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After damaging Reuters report, J&J doubles down on talc safety message





NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Johnson & Johnson Inc’s statement was unequivocal.

FILE PHOTO: Bottles of Johnson & Johnson baby powder line a drugstore shelf in New York October 15, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

“The FDA has tested Johnson’s talc since the ’70s. Every single time it did not contain asbestos,” the company said in a Dec. 19 tweet. It followed by several days the publication of a Reuters investigation (here) that found the healthcare conglomerate knew for decades that the carcinogen lurked in its Baby Powder and other cosmetic talc products.

The tweet, posted under the handle @JNJNews, didn’t mention that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found traces of asbestos in the company’s Shower to Shower talc in 1973, as revealed in agency documents here reviewed by Reuters. And it is only one of dozens of tweets conveying a similar message about talc safety since the Reuters article appeared Dec. 14.

The Reuters article prompted a stock selloff that erased about $40 billion from J&J’s market value in one day and created a public relations crisis as the blue-chip healthcare conglomerate faced widespread questions about the possible health effects of one of its most iconic products.

To reassure investors and consumers, J&J has tweeted, posted on Facebook, run a series of full-page newspaper ads across the United States, published a lengthy rebuttal to the Reuters investigation on its website and announced a $5 billion stock buyback. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Alex Gorsky has appeared in a company video and on CNBC’s “Mad Money” to reinforce the company’s position.

That position has been unwavering. J&J insists that its Baby Powder is safe and has been asbestos-free at least since regular testing began in the 1970s. The message doubles down on the stance the company has taken to defend against lawsuits in which about 11,700 plaintiffs allege that the J&J talc they used in past decades caused their cancer. The company is pursuing this strategy despite the evidence that talc in its raw and finished powders sometimes tested positive for the carcinogen from the 1970s into the early 2000s — test results that the company didn’t disclose to regulators or consumers.

In response to a Reuters request for comment, the company said it is committed to defending the talc litigation, “and that same, long-term view is reflected in our ongoing communications that consistently point to the strong scientific evidence that our talc is and always has been safe.”

As for the 1973 Shower to Shower test, J&J noted that the result didn’t “reflect FDA’s final determination about this sample” in a 1976 table summarizing the agency’s early 1970s cosmetic talc testing. However, in that 1976 table, which Reuters examined, the FDA did not indicate any result, positive or negative, for the type of asbestos found in the Shower to Shower sample in 1973.

Given the mass of litigation it faces, J&J has little choice but to zealously dispute findings that its products sometimes contained traces of asbestos, said Eric Dezenhall, a crisis-management consultant in Washington, D.C. “If your position in court is that the claims being made are false…you can’t just shrug your shoulders,” he said.

Soon after the Reuters article appeared, J&J executives consulted crisis-management experts, according to people familiar with the matter. Among the company’s reasons for deciding to maintain its stance on absolute talc purity, these people said, was a conviction that a company known for putting health and safety first had the facts on its side, a litigation track record that included victories and mistrials, and the expectation that adverse verdicts will be overturned on appeal.


Many of J&J’s subsequent messages have mirrored the company’s written responses to questions and findings Reuters presented to the company during its investigation: They deny that the company kept information from regulators and point to the many studies finding that talc is safe and doesn’t cause cancer.

Those earlier responses were composed by J&J’s outside litigators, led by Peter Bicks at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, and conveyed to Reuters by lawyers at a crisis-management firm co-founded by Lanny Davis, a lawyer who represented U.S. President Bill Clinton in the 1990s and Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former attorney who has pleaded guilty to multiple criminal charges.

Gorsky, in his appearance on “Mad Money,” invoked J&J’s now legendary response to the Tylenol crisis as evidence that the company can be trusted to address any safety problems linked to its products. In 1982, J&J moved decisively to pull all Tylenol from store shelves after seven people died from taking cyanide-laced pills.

“I can’t believe the company that took that dramatic of an action would allow a product that they felt in any way could be harmful to stay on the market,” Gorsky told “Mad Money” host Jim Cramer. “We unequivocally believe that our talc, our Baby Powder, does not contain asbestos.”

Citing the Tylenol recall provides “some reputational buffer,” said Stephen A. Greyser, the Harvard Business School professor who wrote the first study of the company’s handling of that crisis. “But it is not a total protection” because it won’t shield the company from a loss of trust if consumers or investors conclude the company hasn’t been fully forthcoming in this case, he said. J&J needs to guard against “reputational contagion,” the risk that a loss of confidence in Baby Powder could bleed over into how consumers, shareholders and others view the company more broadly, Greyser added.

The key difference between the two crises is that poisoned Tylenol presented a threat to consumers at the time, while the documented asbestos contamination of J&J talc that Reuters investigated spanned from 1971 to the early 2000s. J&J says that if it believed that Baby Powder today presented safety risks, it wouldn’t hesitate to remove it from store shelves, given that the product accounts for less than 0.5% of annual revenue.

