Novartis needs to listen harder


Hats off to Sheldon Jones, head of corporate communications at Novartis, and his boss, CEO Joe Jimenez.

As Jones writes in an informative PR Week Op-Ed, Jimenez recently challenged him to 'enhance the corporation's reputation in its significant markets.'

Jones responded by creating '…the Novartis Reputation Advisory Council, a board of outside members, experts in corporate reputation, healthcare policy, public affairs and CSR from Europe, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.'

NRAC provides guidance on everything from social media engagement and global perspective to telling the organization's story in emerging countries and delivering on their core values.

The advisory board is a great idea, but it suffers from two fundamental flaws:

– The group think that permeates any and all focus groups. Having created and helped managed other advisory councils, I can tell you the meetings are almost always dominated by the most outgoing personalities. As a result, some very real and critical POV's may never surface.

– While they provide a critical external perspective as Mr. Jones points out, advisory councils are populated by incredibly, talented and successful executives. They do NOT reflect the multiple constituent audiences with whom Novartis MUST engage in the most authentic and transparent ways possible.

For these reasons and others, we've created an offering called Audience Experience. We've partnered with an audience advocate, journalist and customer service consultant named Emily Yellin. Under Emily's aegis, we essentially put ourselves in our client's audiences' shoes and experience the product, service or organization in real time, the way an employee, customer, regulator or any other constituent might.

And, we do so online, offline and every other way in which an audience may interact with an organization.

We then compare and contrast those real-world experiences with the brand promises being communicated by the organization's marketing, advertising and PR programs. Sometimes, the gaps are subtle, but have profound effects; others are wide enough for a Mack truck to plow through. The end result, though, is a better alignment of what's being communicated vs. what an audience or multiple audiences actually experience. And, that in turn, enhances trust and reputation.

Jones and Novartis are to be congratulated for taking an outside-in approach to reputation management. But, they can elevate their efforts and fine-tune their results even more by taking the time to walk in their multiple constituents' shoes. As the Chinese proverb advises us: the longest journey begins with a single step."

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