Merck, the US pharmaceutical firm, has agreed to pay $950m to settle criminal and civil charges arising from the marketing of its painkiller Vioxx.
Yesterday Merck issued an explanatory press release also confirming a new Corporate Integrity Agreement with the regulators. The only quote in the release was from the firm’s General Counsel/Executive Vice president. The CEO is nowhere to be found nor is the Board.
While often sensible to let PR or Legal take the hit, a settlement of this size would have benefited from visible CEO leadership. Handing the announcement over to the General Counsel fails to reassure the public definitively that Merck is committed to revising its practices at the very top.
The PR Verdict: “C Minus” for Merck and its CEO .
Sending your General Counsel into bat for a settlement of this size looks cowardly. Only one click away on Merck’s website is a comprehensive section on Merck’s Corporate And Social Responsibility program opened by a letter from the CEO. His team might have given greater thought to the word “responsibility” when drafting their PR plans.