The company joined its talc supplier, Imerys Talc America, a unit of Paris-based Imerys SA, in requesting that a trial scheduled for January in St. Louis be delayed for, among other things, what they called “negative national and local news coverage” resulting from the Reuters investigation that would inevitably taint prospective jurors.

The judge denied the motion. The same judge recently upheld a $4.69 billion jury award in a separate ovarian cancer case, which J&J says it expects to be overturned on appeal. The judge said J&J’s promotion of a product that the evidence showed was contaminated with a known carcinogen was “particularly reprehensible.”

In an emailed statement, Imerys Talc America said it “is committed to the quality and safety of its products,” and that rigorous research “overwhelmingly confirms that talc is safe, and no agency has asserted that talc causes cancer.”


Some of J&J’s messages in its recent campaign omit key details regarding findings on talc and, in certain instances, are undermined by other evidence, according to a Reuters review of the company’s statements.

The Dec. 19 tweet claiming that the FDA’s own tests never found asbestos in J&J talc, for example, ignores an agency scientist’s 1973 finding that a Shower to Shower sample contained asbestos fibers, according to a copy of an FDA report titled “Asbestos and Other Contaminants in Talc” and a deposition of a former J&J head toxicologist. The FDA did not respond to questions for this article, citing a partial government shutdown.

On CNBC, Gorsky said: “We also not only used the best testing methodologies that were available, but we continued to improve them through the years.”

J&J’s testing methods do exceed the industry standard. But even so, as a geologist and frequent J&J expert witness acknowledged in court this year, only a tiny fraction of the company’s talc sold over the past 40 years has been tested using what is widely recognized as the best method to detect asbestos fibers, known as transmission electron microscopy.

Plaintiffs’ lawyers are already homing in on inconsistencies between J&J’s statements and other evidence regarding its talc, and they are planning to depose Gorsky in coming weeks.

“There is no flexibility in what they’re saying,” said Leigh O’Dell, one of the lead lawyers representing plaintiffs in thousands of lawsuits against J&J consolidated in a New Jersey federal court. “Taking these statements on behalf of the company and pointing out to juries and judges the misrepresentations contained in those statements — I think you’re going to see that in every case going forward, whether it’s an ovarian cancer case or a mesothelioma case.”

One of J&J’s recent tweets criticized plaintiffs’ lawyers: “Far from a new theory or insight, plaintiffs’ lawyers have resurrected a disproven argument about asbestos in our talc that dates to the 1970s.”

The Reuters investigation found that tests by J&J’s own contract labs and others periodically found small amounts of asbestos in talc from mines that supplied the mineral for Baby Powder as recently as the early 2000s.

Some J&J tweets and newspaper ads have adopted a question-and-answer format. “What about the allegation you withheld safety information?” the company said in a full-page ad in USA Today the day after Christmas.

“It is false,” the company said. “All safety concerns are taken seriously, and we share all relevant information with regulators.”

Some Twitter users have responded to J&J’s tweets with praise and support. Others have referenced their relatives’ longtime use of J&J talc products and subsequent deaths from ovarian cancer. “We’re very sorry to hear this,” J&J responded to several Twitter users, expressing a desire to speak with them and offering a phone number to call.

In response to another recent tweet in which J&J said its talc doesn’t contain asbestos, one Twitter user asked: “Did it USED to?”

“No,” J&J responded. “For decades, J&J’s baby powder has repeatedly been tested for asbestos and found not to contain asbestos.”

Additional reporting by Alison Frankel. Edited by John Blanton


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How Law Firms Can Become Successful Marketing Stories





Today, the legal industry has become saturated due to the growing number of law firms springing up on every corner. This has made it a lot more difficult for smaller legal organizations to contend with their bigger counterparts and gain the visibility they need to grow their business.

Subsequently, most law firms are adopting digital marketing strategies to attract customers and position themselves above their competitors. However, building the specific online marketing strategy that would be a perfect fit for your firm takes a lot of effort and experience.

Search engine algorithms are still quite opaque, and the dynamic nature of the internet means that marketing strategies are constantly evolving. How then can a law firm determine the best marketing technique for themselves?

Below are some expert tips on how to build a successful marketing strategy for your law firm and attract more clients:

Increase organic traffic to your website

The advent of the internet makes it very easy for individuals to search online for whatever products or services they require. Therefore, it is important for law firms to employ effective online marketing strategies that can increase the number of visitors to their website.

