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Transparency…

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Part of what I love about Agent Genius, the contributors, the commenters and the rest of the active online real estate community is I have a sense of trust and camaraderie. This is my sanctuary when I need hope for this industry.

Unfortunately, over the last couple of weeks, I have experienced three instances of “transparency” that make me loathe this industry.

I’m Sorry, But Not Really…

Me: I’m looking to buy a place to move my mom into due to an unexpected death in the family.

REALTOR: I’m sorry to hear that. Have you found someone to list her current house?

Good job! You said you’re sorry! I came into your showroom to give you business, yet your first reaction was to ask for MORE business! If you had just chatted with me and shown me your demo units, you could have probably found a more appropriate time to ask about listing her current house. As it was, your greed and lack of compassion were what came through most. If I were moving to Austin, without a doubt Lani and Benn would have to be my representation. Do a search for “Help” on RE Revealed to see how much they care and help the community they are in. Many of you do the same. Supposedly that’s a common trait of Gen Y, we like to give our money and time and we respond well to others who do the same.

It’s Not So Bad Being Trendy

REALTOR (to employee of energy efficiency non-profit): I don’t really want to know all of this green stuff, I just want to be able to put it on my marketing so it looks like I do, could you create some catch-phrases for me?

Neat! You care about the environment! Could you tell me about solar power, non-VOC paint, Energy Star or rebates for energy improvements? No? But it’s all over your marketing materials that you’re a pro at this. Oh, I need to call someone else. So tell me again, why is this all over your marketing materials if you know nothing about it? Oh, “green” is trendy and you were just looking to capitalize on that. So you lied to me. Next.

I’m Super Busy…But Not Too Busy For Your Referrals!

LENDER (via email): Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you, I’ve been super busy lately. Scan to email signature. Oh, by the way, I’m never too busy for your referrals!

Okay, I understand that people get busy, so no problem. All the info here looks good, you answered my questions…here’s your contact information at the bottom…and POW…the gratuitous request to pilfer my address book, complete with the statement that you’re never too busy. So you were too busy to get back to me in a timely manner, but you can always make time for my friends. If you know they’re better than me, shouldn’t you know their contact information too?

Was This Just A Rant?

No, not at all. Yes, I wanted to vent a little, but please take a look at your marketing and your various forms of communication. If you, a business partner or someone in your office is guilty of any of these problems, please be the one to help them.

According to a Harris Interactive Poll, “a real estate agent” was the second least trusted profession. People can see through what you’re saying, especially when they already have a lack of trust.

As my grandfather always says, “you kids be good to each other.”

Nick runs a new media marketing consulting company helping real estate professionals learn how to implement new media tools into their marketing arsenal. He frequently gives presentations on generational marketing, green marketing and advanced online promotion. Nick is active on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Vance Shutes

    July 2, 2008 at 11:12 am

    Nick,

    It strikes me that our present market conditions will slowly, but surely, marginalize these types of practitioners. It can’t happen fast enough.

    An article like this causes me to stand before the mirror and ask “Is this me?” Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Matthew Rathbun

    July 2, 2008 at 11:40 am

    NIck, I really was sorry to hear about your dad and I know it’s still a struggle to help the family get everything back in order. I am also sorry about the callousness of the agent you encountered. There’s just no excuse.

    As for the rest… sigh

    The agents encounter day to day, off line are exceptional folks who are great people, but from time to time I’ll hear them talk to clients or such and their “agent” salesy mode kicks in and it’s sad to watch. I can’t help but think if they’d just be themselves and treat the client as a person instead of a “deal” they’d all be better off and probably make more income.

  3. Benn Rosales

    July 2, 2008 at 12:06 pm

    Fantastic Nick, just fantastic. But as great as you make us out to be, I know that in some of the most awkward moments in my life I have said the most horrible things.

    Which reminds me so much of the outreach from the real estate blogging community (rebc) when so many of our profession reached out to Lani and I and lifted us up. Some of the folks that say things in the public eye that I don’t always agree with threw out the baggage and humbled themselves to our needs.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that all of us do and say the most stupid things at the worst possible times, but thank God we all have the capacity to bring greatness thanks to constructive criticism such as the one you just delivered.

