It’s great when you have an awesomely newsworthy story to share. You definitely want as many eyes on you, but that doesn’t mean you should be cherry-picking your own story for the most positive reaction possible. You need tell the whole story, warts and all (if any).

That’s the lesson AstraZeneca Plc learned the hard way when they revealed their new COVID-19 vaccine to the world.1 The race was on to produce vaccines for the pandemic with several major drug companies, including AstraZeneca, researching and testing their own versions.

When AstraZeneca, along with the University of Oxford, released their preliminary findings of their COVID-19 vaccine – the news was rather exciting. They announcement stated that their version was 90% effective when a half-dose was given before a full-dose booster. Two-full doses were showing a 62% efficacy. Wonderful news by itself. However, there were some details that they er, forgot to mention in their initial announcement.

For one, the higher efficacy percentage was coming from tests on a younger population. Also, that half dose they reported was in fact due to an error in the vaccine quantity that was put into some of the vials. By the way, those particular facts were brought to the public’s attention the very next day by the head of Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. vaccine program.

Oxford, in a later statement, did try to clarify the situation, pointing to a difference in manufacturing processes that lead some participants being given a half dose instead of a full one. Oops.

And I’m not talking about the dosing error. I’m talking about the timing.

Well guess what, guys – you came clean a bit too late.

News travels fast, people. And for better or worse, a single news story can give your company massive exposure – which is all the more reason to get that story right the first time – and in AstraZeneca’s case, being completely open about their processes, including the errors. Unfortunately for them, that wasn’t the case.

Such a high-profile “whoops” doesn’t get a pass. I mean, we’re talking about something so important – a life-saving vaccine to a global pandemic! And if you’re found to be less than completely honest, it should come as no surprise if you get big media attention for all the wrong reasons:

BBC News: Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine ‘dose error’ explained

The New York Times: After Admitting Mistake, AstraZeneca Faces Difficult Questions About Its Vaccine

Business Insider: Oxford researchers didn’t tell COVID-19 vaccine trial volunteers of a dosing mistake when it was discovered, a letter reveals

The Wall Street Journal: AstraZeneca Defends Dosing Error in Covid-19 Vaccine Trial

There’s plenty more, but just look at those headlines alone. It just goes to show just how powerful the press can be. Had AstraZeneca told the entire story the first time wouldn’t have changed the results of the test, error or not. Being willing to address your mistakes up front and in no uncertain terms is NOT a weakness – it’s an asset to your reputation. The sin wasn’t in making an honest mistake – it was in the handling of it afterwards. And it only looks that much worse when it’s another party, ESPECIALLY when it’s an established authority in your industry who’s calling you out on it.

The frustrating part is they had actually made some real progress, albeit with flaws, but still it was progress. But AstraZeneca opted to give a false impression of a larger success – then tripped over their own feet and fell into a PR disaster.

Instead of being lauded for an honest success, AstraZeneca spend a lot of uncomfortable time explaining themselves to the press. Their credibility took a massive hit. They risked their own frontrunner status in jeopardy, risked slowing down further progress in the wake of that extra scrutiny

You need to tell the whole story – not just the “good” parts. The media – and the audience – will appreciate and remember you for your honesty. It humanizes you, sometimes even creates empathy with your audience – and builds up trust. And really, that’s what makes for good press.

JOTO PR Disruptors™ understands full well that establishing trust with your customers and prospects is essential to your business’s survival. Contact us for a complimentary Anti-PR™ evaluation today!

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Sources:

  1. Alaimo, Kara. “The five worst PR disasters of 2020.” Chicago Business, 32 December 2020, chicagobusiness.com/opinion/five-worst-pr-disasters-2020.
  2. Paton, James and Ring, Suzi. “AstraZeneca Faces More Vaccine Questions After Manufacturing Error.” Bloomberg, 26 Nov. 2020, bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-11-26/astra-faces-more-vaccine-questions-after-manufacturing-error.