I really like Merck. There, I’ve said it. I’m probably not the only one who feels this way. The trouble is, I’m not too sure why I have such a good perception, and even less sure of when it began. Somewhere along the line I must have processed a clutch of information that prompted me to view this company more favorably than I did before. (Not that I ever disliked Merck.)

Having worked for marketing publications for many years, I like to think I am less susceptible to subtle, opinion-forming branding messages than most. Of course, I’m as gullible for sleek design and nice packaging as the next person. But Merck doesn’t exactly look nice; at least not in the way that an iPod Nano does.

So I set about figuring out whom or what had planted these perceptions in my head. I tried to think of everything Merck-related that I’d seen, heard or experienced in the past few months.
First, I eliminated a couple of factors. I’ve never taken any Merck drugs, so I’m not being swayed by health-dependency gratitude. And I’ve never been to Merck’s offices, so I can rule out any associations with pleasant architecture, friendly security guards and the like. I’ll admit to having been mightily impressed by the emergence of the Gardasil vaccine. Its potential for saving lives deserves plenty of good will. But that’s still not it.

Charlotte McKines, Merck’s executive director of marketing communications, was a terrific judge for last year’s MM&M Awards program. And several Merck marketing executives have shared insights with our reporters. That’s always good. What else?

I like that Merck rolled out corporate advertising campaigns, although the “putting patients first” line didn’t exactly have me leaping out of my seat proclaiming the purity of the industry.
Perhaps it was because most days I catch a glimpse of the cover of the book Medicine, Science & Merck that’s been sitting on my shelf for more than a year, featuring the lab-coat-adorned author and former Merck CEO Roy Vagelos.

I even wondered if I was being won over by the pretty flowers that surround the Merck logo on that stock picture that every publication seems to use. Maybe it was simply the enjoyment of following one of the greatest comeback stories of all time?

Then I remembered. At a recent Chicago event, I ate lunch with a Merck regional director—purely by chance. He was pleasant and approachable and excited about his company’s products. Unfamiliar with MM&M, he took a copy with him and emailed me the next day to tell me how much he enjoyed it. Those are the prize moments for an editor.

The likely answer is that it was the combined effect of those small, positive experiences that had reinforced Merck as a decent company in my mind, with the personal interaction experiences counting for the most.

This confirmed two things for me: first, that it might—just might—be possible to turn around the negative public perception of this industry. And second, that the old cliché that your staff is your most valuable asset probably has a lot of truth attached to it.

None of the above factors (except for the new products) were taken into account when we decided to crown Merck MM&M‘s All-Star Company of the Year. Wonderful science and top-notch management were key to this miraculous turnaround (see pages 36-41).

Inspired by these stories, we’ll continue our efforts to make this publication better and more relevant to you. I wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year.