Corporate Use of Blogging – Johnson & Johnson and the Lawsuit

As noted here previously, the Johnson and Johnson blog launched by the company – JNJ BTW – is an unusual and bold experiment in new media and pharma.

Since its launch, the blog has covered a range of topics, trying I think to find it’s voice.  For example, the other day, they had a posting about the now famous Oscar the Cat – from the article in the New England Journal of Medicine about a cat with an uncanny ability to predict the deaths of nursing home residents.  It is an interesting story, but it has nothing to do with J&J.  That’s ok.  It is a blog, after all, and the nature of a blog is self-expression. 

But the real utility of a corporate blog came in this circumstance comes into full light this week.  J&J has filed a lawsuit against the American Red Cross.  If you are a casual observer to the news, you may instantly form a negative opinion about that from a headline – a pharmaceutical company suing a charity.

But J&J has used the blog to put out their point of view.  The past week has seen several postings on their own blog that explains the basis for the suit:

Just to be Clear – August 10

And the Coverage Continues – Also August 10

You’re Doing What? – August 9

Whatever you feel about the merits, it is very interesting from a communications point of view.  It is the type of story that many bloggers were talking about:  John Mack at PharmablogosphereEd Silverman at Pharmalot Peter Rost at Brandweek NrXSeth Godin at Seth Godin’s BlogGruntDoc – and the list goes on.  So, true to their own reason for starting the blog – "By The Way… Everyone else is talking about our company, so why can’t we?" – the company is talking about the company.  In other words, the conversation is not happening without them – they are in it. 

And that is the beauty of the corporate blog. 

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9 Responses to Corporate Use of Blogging – Johnson & Johnson and the Lawsuit

  1. Pharm Aid says:

    It is a bold experiment, but it didn’t come about as deliberate strategy, it seems to evolved out of necessity.
    Typically when a corporation goes on the offensive, they have their game plan lined up, their messages baked, their fact sheets ready to go and are generally prepared. J&J had a single press release which included almost none of their primary arguments. They allowed the ARC, bloggers and the media to paint them into a corner. In the early critical hours, J&J wasn’t adding their voice to this. They let the debate be framed for them and then came in on the back-end with the blog to dig themselves out of a hole. Not a great strategy.
    By their own admission, most of their communications team was on vacation when they (J&J) filed the lawsuit (a big disconnect between J&J legal and comms). J&J could have done things very differently, using both traditonal channels and the blog to communicate their viewpoint. They could have told their story prominently, and not let others do it for them.
    This is going to go down as one of the great PR misses.

  2. Mark says:

    Thanks for the insight. As a lawyer working in public relations, I have often seen a disconnect between legal and communications. One hopes that there will be bridges. Still, at least they had the blog as a way of getting out there. Thanks again.

  3. John Mack says:

    I am very surprised that you did not write about J&J’s PR snafu — the fact that J&J could take such an action while key PR people were away on vacation (which was revealed by Ray Jordan on JNJ BTW).
    If the FDA were to make such a public relations error, I am sure you would be all over it.
    But it may be more a problem with the corporate legal department rather than PR people.
    It seems that legal considers itself above clearing its actions with PR.
    This leads to an interesting question: As far as the public face of pharma is concerned, who’s in control? Legal or corporate communications? Who should be in control?
    As a specialist in this area, maybe you could give us your opinion.

  4. Marc Monseau says:

    Just wanted to point out that the Johnson & Johnson history blog, Kilmer House, also had a post on this matter describing the history of the use of the red cross symbol by Johnson & Johnson.

  5. Mark Senak says:

    John Mack has suggested I give thoughts about the relationship between legal and corp comms and I think that is a good idea. Look for it on Monday. In the meantime John, as to your surprise at my not covering it, I have to apologize. Sometimes, some things do get past me. And on a personal note, it has been an extremely challenging summer for me, so I don’t expect this to be my last oversight. Best, Mark

  6. John Mack says:

    Thanks Mark, I look forward to your post on Monday.

  7. Mark Senak says:

    Last week, as I and many bloggers before me noted, there was a big story when the issue arose whereby Johnson & Johnson made the announcement that the company was suing the American Red Cross. I pointed out that I thought the blog JNJ BTW – a corporate blog by Johnson & Johnson – demonstrated its worth by providing the company with an opportunity to get past the headline and present their side of the story. That, was the second story. However, John Mack wrote in comment to the last posting pointed out that there is a third story – the announcement of the suit.
    When I re-examined the blog entries at JNJ BTW however, I’m not sure I get what the third story is all about. All that was said was that a lot of the communications folks were on vacay when the announcement was made. I’m not sure what that indicates, other than it was August.
    If it is to say that legal departments and media relations departments don’t always work in tandem, I can say that in general, that is surprisingly often true, though usually when it comes to litigation announcements things are a little tighter than they may otherwise be. I know in my reply comment to John I said I would post on this on Monday, but frankly, I didn’t see it worthy of a posting. A lack of coordination among company (or government) departments is not news in my book.

  8. John Mack says:

    Of course, I am disappointed that you won’t say more about the consequences of legal and PR departments not working in tandem and what problems that could cause and what could be done to prevent them.
    Perhaps this topic is a bit off your mission — which is about the FDA — but, then, I have to wonder why you are writing about the J&J PR snafu at all and why you are not willing to expand on the issue I raised.
    Obviously, other people feel this topic rises to a post level. See, for example, Industry Insider’s post “Pharma PR: Either ‘Roid Rage or Comatose” at:
    He said:
    “When one department falls asleep at its desk and allows another to seriously jeopardize the company’s public image, it is the CEO’s responsibility to awaken the one and slap down the other. …Sadly, Pharma leadership today is so unbalanced by shortsighted greed and lack of vision that it seems incapable of walking such a line, preferring instead to trudge along with one foot on either side.”

  9. Mark Senak says:

    Well, I always hate to disappoint, and maybe I’m missing something big, I just didn’t see it as a story as I think it is a pretty common happenstance. As far as it being off mission, it is, but the beauty of a blog is that you can write about whatever you want. I just don’t get the there there.

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