We all have a bad time of it some of the time. Sometimes a confluence of events just throws us off our game. It isn’t just one bad piece of news, it is one after another and your very character is threatened not just by each and every challenge, but by all the challenges. I hate it when that happens.
Consider the situation of Merck over the past several weeks, this month in particular:
- The ENHANCE study on Vytorin cast doubt on efficacy – timing of study release questioned by many as opportunistic;
- FDA announces investigation into suicide and use of Singulair, announced March 27
- Senator Charles Grassley sends letter to Merck demanding to know marketing details for Vytorin in the wake of the ENHANCE study to examine promotional efforts after knowledge of study results was in hand;
- On April 11, Congressmen Dingell and Stupak issue release expressing "concern" over timing of the ENHANCE announcement and indicating that investigation begun in January 2008 is "far from over";
- JAMA publishes study of Merck practices respecting ghostwriting of studies, April 16
- An April 28 Warning Letter is issued to Merck for cGMP issues;
- The FDA rejects an application for approval for a combination product of Singulair and Claritan (involving the same two companies that produced Vytorin);
- The FDA rejects a Merck NDA for its new cholesterol medication Cordaptive – sends non-approvable letter;
- Merck stock plunges in wake of rejection of Cordaptive and analyst lower their targets for the stock.
Each of these issues is serious when considered as a stand alone proposition.
But together, they will draw the credibility, intentions and core competencies of an entire company into question among multiple key stakeholders. Together the issues cause scrutiny of a company’s culture. And while each and every crisis demands a communications response, more than that, when taken together, the situation demands a communications plan not only in response to each and every crisis, but in response to the crisis that is happening because of the sheer magnitude of things gone wrong.
When a company that faces this kind of pressure, a crisis playbook becomes essential. It is complex communications plan that must be comprehensive in both scope and nature and have breadth and depth. It is multidimensional and looks back as well as forward.
In it, a company must consider both the internal and external audiences. It must provide messaging that is aimed at employees and the sales force as well as the investing public, policymakers, regulators and customers. And it must deal with each and every crisis as an individual crisis as well as dealing with the totality that is involved by the sheer weight of the totality of the situation.
I always think crisis opens up a window of opportunity. Crises make us new people as individuals, the same can be said of companies, and while going through a crisis is no fun, what comes out on the other side, if managed well, can be better.