What happens when you get slammed with a $35 million settlement, and you have exhausted all your options? Well 5W PR CEO, Ronn Torossian says, you gotta pay the piper. But cutting that big check is only the first step in repairing your public relations standing in the marketplace.
Torossian says Pfizer’s recent settlement agreement provides a solid example of this crisis PR process in play.
According to the settlement, Pfizer will pay $35 million in the wake of allegations by 42 states. Essentially Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Pfizer, illegally marketed its organ transplant drug. This is NOT a headline you want to see keep popping up in print and online, so Pfizer was right to settle quickly and cleanly. They need to put this behind them as quickly as possible, let the public know they have addressed the issue, and move on before this incident stretches into another news cycle.
One of the main reasons Pfizer needs to take steps to limit the number of news stories about this issue is that it can – and will – be tied to a previous issue from 2013. In that case, the company agreed to pay more than $490 million in penalties to the Department of Justice in order to resolve similar allegations.
The PR issue here, Torossian says, is one of exponential crisisPR. Every news researcher reporting on the current settlement will find out about the previous settlement and include it in the story. Not only does it provide more context, it establishes an implied pattern, which exponentially increases the ominous impact and negative power of the story.
Consider this: If you report that a subsidiary of any company made a mistake that cost its brand $35 million you would think, “Man, that’s bad…” but if you IMMEDIATELY hear that the same (not the “same,” but it would be presented that way) company also had to pay out nearly $500 million, reasonable mistakes might take on some sinister motives. This is not the sort of thing you want people associating with your brand.
A single mark is easy to move past, but a series of crisis PR situations becomes a much more difficult nut to crack. It’s possible to recover, but you have to start immediately and work very hard in the beginning to reverse the flow of public opinion. It will be compelling and instructive to see how Pfizer does exactly that in the coming months.