Following the death of George Floyd and nationwide protests, a number of CEOs and corporate leaders have issued statements decrying racism.
This blog will list the efforts of life science companies, from pharma and biotech companies to agencies and vendors, who put out press statements, join the conversation on social media or find other ways to express solidarity with African American colleagues.
AbelsonTaylor is donating $10,000 to the Chicago Community Trust, a 100-year-old, health-focused non-profit which “addresses the root causes of deep-seated issues to make a tangible impact,” agency president Jeff Berg told staff in a Monday memo. AT will also match any contribution that employees choose to make to the organization.
Berg referenced Floyd’s death, the protests and unrest in Chicago and throughout the U.S., as well as COVID-19. “These are incredibly scary times for each of us, our families and our society. Watching the news is panic inducing and it’s hard not to worry about what will happen next. It’s also hard to sit by and watch and wonder how we can help.”
Ashfield Healthcare Communications
“We believe silence is inexcusable,” read a post from a new social campaign launched by the Ashfield agencies, which came together to stand against racism and injustice. “This is just the beginning of our commitment.”
The agencies – Cambridge BioMarketing, CreateNYC, MicroMass, Canale Comm, Pegasus and Ashfield Healthcare Communications – kicked off their campaign June 4 to demonstrate support for #BlackLivesMatter. In addition to denouncing the systematic oppression of people of color, an agency source said, they remain committed “to harnessing our resources to arm African Americans, allies and would-be allies with the tools necessary to actively make a difference.”
The effort is slated to run for a minimum for 30 days but is intended to go longer, with a series of posts pledging to address the structural racism in healthcare through information and concrete actions, a series devoted to facts about the disparities in health, as well as calls to action to learn more, donate or take action. Posts take an educational and supportive approach.
“The campaign is not about us, or any of our company brands,” explained Ben Beckley, president of Cambridge BioMarketing, which is taking the lead on behalf of the other agencies. Serving the underserved “is in our DNA,” he added. “And right now, there is a community that needs our help in amplifying their voice in educating the world.”
Bristol Myers Squibb
BMS CEO Dr. Giovanni Caforio, in a video posted to the pharma’s diversity & inclusion and LinkedIn pages, reflected on recent events, including Floyd’s death and that of other African Americans. “I am deeply saddened, upset and angry to see violence, inequality and discrimination of any kind,” Caforio said, “and even more when it is rooted in racism.” The CEO concluded his 1-minute video by stating, “These recent acts are focused on the African-American community, but inequalities impact all of society. As a company focused on transforming lives and improving the world we live in, our values are clear, particularly when it comes to integrity and inclusion.”
Immediately following the tragic events in Minneapolis, CEO/president Kimberly Jones hosted a virtual forum for team members to show support for each other and talk about the issues at hand. “We reflected on our shared values – especially those of community and integrity – in a non-political, judgment-free, safe environment,” Jones recalled.
Meanwhile, on its social channels, the agency acknowledged it’s “reflecting on our own relationships with racial equality and social justice, identifying where we have set examples of leadership, and more importantly, where we have come up short.” BT also committed to becoming a better ally for people of color within the industry and in the communities represented by its employees.
The external-facing response ended with a pledge by the agency to improve its staff diversity and to be accountable with vendors, industry peers and clients. “We’ll welcome difficult conversations, seek out new partners for collaboration, and embrace new avenues to actively support and promote racial equality.”
Early Sunday morning saw agency founder and CEO Steven Michaelson pen a very personal note to staff sharing his thoughts from the protests happening in multiple American cities, a poignant reminder, he said, that racism isn’t just the black community’s problem. Michaelson said he will follow up the memo with a plan of action. UPDATE: The agency has made an unspecified donation to the NAACP.
“I was 7 years old when Dr. Martin King delivered his incredible emotional speech, ‘I Have a Dream,’ in Washington, DC,” Michaelson wrote. “I was in 8th grade when Woodstock happened. In 1970, when I was in high school, Marvin Gay wrote the song ‘What’s Going On,’ an exquisite plea for peace.”
Those moments, he explained, stirred feelings of pride. But the events leading up to Floyd’s death, as well as the countless victims before him and their families reflect the country’s lack of unity and failure to evolve past hatred and racism. “As a community, a country and a world… we need to stand up for human rights,” he urged colleagues, adding, “It’s been more than half a century since Woodstock and we’re still fighting the same fight… ‘What’s Going On.'”
Yesterday, CMI/Compas announced on Twitter that it had made a donation to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, “so they can continue the fight that we believe in. We are family and we will continue to activate against racism, and support and implement peaceful actions that put an end to it.”
A note, echoed in its daily client newsletter, The Scoop, read, “CMI/Compas was started by a Black man, and Stan Woodland’s story is one that shows what happens when you can overcome racial bias in this country,” read. “When all people are given an opportunity to dream, great things can happen.”