    I’m human, and so are we all, and on behalf of the agent, I extend my most sincere apology for just being ridiculously human.

  4. Frank Jewett

    July 2, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    Gosh, and here I thought I was having a bad week because the last three Realtors I called didn’t identify themselves when answering their phones… and I was returning their calls or responding to their e-mails. Nick’s right, there are a lot of cynics in the industry. I think it’s because there are a lot of coaching programs that attempt to turn otherwise normal, thoughtful people into cynics. Now let’s roll play a pop-by where we don’t really care about the person we’re visiting because we’re thinking about the stack of personal notes we need to write when we get back to the office.

  5. Nick Bostic

    July 2, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    @Vance – I learned at some point in my life that every once in a while, we have to take an honest look at who we are at that moment and decide if that’s really who we want to be in the future. It’s been incredibly valuable for me to do so from time to time as it has completely shifted my life each time.

    @Matthew – I did pretty cut-throat sales for quite some time and learned that by NOT using those salesy techniques you mentioned, I actually did better. I know the people who treat my like a person and not a deal, in every industry, will get my long-term business and plenty of happy referrals.

    @Benn – I completely agree that sometimes we say things we don’t mean to, to me though, it’s the acknowledgment and attempt to fix it that is important. And people do need to be careful with what they say and offer apologies when necessary because word does get out these days and a reputation can go downhill very quickly. I could have named names on this post, for instance 🙂 Instead, hopefully they will read and learn.

    @Frank – Your example of not caring because you have something else on your mind hits home. Being on the computer all day, I realized some time ago that I had to close the lid on my laptop when taking a phone call. Otherwise, I’m multitasking between blogs, my feed reader, Twitter and all the other crap we have going on. It’s tough to block out everything else, but sometimes that’s what needs to be done. When I sold $100 cell phones, I forced myself to do it, if I were selling $300,000 homes, I would definitely do it.

  6. Jay Thompson

    July 2, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    “…see how much they care and help the community they are in. Many of you do the same. Supposedly that’s a common trait of Gen Y, we like to give our money and time and we respond well to others who do the same.”

    It’s a trait of some Boomers too… I think human beings in general, regardless of generation, respond well to thoughtfulness and caring.

    At least I want to think that. I’m sticking to it….

    Sadly, many don’t seem to get it.

  7. Nick Bostic

    July 2, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    @Jay – you’re definitely right, it’s not just a Gen Y thing. I’ve just been reading a ton of Gen Y books lately and they keep pointed that out as a common trait as though the others don’t, but I know you do.

  8. Bill Lublin

    July 3, 2008 at 5:09 am

    @Jay Boomers Rock! We’re much more generous the Gen Y folks (who have only one letter to their name). But in any case good people try to do the right thing- of any age. And that you and I (and many of the people we value understand that generosity and caring are rewarding by themselves- I am so grateful I have and the people who enrich it from my wife, son, and daughter-in-law to my friends here – that it would be just wrong not to help someone if I could, or to care about someone else’s situation) But that comes from perspective, and the people that Nick recounts here didn’t have that.

    @ Nick when I read this so many things ran through my head that it would be a post but I don;t want to write that one yet. I have agree with Frank and Matthew that some of its a result of people following scripts and thinking less about the situation then they are about the person in front of them. People are all the stars of their own movies, and it is that sad but true fact that sometimes allows them to forget that the other players in the movie are crucial to the succes or failure of the movie. Times are tough financially for many people ans they become so focused on form that they lost sight of the things that are really valuable in their interaction with people.

    I have always believed in business that if you worry about taking care of people properly, the income follows. Too many people don’t get that and they parrot words in chase of a success that seems to elude them.On the flip side people you never met in person actually care deeply about you and your family – and that says something about people.

  9. Glenn fm Naples

    July 3, 2008 at 6:09 am

    NIck – you may have ranted but it is the truth. Sometimes, we have to drop back and take a look at ourselves.

