Geoffrey Stackhouse, Managing Director, Clarity Solutions
Mylan Healthcare, the maker of the lifesaving EpiPen, wheeled out its CEO Heather Bresch in a charm offensive to justify a 400 per cent price rise and shore up it's plunging share price.
The share price is down nearly 20 per cent this year and fell a further 12 per cent - estimated at US$3 billion - after her interviews went to air. So it's clearly not working.
Bresch's techniques show some serious media mastery, but she's let down by her message strategy.
It's solid proof that while good technique is critical, it can't cover up a complete lack of substance. To succeed in media, or any high stakes communication, you have to have both content and technique.
But more on the message strategy soon.
First a quick run down on her techniques - it's a key interview and clearly she's been carefully coached so there's some world class media technique on offer, both good and bad.
You can watch the highlights here or follow the link below to the full 20 interview.
What really worked for me was that Bresch was prepared to face the media in the first place. Rather than hide in the bunker she braved the media on her own terms.
When she did talk to media she came across as friendly and informed, even caring. She pulled off an 'organised soccer mum' look to broaden her appeal (simple sleeveless top, neat hair, understated diamond studs) rather than the usual power suit, and her tone was generally engaging.
I loved her language, it was simple and colourful. Bresch was talking to her audience with the best sincerity money could buy. She used heart wrenching anecdotes and played a brilliant analogy involving defibrillators.
Technique-wise the biggest negative was her bridging technique.
Bresch drove abruptly to message and didn't show a lot of respect for the question, so she came across as defensive not genuine.
There were scary overtones of Tony Hayward's Gulf of Mexico response when she tried "No one's more frustrated than me" to acknowledge a question about parents' frustration at the price hike.
And not surprisingly that was the main news grab and the moment she lost the battle (around 1:15).
But technique can only take you so far - you need a solid argument. So let's look at her message house, the arguments she wanted to deliver to win the public's hearts and minds.
The context is that Mylan increased the price of EpiPens 400 per cent yet health experts say there have been no product enhancements or other factors to justify a price rise.
The outrage Mylan needs to address is the accusation of profiteering, they need to justify the price hike or back down.
Instead of explaining the reason behind the price hikes, Bresch's message strategy was all about blame.
She was trying* to make out she was the innocent victim here and the real bad guys were:
1. Her greedy supply chain: Everyone is clipping the ticket so her wholesale price is irrelevant, if she lowered the price it wouldn't make EpiPens cheaper for consumers;
2. The lazy Government: Congress must act to solve the healthcare crisis and a broken system, she is forced to charge those prices because the system is broken;
3. Greedy consumers: They've selfishly chosen budget priced health insurance which has lower pharmaceutical rebates, so lowering the price she charges won't make a difference to them.
Doesn't really hold water, does it?
Not surprisingly, post interview the share price dropped another 12 per cent, or $3 billion, as the negative media coverage - and public outrage - continued.
Since the interview Mylan has announced they are launching their own generic EpiPen, priced at a 50 per cent discount or US$300 for two, and that's helped stabilise the share price.
For me it's a powerful demonstration that you need BOTH technique and content when you face media or any high stakes moment. And that's a principle Clarity is built on and powers all our training.
Want to know more about nailing your content AND your techniques? Email me or check out our Structured Thinking training or Media Skills workshops.
*Ok, so I summarised her argument a bit but you can watch the full 20 minute CNBC interview here to see how she nuanced the messages.