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Wednesday, Feb 1, 2023
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Risky Business



Mark Schannon is a risk communications specialist and head of Schannon & Associates in McLean, Va. He explains why it is so difficult for drug companies and other large organizations to react well when they under attack in the court of public opinion.



Question: Are drug companies more or less likely to mishandle such a crisis than other companies?

Answer:

One of the characteristics of a pharmaceutical company is that it is a science-based company. People tend to be more thoughtful, they take time. What happens in a disaster is that things move very, very rapidly and you’re often working with inadequate information, conflicting information, claims and charges, and you’re asking people who have spent their entire lives being deliberative to immediately turn on a dime and start making judgments based on inadequate data. It just goes against all their training.



Q: So is there something drug and other companies can do?

A:

When someone is angry or frightened or injured, what they want to hear is empathy, sympathy and concern. That’s very, very hard for both companies and health care professionals to do, particularly when lawyers get involved, because they’ll argue that you run the risk of damaging your court case.



Q: How much information should drug companies release in these situations?

A:

The more you withhold, the more you’re considered guilty. So you have to get the information out there, acknowledging that, “We don’t have all the facts. This is what we know and we’ll tell you more when we know it.” People are incredibly tolerant of an honest response.



Q: What’s the problem with saying as little as possible?

A:

Well, the lawyers will say we’ll fight this out in a court of law, where you’re innocent until proven guilty. When you’re attacked in the media you’re guilty until proven innocent. If it’s a big enough issue, by the time a pharmaceutical company like Merck gets to the courtroom, the court of public opinion has already judged them guilty and the pool of people from which the attorneys are going to pull the jury has already decided they’re guilty.

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