  10. Paula Henry

    July 3, 2008 at 8:00 am

    Nick –

    This reminds of the saying ” Noone cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.

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Public Relations

If a terrorist group adopts your brand’s name, what do you do?

(Public Relations) Isis mobile payments are having quite a time of their name as a terrorist group adopts the same name for their brand. Let’s discuss the conundrum.

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Reputation management and your brand

Is your company having a reputation management problem; a little social media crisis? Whatever is going on, it’s unlikely you have it as bad as the Betamax of mobile payments has it lately.

Isis, as I had known it before a few weeks ago, is a mobile payment application that utilizes the NFC chip in many smartphones to make retail purchases once you tie your account to credit cards you already have. Probably the only reason I had ever heard of Isis is that Austin, Texas was one of the early places it rolled out and presumably because Verizon (my carrier) owns part of Isis, Verizon preloaded the app on my phone and for a long time blocked its users’ ability to use competing Google Wallet. Although Verizon always denied it was “blocking” Google Wallet.

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On vacation with my family last week, however, and out to dinner with friends, all around me had to endure my geeky ponderings on how the company with that purple decal on the window of the restaurant next to the credit card decals must be feeling about the violent militant group currently occupying parts of Iraq and Syria – also named ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Well, today we found out how they’re feeling when Isis announced they’ll be changing their name; not to be confused with the news last week that ISIS in Iraq was also changing its name.

Some have reasoned that because relatively few Americans are paying attention to the crisis in Iraq and because of the obscurity of the mobile payment system at this point, changing the name and all of the costs associated with rebranding might be overkill. However, for a company still trying to grow and gain brand awareness, the uncertainty of the duration and severity of the crisis in Iraq and Syria does pose a real problem.

A cause for pause

Media outlets are still almost universally using the name ISIS to describe the militant group despite their own rebranding efforts, and the mobile payment company has to be asking itself what the value of the name Isis was anyway. It certainly doesn’t describe the service in any way, and it is likely they initially chose the name because it wasn’t associated with much of anything other than an Egyptian Goddess who was basically the Mother Teresa of Egyptian Goddesses. But now they cannot as easily define the word “Isis” in consumer’s minds while competing with a violent movement in the news.

It is unlikely that your company’s name will be adopted by a terrorist group, of course. But the whole scenario might cause you to pause and consider the value and identity of your own brand. What would have to happen for you to decide you had to completely rebrand? And if you are considering the creation of a new product or brand, it is worth taking the time to imagine the most likely potential threats to that brand and what your reaction would be to those threats.

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Opinion Editorials

BioMarin CEO calls terminal cancer patient a “spoiled petulant brat”

BioMarin pharmaceutical continues to astonish, not by their move to refuse a dying cancer patient life-saving treatment, despite the FDA’s direct approval to do so, but by their CEO writing aggressive emails laced with insults and condescension. Not advisable to any company, whether in a moment of crisis or not.

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biomarin ceo

Jean-Jacques Bienaimé, Chief Executive Officer, BioMarin Pharmaceutical

Great occasions do not make heroes or cowards; they simply unveil them to the eyes. Silently and imperceptibly, as we wake or sleep, we grow strong or we grow weak, and at last some crisis shows us what we have become. – Brooke Foss Westcott, British Theologian, 1825-1901

BioMarin Pharmaceutical continues on the war path

Two weeks ago, I forewarned that BioMarin Pharmaceutical was headed toward a crisis and last week we discussed the accidental “reply-all” email the CEO sent out revealing the company’s crisis strategy.  I could never have predicted this week’s developments.

I have witnessed and studied crises of one sort or another over the last two decades and I have difficulty recalling too many examples of companies handling issues they face as poorly as BioMarin has.

Oh, we had Kenneth Cole tweet a few months ago that the uprisings in Egypt were caused by his Spring collection; and Abercrombie & Fitch has endured several years of criticism after their CEO said that the company only markets to good looking people.  But even in tasteless fashion empires, we do not frequently see CEOs go on email rampages in response to public outcry about their company’s behavior.

