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August 21, 2007

Johnson & Johnson's new approach to PR

Redcrossbrand Last week Cam and I were talking about possible topics for blog posts. Cam mentioned the Johnson & Johnson issue with the Red Cross. In a nut shell, J&J is suing the Red Cross because of it's use of the Red Cross (or so it seemed at the time, read further).

I expected the old, traditional PR approach. Several press releases full of corporate speech, maybe a CEO or better yet PR speech where a bland prepared statement is read, and lot's of attacks from all sides on J&J for suing one of the most well respected charities in the world. Last week I was prepared to write a post scolding J&J for letting their legal team lead the company beyond common sense.

It turns out J&J chose to respond differently. Emergence Marketing points out the differences. J&J has had a corporate blog for some time. They used the corporate blog to address the issue, probably attempting to get their side of the story out to the blogosphere. Their communication was plain spoken and addressed the issue concisely. Bottom line, they simply told their side of the story plainly, yes using press releases and conferences, but also using their blog and new media tools.

So what was their message? Turns out the issue isn't about the use of the Red Cross in general but the fact that the charity is licensing the symbol to other companies, not just for first aid kits, but also for use in cosmetics, clothes, you name it. Turns out J&J owned the symbol before the Red Cross ever existed.

The issue has been covered extensively on the blogoshpere. Seth's blog and a host of others have covered it. Some have just taken the typical blogosphere approach and come out against the corporate giant (J&J). Quite a few, however, have defended J&J, not citing the press release, but quoting proof points from the well written blog post on the matter from the J&J PR department.

Most Fortune 500 companies are afraid to put up a blog, let alone one that addresses PR issues on it. This fear is mainly due to the time commitment to posting and getting those post approves through legal. There is probably also a hidden fear of not understanding and being able to control new media tools. Bottom line, it will require more work and learning for these staffs and frankly, they'd rather just ignore it. What they are missing out on is an opportunity to break through the clutter of traditional approaches and possibly avoid the negative backlash that often times comes with it.

Congratulations to J&J for at least having the courage to taking new approaches to getting their message out. - Paul Herring

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Comments

I'm not sure to whom J&J was targeting with its message, but it certainly resonated with me -- especially upon learning the lengths to which they went in trying to resolve this diplomatically.

If the blog posts I've read are any indication, at worst (for J&J), people take the side of the Red Cross but can see J&J's point. At best, they take J&J's side.

Such is the reward for being unpretentious in fact and when communicating with an audience.

Also kudos to Marc for allowing negative comments.

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