Why Mylan Needed a 3-Step Crisis Communications Plan

When the board members of Mylan, a major pharmaceutical company, opened The New York Times on Friday to see that their CEO, Heather Bresch, was America’s “new pharmaceutical villain,” there must have been a collective and audible gasp.

At this point, you would assume that Mylan would have activated their crisis communications plan when the issue first came to light early in the month.   

If they have a plan, nobody can tell.

The Back Story

Okay, so let’s backtrack.

Mylan is the owner of the EpiPen which treats severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) to insect stings or bites, foods, drugs, and other allergens. Every nurse in every school throughout the United States has an EpiPen. Every kid who has a severe allergy, and has been told by their doctor that it could result in anaphylactic shock, has an EpiPen.

Over these few years, the price of the life-saving EpiPen has jumped from $100 to $600.

Needless to say, there has been public outrage. Parents who normally paid $100 were now being told that the price for two, a quantity which is recommended by doctors, was going to be at least $400, even with insurance coverage.

To add more fuel to the fire, it was discovered that along with the EpiPen price spike, Mylan staff received millions of dollars in subsequent salary increases. When first confronted by the public outrage surrounding these issues, Mylan declined to comment. Instead, they issued a statement blaming high-deductible health plans that required patients to pay more out-of-pocket. Then they said the company had offered a $100 coupon which means “most people don’t pay anything for the pens” as reported earlier by the New York Times’ Well blog.

Okay, sure…

So what should Mylan have done?

Three Steps to a Crisis Communications Plan

In a world where a single Tweet or Facebook post can spark a news sensation, having a crisis communications plan is more important than ever. In crisis, there are three steps to weathering the big storm.

  1. Say you are sorry.
  2. State the solution.
  3. Never explain and don’t say stupid things.

Step 1 – Saying You’re Sorry 

The three words, “I am sorry” go far. While it may be legally prudent not to admit fault, this kind of reaction can diminish trust and be potentially damaging to the company. Instead of lawyering-up, Mylan should have focused on empathizing with the massive community of parents, children, and schools who are understandably very upset. They should have said something to the effect of “We are sorry that the price of this life saving medication has become so burdensome. We are moving to a solution.”

And FYI people, a coupon is NOT a solution.



Step 2 – Move to a (Real) Solution  

In this instance, I believe that the only thing the company can do is lower the price and take the revenue hit. When the CEO compensation goes from $2.5M to $19M since acquisition, you’re pretty much screwed. Just do it.  

Step 3 –  Never Explain and Don’t Say Stupid Things.

When the company was first asked about the situation, they blamed someone else. Never blame and never explain. If you’re explaining you’re losing. People don’t care and you only dig your hole deeper. They want a solution—a real solution.

And don’t say stupid things to the press. When asked about the price, Bresch told The New York Times, “I am running a business. I am a for-profit business. I am not hiding from that.”  Wrong answer. Even if it was out of context, it’s the wrong thing to say when you’re talking about human life. Full stop.

Saving Grace – A 24 Hour Hotline

I went to the Mylan website I saw they do have a 1-800 number. I called the number and let the operator know that the EpiPen, which I currently use for my avocado allergy, was now unaffordable. She directed to another customer service rep, quickly, who told me about a Mylan webpage where I can now download a $300 coupon which can be used on six two-pack refills.  That’s a big difference from the aforementioned $100 coupon.

It’s great news for consumers, but really too little, too late for Mylan. The damage is done. The lesson we can all learn from this fiasco? Having a strategic crisis communications plan in place is critical. Your company’s reputation is at stake, and whenever crisis strikes, you want to be prepared.

Next time, right?



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