Forget the suggestion box. Merck KGaA puts employee ideas on a TED stage

Merck KGaA Curiosity
Merck KGaA's "Curiosity" corporate brand extends to the company's annual [email protected] partnership. (Merck KGaA)

Speeches on shark antibody cancer fighters, self-assembling circuits and superbug-fighting vaccines sound like a TED talk agenda. How about a pharma TED talk agenda? That would be Merck KGaA’s [email protected] exploring those ideas and more at an annual partnership gathering with TED.

Merck said it looks to its employees for “ideas worth spreading,” which is the corporate slogan for conferences run by TED—short for technology, entertainment and design. As a TED Institute partner, Merck is part of a group that includes IBM, UPS and Tommy Hilfiger, all chosen annually by TED organizers, who also help curate the short thought-provoking talks that make up each one-day event.

Merck has hosted twice—in the fall of 2017 and 2018—and each time ended with a performance by the Deutsche Philharmonie Merck, an orchestra with origins as a company ensemble and now sponsored by the pharma company. 

Last year, Merck hosted 1,200 people for talks centered on employee ideas that came to life on stage, sometimes presented by the employees themselves. The head of global patient advocacy and strategic partnerships at EMD Serono, Scott Williams, spoke both years—first about the hidden role of caregivers and second to follow up on Merck’s Embracing Carers program, which supports caregivers with partners including Eurocarers and the American Cancer Society.

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The shark antibody talk, along with others about tracking medical donations and empowering pharmacists in Africa, was also given by employees, Merck said.

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While pharma companies don’t typically take the stage at TED talks, Merck KGaA’s [email protected] falls in line with its other innovation and marketing efforts. It’s a corporate branding effort around its updated brand identity, which centers on “Curiosity” and its role as a transformation science and technology company.

When asked if Merck will continue holding [email protected] conferences, a spokesman said via email that they “look forward to continuing the relationship.”