Facing a PR crisis? Teva France's chief has some hard-won advice

Teva France CEO Erick Roche

Teva France CEO Erick Roche knows how to navigate a media firestorm. He learned the hard way. Last June, reports surfaced that a patient had died, allegedly because of his company's diuretic, Furosémide. In an interview with EuropeanCEO, Roche outlined how he helped Teva France survive the PR onslaught.

The first step: Act swiftly. Roche alerted authorities the day he learned of the development. Almost immediately, the French medications regulator launched an inquiry, with local police conducting their own probe and a Paris court convening a tribunal. Authorities ordered Teva ($TEVA) to withdraw the drug from the market and stop production.

The next step: Be transparent--very transparent. Reports of other deaths and illnesses supposedly related to the drug piled up quickly, and soon the media began questioning the safety of Teva's other products. With conspiracy theories mounting, Roche bared all: He gave at least 50 interviews in two weeks, EuropeanCEO notes.

Of course, Roche was helped immensely when, about three weeks after the initial reports hit, a Paris tribunal determined that the pills in a suspect blister pack all contained the correct ingredients, clearing Teva of blame. A week later, investigators chalked the woman's death up to a pill mix-up--"individual error" by an elderly person.

"When the tribunal in Paris concluded there was no case to answer, it closed a very important door," Roche told EuropeanCEO.

The investigation wasn't cheap for Teva. The company had to halt production for the better part of a month, and authorities opened and analyzed 12,000 drug boxes containing 350,000 pills. But Roche chose to spend some more money on a follow-up study on the risks of elderly patients taking the wrong pill. "We must learn from the episode," he said, as quoted by EuropeanCEO. "Otherwise it will serve for nothing."

Later, 80% of respondents in a Teva survey said the company acted responsibly, and one business organization, with members in a variety of industries, even adopted Roche's crisis strategy as its own. "Whatever the sector, there is no difference in the method of dealing with a crisis," Accenture consultant Pierre Anhoury told EuropeanCEO.

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