Bad news has acquired a long shelf life in the age of the Internet. Companies that are involved in regulatory actions, such as receiving FDA warning letters, need to develop a strategy to present their image going forward because the record of the warning letter is never going away, experts said.
The basic premise is simple: “Do good things. Tell people about them. And do that over and over,” Todd Pauli, a web marketing expert, told NutraIngredients-USA. Pauli is a partner in Shelton Group PR, a Chicago-based agency.
Companies are often understandably reluctant to reference unfortunate past history. The thought is that past difficulties will be projected by potential customers into the present and besmirch a company’s current image.
Old news, but not forgotten
“It’s really hard for some companies, years after to the fact, to say, ‘Here’s is what we learned’ because you are dredging up old stuff,” said crisis communication expert Dan Hill, president of Ervin Hill Strategy. But in this age of rapid search, it doesn’t take the skills of a Sam Spade to ferret out past errors, like having received a warning letter. And for companies providing services to clients, as in the case of a contract manufacturer, it is quite likely that in the course of doing due diligence potential customers will find those references, whether the company wants to be upfront about them or not.
“There is hardly a company out there, even the most reputable ones, that hasn’t faced some sort of regulatory action,” Hill said. The question then becomes, what to do about it.
One approach is to lay all the cards on the table. Receving a warning letter from the FDA is a black day in any company’s history, but certainly not the end. Numerous companies have continued to do business and have enjoyed solid reputations in the industry after such an event, even extending to having subsequent GMP inspections by FDA that generate nothing in the way of actionable observations. Telling that story can be helpful, Hill said, though in his opinion it might be best insofar as possible to soft peddle the connection to the warning letter.
“A company could talk about best practices, the changes they’ve made, the new training and new standards they’ve implemented. They don’t necessarily have to link it to an enforcement action,” he said.
Another approach is to generate increasing amounts of authentic, valuable new content about your company and present it correctly. Pauli said it’s important to keep in mind how results appear in search in order to make that effort pay off. Both Pauli and Hill said more is not always better in this context. Google’s search algorithm (and the search engines of other search providers) has gotten increasingly sophisticated and better at separating the wheat from the chaff.
“Once something is published on teh Web, it’s out there forever. Google ranks things by keywords, so obviously if your company’s name is the keyword search on a warning letter listing, people will find it,” he said.
“But Google is also looking for anything that’s new, and it will rank the newer content more highly. And it is looking at where it is coming from,” Pauli said.
One efficient tool companies can use to generate a postive stream of messages is to institute one or more blogs, he said.
“It’s a way to generate good, fresh content about your company. That means committing to putting out things regularly. A blog can have a search engine benefit, too. The more a company puts out search content relevant to the company, the higher that content will appear in search,” Pauli said. Pauli emphasized that the content has to be authentic information, and not merely generated to get a company’s name out there a certain number of times per month, or engaging in cheap tricks to generate hits and page views.
“There is no magic bullet. There isn’t really a way to game the system anymore. The search engines are getting smarter than that,” he said.
“It’s about how many things you can get out there that are honest and factually accurate,” Hill said.
One of the best things a company can do is to do newsworthy things that news websites will find attractive to write about, he said.
“If you can get a story on a site that has a big footprint, that can have a big effect. It will link back to your company in a positive way,” Pauli said.
Bad publicity is no fun for anyone, Hill said. But his advice for dealing with the fallout is simple: Get used to it.
“If you are a company that doesn’t like to communicate publically, you can find your self in some awkward situations. Our thing is always about authenticity. The more you are willing to communicate and be transparent, the more it will help you. Otherwise, you might only be left with the negative,” Hill said.