Supporters of Andrea Sloan have forwarded emails I will share below, and in conversation with Andrea, she discussed with me her feeling of having been mislead by the company’s Chief Medical Officer, who is no longer a licensed doctor.

To catch you up if you have not read previous articles on the situation, Andrea Sloan is an ovarian cancer patient.  Her doctors at MD Anderson say that due to her treatment history, traditional, available therapies will no longer be tolerable by her body.  BioMarin pharmaceutical has had a drug in trials that the FDA has indicated it will permit Andrea to use if the company will give it to her.  BioMarin has promoted this particular drug, BMN673, to investors as the safest and most effective drug of its type.  But to Andrea and her doctors, the company says they just don’t know if it is safe enough.  Over the last few years, the FDA has allowed over 3,000 patients to use drugs that are not yet approved as, basically, a last resort; while denying only a handful of such requests.

What Not To Do if You Are a CEO

Supporters of Andrea Sloan have used social media and letter writing campaigns to appeal to the company in hope they will allow her and others who face her circumstances a last hope.  The letters that I have seen range from heartfelt appeals for moral and ethical behavior, to logic and business reasons it would make sense for the company to grant Andrea compassionate use of their drug.

For a couple weeks, most of the emailed letters Andrea’s supporters sent to the company went unanswered.  Over the last few days, though, that changed; and in a somewhat dramatic manner.

BioMarin’s CEO, Jean-Jacques Bienaime, suddenly started replying to the emailed letters. Far from the measured, careful responses one would expect to come from the CEO of a company, Bienaime resorted to insulting language and at times, unable to come up with his own words describing his perspective, forwarded someone else’s email calling Andrea Sloan “petulant” and “spoiled” as his response.

In Bienaime’s “reply-all” email discussed last week, he laid out two strategies for fighting Andrea:  1. Contradict her doctor’s conclusion that BMN673 is the only drug that has a potential of helping, and 2. Hire a PR firm.  Bienaime made good on the aim to contradict Andrea’s doctors in a national media appearance, but BioMarin is apparently still in need of a PR firm; and one which specializes in crisis management at that.

The email exchanges:

What follows is an email exchange; the first from a supporter of Andrea to Bienaime, the second, his reply to that email:

email1


email2

Beyond it being difficult to understand why his reply is about insurance coverage, which has nothing to do with the situation at hand, his tone is entirely inappropriate.  Does BioMarin’s Board of Directors support their CEO’s statements?  How do his investors feel?  If the company had any type of crisis management plan in place, Bienaime’s responses would not have fit within it.

To another supporter of Andrea, instead of writing his own reply, Bienaime simply forwarded someone else’s words as his response.  The email is far too long to paste here in its entirety, but toward its conclusion, it reads:

email3

On social media, supporters of Andrea were livid and a number of them wrote the CEO in complaint of his having endorsed that perspective of Andrea.  Here is an excerpt of Bienaime’s reply relevant to those complaints:

email

No matter what kind of email the CEO of a company gets, this kind of response is never the correct reaction. How does the CEO of a public company think these replies will help his company in any way? And surely he understands that by writing no words of his own in response and simply forwarding someone else’s words instead; those words become his own.

Also of concern: licensing

Given that BioMarin’s primary strategy to deny Andrea the drug is to disagree with her doctors at MD Anderson regarding the availability of other options, it came to a surprise to Andrea Sloan that the Chief Medical Officer of the company let his license lapse a few days short of five years ago.  According to The Medical Board of California and referencing the date on the image below, if Dr. Fuchs does not renew his license by the end of this month the license will be canceled entirely.

medical

While it is not illegal for Dr. Fuchs to serve BioMarin as its Chief Medical Officer without an active medical license, there has been controversy in other places where problems have occurred in entities which had a non-licensed doctor as its CMO.  In this situation, Andrea Sloan feels mislead because she was told that she needed to sign a waiver so that her doctor at MD Anderson could talk to their Dr. and Chief Medical Officer.

