I had the privilege of speaking to members of the Life Sciences committee of the New Jersey Association of Corporate Counsel at their 3rd Life Sciences Forum which took place on Wednesday, November 2, 2011. I participated on the Forum panel that covered the topic of Crisis Recalls. As a career life sciences public relations professional, I was eager to share my crisis communications and issues management experience and best-practices.
During my career I have been involved with scores of Rx, med tech and diagnostic product recalls. By the time the public relations group is alerted, the corporate decision to recall has usually already been made and the FDA has already been notified. Depending on the scope of the recall, the role of public relations will vary. Regardless of the situation, the public relations group is always working against very tight deadlines.
To reduce response cycle time, stress and potential missteps, planning is paramount. In crisis recall situations the public relations group needs to be front and center with key publics and the global media community. So, their rapid ability to protect patients, protect the corporation, and protect the recalled “asset” can translate into millions of dollars of potential savings in both sales and market value of the corporation. A company’s reputation can be far more valuable than one product.
Finally, I implored the group that planning is mandatory because when it comes to product recalls, it is not an if, it is a when. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Good public relations support includes a crisis communications plan that is designed to enable nimble action in the face of a myriad of product and corporate issues and crises. These plans must designate teams, prepare media spokespersons, empower decision makers and include chains of command, among many other critical details.
While it is impossible to anticipate and prepare for every detail, it is possible to create plans that prepare corporations for the majority of the issues they can expect to encounter. These plans should be in place today and reviewed every six months and mock-drilled annually.
Product recall crises will occur. However, through team work and planning, their impact can be minimized.