5/31/18: Ambien, Roseanne and company reputation

By Eve Tahmincioglu

This week the news has been dominated by a racist tweet shared by TV sitcom star Roseanne Barr. And in an attempt to shift blame, Barr blamed the drug she claimed she was taking, Ambien.

In a rare move, the Ambien’s manufacturer, Sanofi, took to social media with its own tweet:

Should companies weigh in on things like this? Should such decisions be a board issue?

Davia B. Temin, corporate crisis and reputation advisor, and CEO of Temin and Company Inc., weighs in:

“I think the statement by Sanofi ranks as the all-time best corporate quote/tweet of the century. 

“They distinguished their brand and their company in the mind of the public for all eternity, and did the right thing to boot. A master stroke.

“At this moment, characterized by the public degradation of morals, decency and public discourse, more and more companies are becoming the adults in the room. Starbucks, ABC, Sanofi and Merck are all doing the right things publicly — some after gaffes and some only in reaction to them.

“This is a management decision, but probably the CEO alerts her or his board. Of course, social media is so fast-moving there may not be time. Sanofi moved perfectly quickly; longer and they would have lost impact.

“Often, in discussions of reputational risk, boards discuss hypotheticals and begin to discuss taking public stands so management can feel a certain 'sense of the board' and empowerment.

“Now I’m sure that when Ken Frazier led Merck to withdraw from Trump’s Industry Conference after the racist comment after Charlottesville, he did check with his board first. It took a few days for him/them to reach that decision.

“In these cases, I would bet Sanofi alerted the board almost concurrently as they issued the tweet. 

“I believe that the time for corporate complacency is ending. Companies have stopped selling guns, they are concerned about quelling racism, they are standing up against hate speech.

“This trend, I predict, will only grow. Corporations — some corporations — are taking on the mantle of moral force to fill in the void left by Washington. Bully for them, bully for their boards that empower them. This is the way we begin to fix our world, and a powerful brand statement all in one fell swoop.”

(BOARD BREAK is a new feature on Directors & Boards where we analyze breaking business news and have experts weigh in on board ramifications, best practices and lessons learned.)