As everyone knows, the FDA needs to find a way to improve its image among members of the public and policy makers. To accomplish that goal the agency is going to have to give some thought to a real plan of action that begins a long process, rather than engaging in single events that they hope will chip away at the negative views held by many. In other words, the FDA needs a public affairs plan to help pull them out of their slump.
A first step in putting together such a plan would be to:
- audit the assets that are available to the agency,
- assess how those assets can be most strategically tied to specific public affairs goals and objectives, and
- develop effective packaging and messaging.
For example, one asset the agency has is its Critical Path Initiative (CPI). If you have not heard of it, I’m not surprised. There is a press release from time to time that involves the CPI, which is electronically linked to the CPI homepage. No one has mentioned it in a speech since July 7, 2004 when Acting Commissioner Lester Crawford at a banking and healthcare conference.
In the words of the FDA:
"The Critical Path Initiative is the FDA’s premier initiative to identify and prioritize the most pressing medical product development problems and the greatest opportunities for rapid improvement in public health benefits. Its primary purpose is to ensure that basic scientific discoveries translate more rapidly into new and better medical treatments by creating new tools to find answers about how the safety and effectiveness of new medical products can be demonstrated in faster timeframes with more certainty and at lower costs…"
The CPI is a good asset because it represents a really needed, positive effort. But I don’t think that most people have heard of it. In other words, I don’t think anyone has covered steps 2 and 3 above. As an asset, then, it is not being maximized.
For example, even the name – "critical path initiative" fails convey a meaning to people that they can grab onto and notice. It is jargon. You don’t hear it and instantly associate it with a goal or outcome.
Remember the Republican-led effort on the "Contract with America". Whatever you thought about the bottom line of that one (and I have definite opinions), it conveyed a meaning – a partnership with people do accomplish something, and then laid out the steps for getting there. It was a vehicle to attract attention, build image and convey simple messages.
The CPI could be the same type of vehicle for FDA. But press releases, and even speeches before obscure trade associations, are not enough to get people to relate to the initiative. It requires a full blown effort that works on every level to make clear what those three words mean. Without it, it doesn’t take root and an opportunity to put a valuable asset to work for FDA’s image is left unattended.