Bayer vs. Johnson & Johnson: A PR Overview

Bayer Healthcare

Bayer Healthcare and Johnson & Johnson are two of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies. Serving consumers the world over with products essential to their health and well-being, these businesses rely on the trust of millions.

A good PR strategy is absolutely essential to both. Healthcare is a field where one bad incident can lead to a major media crisis, with potentially devastating consequences for stakeholders and employees alike. Their communications also must maintain an image built up over one hundred years:

Bayer was founded in 1863 and Johnson & Johnson in 1886. Though Bayer is based in Germany and Johnson & Johnson in New Jersey, the PR tactics of these two brands use a global scope as they partner with the biggest agencies in the field.

Johnson & Johnson’s communications strategy is handled by Ogilvy Public Relations, a multinational PR powerhouse. Ogilvy PR’s clients also include Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer, and they list “healthcare” as one among six practices (the others are social marketing, public affairs, consumer marketing, technology and corporate PR).

Ogilvy’s communications specialties also include health policy, biotech & life sciences, corporate social responsibility, issues & crisis management, financial/investor relations, internal communications, and branding and research. Given Johnson & Johnson’s global scope, it makes sense for them to employ a firm with such a broad spectrum of options.

Bayer Healthcare is also associated with Ogilvy Public Relations via WPP, a global public relations and advertising agency based in London. WPP owns the Ogilvy and Mather agency. Bayer Healthcare’s parent company,

Bayer AG (or BHC), was founded and is based in Germany, and it is through WPP that BHC spends 80% of its media budget beyond the United States. Bayer also employs Omnicom Group, a marketing, and communications holding company for its media strategy. Among the Omnicom businesses working with Bayer Healthcare are public relations firms Fleishman-Hillard and Ketchum. Omnicom is also associated with Ogilvy and Mather.

Bayer is known globally for its aspirin, and Johnson & Johnson’s most popular and recognizable brand is pain-relief medicine Tylenol. Likewise, both companies wield enormous influence over the global healthcare products market. With these similarities in mind, it’s not surprising the two have turned to the same agencies to navigate their wide range of issues impacting public image on a regular basis.

Bayer Healthcare announced its selection of Omnicom and WPP as the agency of choice for four of its subsidiaries in 2010, a move that made headlines as it turned in the direction of consolidation among Bayer Healthcare’s multiple branches. Helping Bayer maintain image consistency across their various brands, and also proved an economically sound choice.

Johnson & Johnson’s history with Ogilvy Public Relations demonstrates a similar interest in working with PR firms whose size and scope matches their own. It is essential for both firms to have media representatives working wherever their products are sold and allowing access to specialized professionals as soon as a situation demands. WPP, Ogilvy PR, and Omnicom all feature partnerships both at their own level of global reach and with smaller firms, making them a natural choice for large pharmaceutical companies.

It’s also notable that Bayer and Johnson & Johnson were both founded prior to the inception of public relations as an industry. In the case of Johnson & Johnson, they defer to their well-publicized company credo when making decisions impacting consumers, a nod to their history that serves them well. In 1982, bottles of Tylenol were tampered with and laced with cyanide while on the shelves of several convenience stores in Chicago. Tragically, seven people died, and Johnson & Johnson was presented with the worst PR scenario in its history.

The incident is now remembered as a hallmark of good media strategy: the company immediately halted Tylenol production and issued warnings to all of its consumers to cease purchasing the product until further notice. This had not been part of a planned crisis-outreach tactic; they attributed their consumer-first approach to a credo written by founder Robert Wood Johnson in 1943. Advertising specialists at the time did not believe the Tylenol brand could recover from such a devastating blow, but Tylenol — under that name — bounced back and remains a globally popular product.

Public relations for large healthcare firms is a massive and serious undertaking. Both Bayer and Johnson & Johnson have elected media agencies with the scope and connections necessary to work on issues of any size, at any moment. Furthermore, these large firms are capable of consolidating and streamlining their output, helping both stay on-brand across their wide range of subsidiary companies. Though the healthcare firms may be in competition, their PR agencies clearly know that global cooperation among one another is what makes them a good choice.

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