Because of communications Dr. Fuchs has had regarding Andrea Sloan’s medical condition and the company’s insistence – amounting to medical advice – that she has other options, at least one Texas Legislator has agreed to file a complaint to the Medical Board of California for there to be an investigation into whether or not Dr. Fuchs actions amount to practicing medicine without a license.

How Does This End?

BioMarin, some argue, is justified in deciding to wait until later in the drug’s trial process before dispensing it outside of trials for any reason.  But even setting aside bioethical and moral issues surrounding the ability of a dying patient to have every treatment available that has shown promising results, how can the company justify promoting the safety and efficacy of the drug to investors if they will not stand behind those claims with critically ill patients?

Crisis management can get somewhat complicated at times, but for the most part, common sense dictates the bulk of it.  BioMarin, and its CEO in particular, has gone off the rails in their response to the tens of thousands of people who have called on them to provide compassionate use to Andrea Sloan.  At this point, the source of the damage that is occurring to the reputation of the company is happening not because of the actions of those contacting the company, but because of the actions of the person who is supposed to be capably guiding the company.

In a situation like this, if I were advising the company as a Crisis Management consultant, I would go directly to the other board members running the company and suggest they sideline the CEO for the duration of the crisis and set forth in a new direction that is less damaging to their mission as a company.

Note: as of publication, the BioMarin PR department has not responded to a request for comment regarding the validity of these emails.

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Opinion Editorials

BioMarin reveals crisis strategy in callous “reply-all” as patient nears final days

BioMarin continues to be at the center of a crisis management nightmare as they deny a cancer patient a life-saving drug, but their strategy was unveiled as the CEO accidentally hit “reply-all” on an email, including the patient’s supporters he is seeking to avoid.

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Reply-all happens to the best of us

Everyone has hit “Reply-All” on an email by accident at one time or another. It is not often, though, that the CEO of a public company facing a full-blown media crisis emails his strategy to the people he is trying to avoid.

Last week I discussed the predictable crisis that BioMarin pharmaceutical company is heading toward and its ethical obligation to at least try to avoid that crisis. Since that article was published, BioMarin seems determined to prove me prescient.

It is difficult to imagine a company less prepared for a crisis of its own making as BioMarin circles its wagons to wage a media war against an ovarian cancer patient named Andrea Sloan who has only days to receive treatment.

This week, we will look a little deeper into the company and their CEO’s strategy revealed in his “Reply-All” email on which he included Andrea Sloan’s supporters, and which was subsequently provided to me.

A deeper dive into this CEO’s crisis “strategy”

As any crisis management professional will tell you, the best way to avoid a crisis is to plan ahead. Large companies with potentially dangerous products – like oil companies – regularly have intricate and well developed crisis management plans in place. Unfortunately, most small and medium sized businesses have no active plan. BioMarin is no small company, however, and the current issues they face are not new to the company.

A pharmaceutical company with over 1,000 employees located in offices all around the world, BioMarin has had over $500 million in revenue in the last twelve months. There is no excuse for this company, which focuses on developing drugs for rare diseases, to not have a plan in place for dealing with the problems they are most likely to face.

Earlier this year, BioMarin faced pressure in the UK when a 17 year old named Chloe Drury applied to be part of a trial as a last hope in her battle against cancer. The trial was arbitrarily limited to patients 18 years and older. Chloe was three months shy of turning 18 years old and her doctors and family approved of her use of the drug, but BioMarin forbade her inclusion in the trial.

Soon after her 18th birthday, Chloe passed away. Chloe’s mother is now leading a fight for new legislation to be passed in the UK that will help others in situations like that her daughter endured.

BioMarin faced some scrutiny because of that situation, so one would think that even if they had not had the foresight prior to the efforts by Chloe Drury’s family and friends to focus attention on their behavior, that afterward they would have gotten prepared in case a similar issue ever arose. The simplest solution would have been to develop a compassionate use policy with clear guidelines and a plan to be able to effectively communicate the policy and rules.