The media agency also encouraged people to “challenge systemic racism and injustices,” acknowledging guidance received from its own Inclusion & Diversity committee, and tweeted support for #blacklivesmatter, #JusticeforGeorge and #UnitedWeStand.
Evolution Health Group
“The tragic death of George Floyd not only fortifies our belief in building a foundation that celebrates our differences but reinforces the fact that we all have a duty to combat racism and take actionable steps to ensure equality for all,” read a statement posted to the agency’s social channels.
The statement was signed by EHG managing partners Mark Edfort, Andrea Lanzetta and Carolyn Vogelesang Harts.
FCB Health Network
Dana Maiman, president & CEO, responded swiftly to the raw emotions following Floyd’s death. In a series of memos, she delivered words of comfort to the 2,500 employees across the network (which includes FCB Health New York, Area 23, Neon, FCBCURE and others), backed by ample resources and meaningful actions.
“I’m sure we are all experiencing a host of different emotions, but the one thing I believe we can agree on is that we must do more,” Maiman noted on Monday, appending a list of articles for self-education and “worthy organizations” to whom the network had made donations.
She pledged over the coming days to create “a safe forum for all of us to listen to each other and have open dialogue on a path forward.” That took the form of a list, which included conversations and support gatherings hosted both by IPG’s Black Employee Network and by FCB Health agencies.
The network also distributed leadership communication tools to staff, arranged sessions with therapists available at the POC and for parents who have asked for help on how to discuss this with children, and shared information on mental health and other healthcare programs. A day of learning around diversity and interconnectivity (potentially slated for Juneteenth) is also in the offing, as is another town hall meeting to discuss recent events.
The week was capped off by a network-wide day of reflection (on Friday, June 5), during which all agencies were closed to give everyone time to stop, reflect and participate as they see fit. “One thing for sure is that we all need time right now to breathe, to absorb, to learn from, and to process these events,” said Maiman.
UPDATE: The network is closing U.S. offices in Juneteenth, the day that marks the end of slavery in the U.S. FCB is also holding a virtual town hall on Juneteeth (June 19) led by parent company IPG’s Black Employee Network. The town hall will feature Princeton University Department of African American Studies Professor Eddie Glaude.
In June, the network has also scheduled other workshops and educational sessions, including sessions specifically for Black employees and education for allies. FCB is also holding a workshop for employees to learn about FCB WE, a culture and inclusion group, which has curated anti-racism and allyship resources for employees.
On Monday Fingerpaint posted the following message on its social media properties: “Now and always, Fingerpaint stands against racism and discrimination of all kinds. We pledge to do the work that is needed within our communities in order to spotlight injustice and create real change.”
Alexander Hardy, CEO of Genentech, penned a statement on Tuesday that the company stands against racial inequity and injustice. He discussed the death of Georgy Floyd and subsequent protests along with the health disparities people of color face.
Hardy pointed to Genentech’s internal diversity and inclusion initiatives, efforts to make COVID-19 research more inclusive and external initiatives to support underrepresented students and tackle disparities in cancer care as the starting points for the company’s continuing equality efforts.
“For us, that means pushing harder to address the impacts of structural racism within our health care system,” Hardy wrote. “It means using our power, privilege, and resources to advocate for equity and justice. And it means continually engaging in open dialogue within and beyond our walls to listen and learn so that we might find new opportunities to expand our impact.”
The agency said it’s donating $35,000 to 15 different anti-racism non-profits chosen by employees, and shared resources for staff to contribute, both outside in their local communities and from their homes, in addition to other resources.
Good Apple acknowledged that, while it’s made strides closing the gender gap in terms of agency leadership, “there is work that still needs to be done from a diversity perspective.” So the firm organized a volunteer-based committee to help craft and implement new D&I goals for hiring, as well as to spearhead efforts to bring together the agency’s entire network, including vendor and client partners, to amplify and encourage others to become advocates.
Client Instagram feeds, a source said, were dark on Tuesday, and the agency counseled them to continue to remain dark on Wednesday, “as important messages and information regarding racial injustice are still flooding the platform.” Its social media team counted over 30 million mentions and 5.8 billion impressions surrounding #BlackoutTuesday.
Hill Holliday Health
“Personally, I am beyond saddened; I’m devastated and I’m outraged. And as I mentioned last week, racism and hatred have no place at Hill Holliday.” Those were among the comments made by Karen Kaplan, agency chairman and CEO, to employees in an all-hands townhall meeting on Tuesday, according to prepared remarks shared with MM&M.
Kaplan, who also oversees Hill Holliday Health, convened the virtual townhall to acknowledge the day and close the agency. “I’m not going to pretend to know how you’re all feeling. But I do know that we all need to acknowledge what’s happened, and we need to take time to process it and to reflect on it.”
