Paul Holmes 22 Oct 2002 // 11:00PM GMT
It is not every day that a company gets to make a major contribution to the safety and security of a nation. This year, thanks to Cipro, Bayer was called upon to do just that. In responding to the anthrax threat, Bayer faced one of the greatest challenges of its more than 130-year history. While Bayer received some initial criticism from its competitors and the media at the height of the anthrax panic, market research, news articles and public comments by competitors have accredited Bayer with managing the crisis responsibly, openly and courageously. In the end, the actions of Bayer have had a positive impact on the company and its reputation—both internally and externally.
Immediately following September 11th, Bayer management responded to the possibility that anthrax could be involved in the terrorist attacks by ramping up production of Cipro. After anthrax was discovered in the offices of Tom Brokaw, people learned that Bayer’s Cipro was the only FDA-approved treatment for anthrax. Practically overnight, Cipro became a household name. Americans were immediately concerned that, in a doomsday scenario, Cipro would be in short supply. This caused a major buying spree in which Americans were requesting that their physicians prescribe Cipro to “have just in case.” Due to this unexpected demand, Cipro, in some areas, became difficult for consumers to obtain, further perpetuating fears among Americans.
The insufficient supply perception was exacerbated by a lack of information from the U.S. government about exactly how much Cipro was needed or was available and a great deal of speculation by the media. Initially, the company decided to allow the government to take the lead on the issue and was trying to not be self-promotional or to inflame fears by announcing its ramp-up efforts. However, Bayer was quickly thrust into the spotlight, when Tom Brokaw held up a bottle of Cipro and stated, “In Cipro We Trust.” Meanwhile, Sen. Schumer, a long-time advocate for generics, held a press conference calling for the abrogation of Bayer’s patent. And, the Canadian government, without even placing an order for Cipro, temporarily announced it would override the Cipro patent.
Beginning on September 11th, escalating in the beginning of October with the discovery of the first anthrax-laden letter in Tom Brokaw’s office, and until the crisis had fully subsided in mid-November, Bayer, in Germany and the United States, collaborated closely to develop and implement strategies to accomplish the following objectives.
· Ramp-up supply of Cipro to ensure that Cipro is available to those who need it;
· Work with the U.S. government to build a stockpile of Cipro in case of an emergency;
· Mollify escalating fears and assure people of Bayer’s commitment to protecting the health of Americans;
· Communicate with our key constituents to assure the appropriate use of Cipro;
· Reinforce that Bayer is a responsible, caring global company with the first and foremost concern of protecting the health and well-being of the public.
The strategic communication plan consisted of six elements and included the below actions:
Proactive government relations efforts to facilitate a Cipro contract, help the government in its anti-bioterrorism effort and ensure the integrity of the patent.
· Bayer Corporation CEO Helge Wehmeier and the President of Bayer Pharmaceutical Division, North America Wolfgang Plischke went to Washington, DC, without an invitation, to meet with the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and to expedite the creation of a government contract for Cipro.
· Mr. Wehmeier and Dr. Plischke met with Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge and members of Congress to provide reassurance of Bayer’s commitment and to emphasize the importance of patents for research and investment.
· Mark Kuhn, the head of manufacturing in West Haven, testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee about Bayer’s capabilities to supply increased quantities of Cipro.
· Bayer donated 2 million Cipro tablets to people working on the frontlines of the crisis including firemen, policemen, emergency workers and postal workers.
· Bayer and HHS reached a historic agreement for 200 million Cipro tablets at a deeply discounted price in record time.
Communicate directly with the public through a $3 million advertising campaign.
· The goal of the two ads “Our Commitment to You” and “You Can Count on Us,” was to mollify fears by communicating to the public what Bayer was doing to build the government stockpile and to make sure people who need Cipro receive it and to educate people about the appropriate use of antibiotics.
· The ads were placed in national newspapers as well as regions that had reported anthrax cases. Outlets included USA Today, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Washington Post, Trenton Times, New York Daily News, Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post.
· Bayer also placed the ad in local papers in key Bayer locations—the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (U.S. corporate headquarters) and the New Haven Register (U.S. pharmaceutical headquarters)—to rally employee pride.
Educate the media about Bayer’s commitment to combating bioterrorism
· Daily conference calls with Bayer media professionals in West Haven, Leverkusen and other locations to coordinate media relations efforts.
