Health care reform is an emotional issue to be sure—did you see Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank’s Town Hall last week? While we expect impassioned commentary like this from partisan politicos, health care executives entering the debate via the media must choose their words wisely. As Whole Foods learned last week, mixing personal opinion with corporate positioning can open the doors to a PR disaster.
Whole Foods CEO John Mackey recently penned a Wall Street Journal OpEd in which his conservative opinion on health care reform was squarely at odds with the grocery chain’s left-leaning customer base. Disgruntled shoppers took to the Internet in protest launching a Facebook, Twitter and blogosphere broadside calling for a national Whole Foods boycott. (Some media report a Facebook fan page quickly enlisted more than 16,000 members in just a few days).
The story captured national headlines andMackey fired back with blog posts of his own claiming editorial license and an inflammatory headline by WSJ editors was the catalyst for the controversy. Regardless of the intended goal of the OpEd, Whole Foods now finds itself trying to win back the hearts and minds of thousands of shoppers.
There’s an important lesson to be learned here for any spokesperson of a health care organization. Even if you are not submitting OpEds to national newspapers, all health care spokespeople must be prepared to respond to questions about reform appropriately. Some important points to consider:
Separate personal opinion from corporate policy—Think about how health care reform impacts your business or organization and develop some thoughtful responses in advance. Most importantly, make sure you separate your personal opinion from corporate policy. Are you addressing an issue that specifically impacts your organization or are you offering personal opinion that may distract the audience from your broader message?
Put yourself in the shoes of your stakeholders—When you conduct an interview, you’re not just chatting with a reporter, you are the public face of your organization speaking to thousands, perhaps millions, of people including customers, partners, and investors. There is a difference between what you discuss with your friends at a backyard barbeque and what you discuss with a business audience of key stakeholders. How will your remarks be received by the people you conduct business with?
Know when to avoid the debate—To some degree, the old adage that the two things you never discuss with business associates are politics and religion holds true. But for some, health care reform is central to their business and strong advocacy of their organization’s viewpoint is critical. Before granting an interview or drafting an OpEd ask yourself—does commenting on health care reform accomplish a strategic goal or are you capturing headlines for the sake of coverage which may hurt you in the end?
The bottom line: before you enter the debate, ask yourself, do you have something of value to contribute or, as Rep. Frank would say, are you just arguing with the dining room table?
Posted by Chris Stamm on August 24, 2009 at 1:41 PM
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