Hill Holliday changed all social handles to black to recognize #BlackOutTuesday. A racial equity transformation process called Courageous Conversation was paused due to Covid, but a source said the agency is trying to figure out how to accelerate and evolve the process while employees are in WFH mode. Meantime, organizers are meeting with the agency’s “Black and Blended” employee resource group to offer a “safe space” for processing recent events. And Kaplan encouraged staff to get involved in ongoing ED&I efforts and “to listen to, support and stand with our Black community.”
In an internal memo sent to staff yesterday, agency CEO Dave Imre wrote that his agency is working on a “grass-roots driven plan” that will draw on its workforce of 160 diverse individuals and that may include pro-bono work, mentoring and revising its own operations. “We are committed to shining a light on the problem and being part of the solution,” he noted.
“It feels like the very fabric of our nation is being torn apart,” continued the CEO, who observed that all four communities where Imre has offices (New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Los Angeles) had seen protests and some violence. “We are not sure where this is headed, but we hope for a peaceful end.”
On Monday, CEO Faruk Capan sent a message to the group’s more than 1,000 employees, condemning racism and acknowledging that “every one of our Intouch cities experienced civil unrest” over the weekend, as well as some Intouch employees and one of its office buildings in Chicago. He also announced the formation of a small, diverse task force to solicit, vet, recommend and implement a plan to openly combat racism.
Capan used the platform to express his “deep concern” about the racial injustices the country is experiencing, saying the deaths of Floyd and other black men are deeply rooted in systemic racial inequities going back hundreds of years. “To be clear, I do not believe that violence, property damage and looting are the solution,” he continued. “I also do not believe that those extreme actions represent the overall movement. I prefer to believe that it is possible to co-exist peacefully in society – to treat each other equally, and to feel safe in our own homes and workplaces. This is what we all must strive for.”
Yesterday, Intouch paused promotion on all of its social media properties, posting a black image in support of the #BlackoutTuesday initiative.
A company representative said that the agency has been counseling clients on how best to respond, including how brands can manage an appropriate “Go Dark” response this week. “We believe now is the time for companies and brands to show that they stand for something positive, while not condoning violence, racism or societal injustice,” the representative said.
In a statement, titled “Stronger, Together,” the agency reiterated its strong opposition to discrimation based on race, sexual orientation, gender or creed, as well as decrying systemic racism and institutional violence against people of color.
“We also recognize the breadth of these problems is much deeper than just our criminal justice system,” read the statement. “Now more than ever, we feel we need to add our voice to the conversation.”
Because standing by without taking action perpetuates the problem, “We must do our best to better understand and support the changes required. We know that part of any durable solution is education. As such, we are committed to building a program that will help Klicksters understand how racism works so that we can each play a constructive role in ending it once and for all.”
The agency shared a memo, issued by co-founder Bruce Lev on June 3, in which he expresses solidarity with the “anger, frustration and outrage” employees feel about the issues of racism, injustice and violence which were highlighted by the recent killings, adding that the agency would like to take some kind of action that makes a long-term impact.
“What that looks like is still being discussed by a committee of your peers and is open to suggestions from each and every one of you,” Lev wrote. “What we can promise you is that we are not remaining silent; we are not burying our heads in the hope that it passes. This is systemic racism, pure and simple, and it didn’t just pop up on the scene. It has been going on for way too long and we need to become better educated on the actions we can take to make a meaningful difference now and in the future.
Yesterday saw Merck’s CEO Ken Frazier become the first among drug company CEOs to address Floyd’s death. In an interview on CNBC Monday, Frazier, who is black, explained that “what the African-American community sees in that videotape [of Floyd’s arrest] is that this African-American man, who could be me or any other African-American man, is being treated as less than human.”
In the video, an officer kneels on Floyd’s neck, despite cries that he couldn’t breathe, as several other officers look on. When asked what businesses should do, Frazier urged companies to focus on removing barriers that prevent black people from accessing economic opportunities and work to eliminate disparities in education, employment, housing and healthcare.
“Even though we don’t have laws that separate people on the basis of race anymore, we still have customs, policies and beliefs that lead to inequity,” he said. “Businesses have to use every instrument at their disposal to reduce these barriers.”
In August 2017, Frazier was first among American business leaders to resign from the president’s American Manufacturing Council, as protest to Trump’s failure to unequivocally condemn white supremacists who had marched and caused violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. At the time, Frazier called the move “a matter of personal conscience,” calling on America’s leaders to clearly reject “expressions of hatred, bigotry, and group supremacy.”
On Monday, June 3, parent company WPP held its first “safe room” townhall for U.S.-based employees. Hosted by WPP’s head of culture with panelists from across the network, the townhall provided a forum for staff to process recent events, share reactions and discuss actions to address inequalities. About a thousand people took part, according to a source, and more sessions are planned, including in other countries.