Instead, their promotional materials say that they support compassionate use policies – they just seem to very rarely actually implement them for patients. Compassionate use is described in this article in the Washington Times.

BioMarin’s CEO Jean-Jacques Bienaime is not a man of many words if this one email is typical of his normal communication, but his meaning is clear. After receiving an email from some of Andrea’s supporters to the executives in BioMarin imploring the company to establish a compassionate use policy, Bienaime hit “Reply-All” from his iPhone and apparently did not realize he included Andrea’s supporters on the reply. Let’s take a look at the three sentences he aimed at other leaders of the company on September 8, 2013:

reply

Why this reasonable response is unreasonable

While this argument may sound reasonable – the idea that BioMarin should point out that there are other drugs in this class available – in truth, this is a callous and calculated comment. The drug Andrea Sloan is trying to get from BioMarin is a PARP inhibitor that is thought to be her last chance against the precise type of cancer she has. BioMarin’s BMN673 is a PARP inhibitor that the company has been excitedly telling investors is a drug that is far more effective than other drugs in its category and safer for patients because it can be given in dramatically lower doses.

Because of the extensive, traditional treatment Andrea has faced in her battle against cancer since 2007, her body simply cannot tolerate other drugs on the market. Due to the results of trials BioMarin has touted to investors and scientific journals, Andrea’s doctor has indicated that BMN673 is Andrea’s best and possibly last chance. In extensive communication Andrea has had with the company, this set of parameters has been made clear.

The “Hank” to whom Bienaime addresses the first portion of the email is presumably Henry Fuchs, M.D, BioMarin’s Chief Medical Officer who is included on the email and who is well aware of the unique value of BMN673 to Andrea and that other drugs will not work. It is clear from the sentence, though, that Fuchs actually came up with the idea to spin the company’s response by telling others that Andrea can go find other drugs even though, as a doctor, he knows this is not the truth.

parp

The databases of ongoing trials are easily searchable and this statement either shows neglectful ignorance or a disregard of BioMarin’s own promotion of the results of trials of the drug and the unique way the drug could help Andrea Sloan. And while it is possible that the CEO of the company was simply unsure of the answer to this question, Dr. Fuchs could not be uncertain.

Enter the PR folks

The previous comment did seem to offer an optimist a glimmer of hope, though, until:

pr

Debra Charlesworth handles BioMarin’s public relations, but those relations are normally only aimed at potential investors and so far, the company’s efforts at dealing with local and national media on the issue of Andrea Sloan have proven horribly clunky and cold. Precisely the same, stock wording is used in canned responses BioMarin made to media inquiries during both Chloe’s and Andrea’s ordeals.

BioMarin recognizes that the intense media spotlight on their response to Andrea Sloan and the over 125,000 supporters she has amassed online is outside their current capacity of response and they had no plan for this event, which given their pattern of behavior, was entirely predictable. BioMarin has not spoken directly with Andrea, and instead of having their doctors talk to her doctor at MD Anderson, they had their lawyers talk to him. They have no apparent interest in resolving the issue in an ethical or practical manner, but instead have focused on spreading misinformation and spinning their position through an outside PR agency.

The answer is not hiring an agency

The fix to this problem does not lie in hiring a PR agency, but in fixing the problem which is causing the need to engage in public relations; and other companies should take note of that. And remember, public relations and crisis management are not the same. Besides, I have a hunch that there is a PR agency of about 125,000 people and growing who would be happy to go to work on repairing BioMarin’s image if they were to shift to an ethical behavior by developing a reasonable and functional compassionate use policy.

A KXAN News open records request showed that the FDA has approved 3,149 compassionate use requests over the last several years. The FDA only approves the drug once the pharmaceutical company has agreed to give it to the patient. So, in 3,149 recent cases, drug companies have said yes to patients in this situation. It is clear to no one why BioMarin has not.

Below: petition on Change.org calling for BioMarin to grant access to this life-saving drug that the FDA has approved for Sloan’s case
biomarin refusing care

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