7 questions for new Turing Pharmaceuticals comms chief Craig Rothenberg

Turing's Craig Rothenberg
Turing's Craig Rothenberg
PRWeek: How did your time at Johnson & Johnson get you ready for this role?

Craig Rothenberg: It's not just the 20 years at Johnson & Johnson, although obviously that's a pretty big chunk of my 35-year career. I like to think everything I've done in my career, whether it's been external facing, or even the work I've done on organizational communications, I can bring that experience to bear here on this very young startup biopharmaceuticals company.

PRWeek: What are some things you've done in the past that will work at Turing?

Rothenberg: I want to believe that my 35 years of professional experience have given me a deep and fundamental understanding of business and how business operates, and that I can take those [experiences] and apply them here to Turing from the standpoint of being not just the CCO but the manager of communications. We're a department of one, so I'm kind of doing it all.

PRWeek: How do you balance the leadership role and getting everything done?

Rothenberg: On any given day, no matter what kind of list—whether it's a real list or a list that's more or less ephemeral or in your head—it can be blown to bits the minute you get into the office. There's either a crisis, or an issue, or a media call that pops up that requires all hands on deck. More than anything else, [the key is] having a prioritized road map.

I'm a big believer that if you fundamentally understand the business and can develop a thoughtful and meaningful strategic communications plan to align to that, then you've more or less got your road map for activity.

PRWeek: What brought you to Turing?

Rothenberg: I happily took early retirement from J&J after 20 years in early May, and my intent was to really be retired, maybe pick up some consulting projects. I'm too young, and nor would my wife allow me to be around the house full-time, so I had to do something. I really had little intent or desire to go back inside an organization, because I've done that for 35 years. Twenty of those years were with J&J, and it's hard to top J&J; it's one of the most respected organizations anywhere, and that's a very well-deserved reputation.

There were a few headhunters who began calling me and putting some opportunities in front of me, and the more I began to consider some of those—they were all big multinationals—and the deeper I got into some of those discussions, the more I realized that I didn't want to do that again. I've been to the—sorry to sound cliché here—but I've been to the mountaintop and I don't think it gets any higher than J&J.

PRWeek: What's on the horizon for Turing? 

Rothenberg: We are focused rather broadly across therapeutic categories. What makes us, if not unique, a little bit exceptional in the pharma space is that we are focused on trying to commercialize drugs – either acquiring drugs, or like I said before, discovering and developing our own pharmaceutical products that address rare, serious diseases and often serious and rare diseases that are underinvested in.

We're not focused on any one or two therapeutic categories. We're looking across all and looking for those assets, those products that we can commercialize or acquire that will address undertreated rare, serious illnesses.

PRWeek: What's the biggest challenge you need to overcome?

Rothenberg: From a communications standpoint, the biggest challenge is also what presents the biggest opportunity, and while that may sound a little bit cliché, I think it's really true.  

I teach courses in strategic communications at New York University and also in my last years at J&J, I led communications training for our senior leadership team. I had a slide that I would lead those sessions with, and perhaps it's more relevant today than it was two years ago: There are more channels available to us as communications professionals—and just as consumers of information and news – than at any time in human history.

If you're someone who wants to think of the glass as half-empty you'd say, "How can I ever break through that clutter and deliver my message or reach my stakeholders?"

I think the glass is more than half-full actually, I think the glass may be spilling over from the standpoint that we have so many channels available to us. The opportunities have never been greater to reach our stakeholders.

PRWeek: Are you looking to expand your team? 

Rothenberg: It's definitely a possibility. If our business continues to expand, I want to make sure that I manage the growth of this department very carefully. For now, I can probably get by managing it the way I have in the first month, and that is to rely on some external sources, agencies, and a couple consultants.

Looking at the upside growth potential for the business, if we realize that or even accelerate past it, then I probably would build out the team over time, but that's not something I want to do today or tomorrow. I want to be thoughtful about it.

This Q&A originally appeared on PRWeek.