In addition to participating in the #BlackOutTuesday movement on social media, Ogilvy facilitated a “conversation for understanding” with U.S. professional network leads, with actions to be taken in coming weeks; hosted the first of several inclusion dialogues “addressing racial realities in America”; and launched an online, anonymous forum for employees to post comments, concerns and questions about the current reality.
Founder and CEO Mike Collette, writing to employees on Tuesday via his LinkedIn page, said he “wanted to let each of you know where I stand and how, as a company, we plan to ‘walk the talk.'” Among action steps, Collette pledged to appeal to local officials to pressure police unions in the cities of Cincinnati, Little Rock and Nashville – where the firm operates – to ensure that officers who disrespect or engage in racist actions toward citizens of color are immediately fired.
Second, Collette said he will form several internal agency teams to ensure PatientPoint’s culture not only embraces and supports diversity, but proactively works to recruit black teammates; provides work/internship opportunities for individuals within the black community, particularly young adults; and pursues relationships with local organizations that have demonstrated the ability to make a transformational impact on black life.
The CEO also promised to lead a team charged with securing sponsors to underwrite patient-engagement programs aimed at improving health within the black community, starting in Cincinnati. If successful, Colette wrote, he would consider the initiative, designed to enhance access to quality healthcare and health literacy, “one of our single greatest accomplishments as a company.”
UPDATE: The agency said it’s honoring Juneteenth (June 19) as a paid holiday and plans to turn this into a volunteer day in coming years.
In a memo sent to employees on June 4, Pixacore CEO/founder Sanjiv Mody shared that, as an Indian immigrant growing up in Bridgeport, Conn., he “witnessed but couldn’t quite comprehend” the deep-rooted biases against African Americans. These were “starkly different than for a new minority from Asia with similar economic disposition.”
This legacy of institutional racism and systemic discrimination, Mody continued, “puts responsibility on all of us to make a difference. We all need to think about how we can most effectively fight racism in our personal and professional lives.” He called on staff to remain vigilant of racism, which he compared to “dust in the air,” and encouraged them to continue to become educated, listen to people who experience racism and reflect on how to be part of change.
The agency will recognize Juneteenth, the day that marks the end of slavery in the U.S., as a holiday this year. All Publicis Groupe employees will have the day off as “a day of anti-racism reflection,” the agency said.
“On Friday, June 19 we will recognize Juneteenth and honor the many sacrifices and contributions that Black Americans have made to this country and to the world. I encourage everyone to pause, reset, and reflect on how we can collectively and individually work toward creating a more equal and more just society,” said Publicis Health CEO Alexandra von Plato in a statement.
A source said the agency was working through its activation plans and, in the meantime, had taken the following stance across social in support of #BlackoutTuesday:
“To RAPP’s black colleagues, clients, family and friends – you are seen, you are heard and you are supported by us. We resolve to help make bigger progress in the fight for inclusion, equality and acceptance in our agency and across the industry, tolerating nothing less within RAPP’s walls. In order to help better amplify the educational and organizational resources flooding the internet and filling everyone’s timelines, RAPP will be muting our social channels this week, taking the time, instead, to listen and learn.”
The organization issued a statement on Blackout Tuesday, affirming its commitment to diversity and inclusion, along with its values of respect and total acceptance. “We honor you for simply being you, and stand with the black community and all seeking justice and equality,” read the statement.
The message appeared on LinkedIn, then on Twitter and Facebook following Blackout Tuesday. An agency source said Syneos has done extensive internal communications focused on diversity & inclusion.
The agency, through its recently launched #BlackHealthNow initiative, has been working to raise awareness and bring focus to the disparity of health outcomes for black Americans since February. An agency source said the social initiative started well before George Floyd’s death while in police custody, “and the conversation continues with even greater focus now.”
A YouTube channel includes personal stories from staffers discussing how being black in America has impacted their access to quality healthcare, as well as Q&As with physicians and other members of the black community, several of which have highlighted how the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have fallen across racial and economic lines.
And #bhn content has featured prominently on the agency’s LinkedIn and Instagram feeds. A livestream event on Instagram on June 3, “America through My Lens,” convened a panel of senior black people in advertising and drew 2,200 people for a deep look into how they feel given the current climate. A follow-up event, slated for June 15, turns the forum over to white people to discuss how they can be better allies.
W2O has made Juneteenth a paid holiday this year. In a note to staff, CEO Jim Weiss encouraged people to take the day to educate themselves, support Black-owned businesses, volunteer or protest. The agency will also provide resources like shows to watch and books to read to help educate people about the Black experience in America.
“Let’s use the day – in whatever way works for each of us – to change the way we view and deal with issues of race and equality,” Weiss wrote.