This week’s The Week That Was is dedicated to our one true love: coffee. *Cue Rick Astley’s Never Gonna Give You Up*

We’re crazy for it, we depend on it. Sometimes, we can’t even step away from it. Turns out, someone on the set of Game of Thrones feels the same way. So much so that a cup of coffee was accidentally featured in the episode that aired last Sunday.

Cue some great tweets, and a comment from HBO:

"The latte that appeared in the episode was a mistake. Daenerys had ordered an herbal tea.”

Emilia Clarke, the actress who plays Daenerys, deflected the blame for the mishap in an Instagram post, noting, “The cup bearer does not drinketh the Starbucks tea." Is another G.O.T. battle on the horizon?

Tune in tomorrow to see Jon Snow sipping on a Pumpkin Spice Latte. Because winter is coming…right?



Nothing quite like kicking off a busy work week with this headline: Is Conference Room Air Making You Dumber? The NYT reported on evidence that suggests indoor air quality (particularly in small, enclosed spaces) may impact our cognitive abilities. But don’t head outside just yet. Also on Monday, the FDA published the results of a small clinical trial that found “UV-blocking chemicals” are actually absorbed into the bloodstream. While both stories are based on small bodies of evidence, it begs the question…where are we supposed to spend the summer? 


The CDC published a troubling report on maternal mortality, reporting that about 60% of pregnancy-linked deaths in the U.S. are preventable. The analysis also uncovered significant racial disparities in maternal care and outcomes. “African-American, Native American and Alaska Native women die of pregnancy-related causes at a rate about three times higher than those of white women.” For reference: of all developed countries, the U.S. has the most pregnancy-related deaths and is the only country with rising maternal mortality rates.


The Trump administration announced a final rule that will require drug companies to include the list price of medicines in direct-to-consumer TV ads. The rule – which goes into effect in 60 days – will apply to any drug with a monthly list price of $35 or more, that is covered by Medicare or Medicaid. This will apply to the majority of drugs advertised on TV. The main enforcer for the rule will be a company’s competitors. If a company does not include the information, a competitor can file a lawsuit against them. Or, as Axios put it: “New rule on drug prices is asking for lawsuits — literally.”


A coalition of six groups – including the American Heart Association, the Truth Initiative and the American Academy of Pediatrics – urged FDA to investigate the marketing practices of the ever-popular Juul. The group is particularly concerned about Juul’s new campaign, which encourages older smokers to “make the switch” from cigarettes to Juul. In a letter to FDA, the coalition warned that Juul is “being advertised and marketed on a massive scale as a smoking cessation product, without the required review and approval by FDA.” With Scott Gottlieb no longer at FDA, it is unclear if these groups will get the action they’re looking for


As the drug pricing debate continues in Washington (stay tuned for an update in The Week That Was next week), Gilead has made a bold move. Gilead has partnered with the government through a donation of 2.4 million bottles of its HIV drug Truvada, which carries a list price of about $20,000 a year. While many drug companies have programs to provide their products at little or no cost to certain patients who cannot afford them, this is the first time one has partnered with the federal government for distribution to the American public.

 The "apology loophole"

When it comes to industry reputation in corporate America, healthcare consistently holds an unenviable position (read: lots of reputational baggage). At the low-end of the reputational spectrum, however, we have a frequent neighbor in the airline industry. And with the tragic incidents earlier this year, Boeing is now the industry’s “reputationally challenged” poster child.

Boeing is now working hard to rebuild its reputation. Per reporting from the NYT, they:

  • Are holding “daily calls with carriers as well as meetings with pilots and flight attendants.”
  • Sent the company’s top lobbyist to talk with the union representing flight attendants.
  • Have been sharing frequent updates with the three U.S. airlines that fly 737 Max planes.
  • Are planning to use pilots as the core spokespeople for a media & advertising campaign.

Like all reputational campaigns, Boeing’s success hinges on the validity of the product. In this case, that means proving the 737 Max is safe. David Calhoun, the lead independent director of Boeing’s board, acknowledged that fact. “There’s only one thing to do, and that’s to get a safe airplane back up in the sky. I can’t message my way into it.”

Boeing has another stumbling block: a meaningful apology.

The company’s CEO: “has not acknowledged that anything was wrong with the design of the 737 Max, saying that the design process followed standard procedures.”

The company’s top lobbyist: “kept reiterating that pilots were expected to be able to handle the conditions on both doomed flights.”

You know when you were a kid and your parents made you apologize for something you did? Perhaps you hypothetically bullied your little brother? But, instead of issuing a real apology, you said something like “I’m sorry you were hurt by what I did.” That’s what we call an “apology loophole” and – no surprise here – no one likes that kind of apology.

Let us be clear: we’re not equating Boeing or its actions and statements to that of a seven-year-old child. However, the undeniably human response that an incomplete apology elicits is similar. Until someone feels that you are sincerely sorry for what happened and ready to take responsibility, it’s nearly impossible to rebuild trust.

This story is a good reminder for communicators across all industries: PR can only take you so far. Even with great soundbites and a comprehensive rebuild campaign, a communications strategy is only as good as the concrete and meaningful company actions that support it.

Who wrote this? The managing editors of TWTW are Dana Davis, who was – for the record – a pretty nice big sister, and Randi Kahn, whose older brother is one of her best friends. Syneos Health Communications' Reputation & Risk Management Practice is a team of healthcare communications consultants, policy-shapers and crisis response specialists. We provide unique solutions to the evolving communications challenges in today’s healthcare industry, using evidence-based approaches to help our clients successfully navigate the most sensitive of situations.

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Image credits: sun by Juan Pablo Bravo from the Noun Project, pregnant woman by Alice Noir from the Noun Project, Airplane by Blake Thompson from the Noun Project

And now please enjoy this disclaimer that prevents our team from getting in a heap of trouble: This report may contain links to external or third party websites. These links are provided solely for your convenience. Links taken to other sites are done so at your own risk and Syneos Health accepts no liability for any linked sites or their content. Syneos Health makes no warranties or representations, express or implied about such linked websites, the third parties they are owned and operated by, the information contained on them or the suitability or quality of any of their products or services. Syneos Health does not authorize the infringement of any intellectual property rights contained in material offered through these linked sites. Please refer to the use agreement and/or copyright statements of any external site you visit, or the terms and conditions of any externally provided web site for instructions, restrictions, and guidelines. If you have a question, please contact the webmaster of the external site.

About the Author:

Dana Davis is a strategist in the Reputation & Risk Management Practice, where she helps biopharma clients communicate the value they bring to their stakeholders. Her expertise lies in issues of corporate activism; advising companies that must respond to activist tactics from patients, employees, or investors, as well as companies looking to take a proactive stance on social issues.

Syneos Health Communications' Reputation & Risk Management Practice is a team of healthcare communications consultants, policy-shapers and crisis response specialists. We provide unique solutions to the evolving communications challenges in today’s healthcare industry, using evidence-based approaches to help our clients successfully navigate the most sensitive of situations.