to racial justice.
Many executives will naturally look to their PR and communication colleagues and expect them to take the facts as they exist today and “spin” the most positive story possible. We have to have the courage and wherewithal to push back. Racial justice cannot occur cosmetically. It will only arrive from real change. As communicators, we are natural conveners. We need to bring leaders from across our companies together to align not only on “what we say,” but also on “what we do.”
What keeps you excited about working in the PR industry?
As communicators, our greatest contribution comes from our ability to build relationships of all sorts. If we do our work with courage, convictio and a sense of values, we can bring people together and build coalitions that change the world. That’s exciting to me.
How do you relax?
I find the best way for me to relax is to spend time outdoors. There is something about the air, sky, sunshine and wind that is permanent and keeps everything in perspective. Seasons change like clockwork impervious to the wishes, demands and pleadings of human beings. It is very humbling. I am a runner and love to run outside. I’ve been a runner for over 40 years. Aside from the physical benefits, the mental charge gives me energy every day. I also love golf. There is serenity, grace and skill to golf — things I try and work on. Plus, you can never master golf. It is a challenge that always remains unconquered. It is a good analogy for life.
Favorite sports team?
I grew up in Chicago a frustrated Cubs fan. They have broken my heart every year except in 2016 when they won the World Series. I knew many of the players as a kid, so I can’t give them up.
If it’s non-alcoholic, it’s a 50/50 combination of orange juice and cranberry juice. I have one after every run. Delicious. On the alcoholic side, it would be Bailey’s Irish Cream. Decadent!
I was a DJ in college at the local radio station so I will admit to being old school. My tastes are eclectic, but right now I’ve been listening to a lot of B.B. King, Steely Dan and Van Morrison.
Which three people at a dinner party?
My interest in sports, politics and culture would have me gravitate toward big personalities that mix all three. For me it would be Jackie Robinson, Lyndon Johnson and Maya Angelou.