Merck Taps Burson to Help Repair Image Damage
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Merck Taps Burson to Help Repair Image Damage

Merck & Company, still reeling from the damage to its reputation caused by the handling of the Vioxx recall last year, has retained Burson-Marsteller to handle the public relations component of a $20 million image campaigN.

Paul Holmes

NEW YORK—Merck & Company, still reeling from the damage to its reputation caused by the handling of the Vioxx recall last year, has retained Burson-Marsteller to handle the public relations component of a $20 million image campaign—the first in the company’s history to focus on its corporate name rather than individual products.

Merck, which was America’s most admired corporation, according to Fortune magazine, from 1987 to 1993, suffered considerable damage to its reputation after it was learned that the company had failed to release the results of clinical trials suggesting Vioxx could cause heart problems. The resulting furor forced the company to withdraw the product, even though many patients considered it a valuable treatment for acute pain.

The  company’s handling of the crisis led to the departure of chief executive Raymond Gilmartin, and the first Vioxx trial is currently under way in Texas.

Merck’s corporate image campaign will include television, radio, print and online ads as well as public relations. It will run through the end of the year, and will include ads—created by Ogilvy & Mather—in which children react with confusion to questions about chicken pox, measles and mumps, diseases that have been all but eradicated by innovations from the pharmaceutical industry. The ads end with the slogan: “Merck. Where patients come first.”

Len Tacconi, executive director for corporate communications at Merck, told The New York Times recently, “It’s an important time for people to know who Merck is and what we stand for as a company.” The campaign followed research among consumers, healthcare professionals and opinion leaders—conducted even before the Vioxx story broke—that found little awareness of the company’s good works.

“It became frustrating to us— we did all these things and nobody knew about them,” says Tacconi. “We’re hoping for the campaign to be seen as benefit-driven to patients and not a chest-thump to the company.”

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