When Congressman Patrick Kennedy placed the blame for his reckless Beltway driving the other night on Ambien, it opened the floodgates for the media to send out reporters and find other "people in the street" to agree with the Rhode Island politician that Ambien could indeed have been the cause of the latest Kennedy Family disaster.
As Kennedy and the media were pointing the finger at Ambien, its maker, good old Sanofi-Aventis, continued its version of communications sleep-walking, issuing a statement that reactions like Kennedy’s only occurred in the rarest of cases.
Sanofi’s "Sounds of Silence" campaign is exactly the wrong public relations tact to take. By doing so, they allow others to frame the debate. There are many things the drug company can, and should, be doing in its defense, the first of which would be to name an independent, blue-ribbon panel to investigate Ambien more thoroughly (hey, Kennedy could be named to the panel. How’s that for "keeping your friends close and your enemies even closer"?). Assuming the drug is proven to cause problems, taking a proactive, concerned approach now will help Sanofi-Aventis in the long run.
The longer Sanofi waits, the more we’ll see people start to use it as an excuse for binge eating, reckless driving and god knows what else. It may even replace the old "my dog ate my homework" bromide. And, high-profile cases like Kennedy’s will only provide more fodder for the media to crucify the company and its drug. So, I’m leaving a corporate communications wake-up call for Sanofi-Aventis. Guys: it’s later than you think.