· Daily phone calls to all major media outlets to assist reporters with stories and correct inaccuracies.
· Issue press releases and hold press conferences emphasizing Bayer’s production capabilities; the company’s commitment to the crisis; support for approval of other antibiotics for anthrax; donations to the frontline workers; and the historic deal with the government.
· TV appearances by Mr. Wehmeier and Dr. Plischke on such shows as CNN and the Today Show.
· Interviews with reporters and editorial boards at all major media outlets including The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Financial Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Pittsburgh Post Gazette.
· Conducted Cipro manufacturing tours for CNN and The New York Times so they could show the American people that Cipro was being made at an extraordinary rate to respond to any possible crisis.
· Created b-roll of the post office picking up Cipro donations to show that the needs of postal workers were being met.
Launched an internal communications effort, called ‘Bayer Cares,’ geared towards thanking and motivating Bayer employees and giving them avenues to display their American/Bayer pride.
· Mr. Wehmeier and Dr. Plischke held four employee events at different Connecticut locations presenting employees with an American flag and distributing ‘Bayer Cares’ t-shirts, hats and buttons.
· Mr. Wehemeier and Dr. Plishcke repeatedly updated employees on events through the company-wide voicemail.
Communicated with healthcare professionals to educate them on the appropriate use of Cipro.
· Sent letters to thousands of healthcare professionals on the appropriate use of Cipro.
· Issued a press release from Infectious Disease Specialist Paul Iannini on the safety of Cipro.
Develop communication channels for patients and consumers.
· Developed a handout for healthcare professionals to use on the appropriate use of Cipro.
· Set up a hotline for people to call regarding Cipro and anthrax.
· Developed a comprehensive web site devoted to Cipro and anthrax.
Summary of Results
The initiatives launched by the extensive communications team have made an important difference in changing perceptions and helping Bayer regain a more positive long-term image. In the end, the commentary and coverage showed that Bayer 1) acted responsibly; 2) gave the government a good price; and 3) communicated effectively. Below are some examples:
“In the previous panel, the speakers were asked what did you learn post 9/11. If I remember correctly it was ethics, courage and open communication…Helge [Wehmeier], I think you personified all three of those things. You’ve done it the right way and made me proud to be part of the industry.” –Participant at the Fortune Magazine, “Leadership in Turbulent Times” Conference, November 7, 2001.
“Anthrax treatment lifts Bayer’s profile,”—Headline of Financial Times, November 6, 2001
“We’ve never demanded that Northrop Grumman deliver its Stealth bombers at half price. Yet in the war on bioterrorism we begrudge Bayer its profits, making health look like bad business. We got a good price on Cipro last week.”—The New Yorker, November 5, 2001
“What terrible thing did the pharmaceutical company do? It developed an effective drug called Cipro.”—Investor’s Business Daily, October 31, 2002
Public opinion research was conducted by Roper towards the end of the Cipro PR campaign. The results showed:
Bayer had higher unaided total awareness as a company than other competitive pharmaceutical companies tracked and their ratings based on respect (63%). Trust (65%), and responsibility (39%) exceeded the competition.
80% of respondents mentioned Cipro as a Bayer product when aided.
81% of respondents thought Bayer was doing a good deed by selling Cipro at a 50% discount to the government.
In conclusion, Bayer’s role in combating bioterrorism has lifted its profile among important U.S. constituents and helped the company assume a leadership role in the United States:
· Bayer is now viewed as a much stronger force among U.S. pharmaceutical companies; Bayer is a more active member of PhRMA; and has taken a leadership role in PhRMA’s anti-bioterrorism taskforce.
· Bayer has built and enhanced important relationships with members of the Bush administrations and Congress.
· Bayer has enhanced relationships with members of the U.S. media many of which have met with Helge Wehmeier and/or Worlfgang Plischke and now have a clear understanding of Bayer’s actions.
· Bayer’s increased communications with healthcare professions on supply issues and the appropriate use of Cipro has also led to a greater understanding by healthcare professionals about the full range of Cipro indications and the strength of the product.
Going forward, Bayer plans to leverage this increased exposure to continue to market Cipro for its many indications and to continue to build on the company’s reputation in the United States and globally.