Matt Bowman, [resident of Thrive Internet Marketing Agency, says videos, content and free ebooks that deliver value to your target audience can increase traffic to your website and make it a one-stop shop for all legal information.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is another great way to increase your firm’s online reputation. Ranking your website on the first page of a search engine for a relevant keyword can increase the visibility of your law firm but can be difficult to achieve due to the ever-changing nature of search engine algorithms. Nonetheless, just like Chicago lawyer Russell Knight learned, writing quality articles and incorporating quality backlinks to your content are some of the ways you can increase your page rankings.

Additionally, improving your social media presence is another way to increase the number of visitors to your website. By regularly posting updates and sharing quality content across different social media channels, it can motivate followers to check out your website. According to David Reischer, Esq., a lawyer at LegalAdvice, posting infographics is a perfect way for law firms to increase traffic to their website.

Build brand credibility

For every prospective client, one of the criteria for selecting a law firm to engage is how trustworthy and reputable they are. To adequately portray your firm as trustworthy, having a modern, optimized website is important.

Your website is typically an online representation of your firm and once it appears outdated and unattractive, it sends a negative message to your prospective clients. Therefore, always ensure that your website is easy to navigate, aesthetically pleasing, mobile-friendly and has quick loading time.

Constantly sharing legal information on niche topics and contributing answers to questions on forums like Quora can position your firm as a subject-matter expert. Senior legal partner at Miracle Mile Law Group Steven Isaac Azizi, Esq., also says including client testimonials on your website is very useful as it not only showcases your quality but improves your firm’s reputation

Increase brand awareness

As a law firm, it is necessary to adopt a dynamic marketing approach and evolve with the times if you intend to remain relevant. As highlighted previously, having a website that’s properly optimized for mobile devices is critical to achieving widespread recognition.

According to Statista, of all website traffic generated globally in 2018, more than 50 percent came from mobile devices; they are now currently accounting for 50 per cent of all web page visits served globally. Therefore, having a mobile-friendly website is imperative when creating online awareness for your law firm.

Giving prospective clients the ability to easily access information about legal issues on their mobile devices will naturally attract visitors to your website. Also, ensure that all content on your website is easy to read on a mobile phone at different resolutions.

This article is provided by dNovo Group.

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Hong Kong protests create potential problems for Ottawa, says academic





There are four or five flights a day from Vancouver to Hong Kong during the summer season. When they land this weekend, passengers will be met by a sea of protesters staging a three-day occupation of the Hong Kong airport’s arrivals hall.

The protesters are seeking international attention as the city enters its tenth straight weekend of political demonstrations that have, at times, been chaotic and violent.

Airport authorities are taking extra security measures and the Canadian government has raised its travel advisory.

Aside from monitoring local media and avoiding areas where large protests are unfolding, there are several issues for Canadians and Ottawa to consider.

“It’s a perfect storm of domestic tensions playing into international views on Beijing’s intentions and policies,” said Paul Evans, a global affairs professor at the University of B.C. “The dissatisfaction fuelling the protests is, in part, about feelings about freedom, democracy and Hong Kong’s autonomy. But it is also about material concerns related to housing, social services and career prospects.”

The oft-quoted number of Canadian passport holders in Hong Kong is about 300,000. This is an estimate made in 2011 by the Asia Pacific Foundation, which, at the time, said it was based on “conservative assumptions” and that a higher estimate would be over half a million.

There are concerns that, should the situation spiral out of control, there would be protection issues for the federal government to manage. After the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing in June 1989, several thousand Canadians were airlifted out of China. But the large number of Canadians in Hong Kong would make evacuation and consular protection much more challenging.

A more immediate issue is Ottawa’s response to the prospect of protesters fleeing arrest by Hong Kong authorities and seeking refuge in Canada.

“Vancouver is already in the global spotlight as a result of the (Huawei executive) Meng Wanzhou arrest and hearings,” said Evans. “Considering the huge number of connections between the two cities, managing requests for political asylum has the potential to put Vancouver in the spotlight in an even bigger way.”

Despite the advisory, many in Hong Kong report a sense of order now that they have adjusted and life is continuing around the protests.

“Local social media is providing good updates regarding the locations and times of the protests,” said Eric Li, a professor of marketing at the University of B.C. Okanagan who is visiting family in Hong Kong and doing some research.

He added that some visitors might be getting limited information if they are only relying on official announcements from government channels.

Li said he feels safe, but “there has been more tension and conflict between the government and police and citizens as well as businesses. The pro-(Beijing) camp and protesters are criticizing each other and there are also (arguments) within families and between friends and colleagues.”

Li has been trying to be “neutral” as a “personal choice. As a person who calls Canada ‘home,’ and Hong Kong ‘my hometown,’ I should say the young protesters are very well-organized and disciplined. The government should actively engage youth in their planning rather than excluding them in the process or putting them in an opposition position.”

“It’s crucial for the Hong Kong government to take a few steps to resolve conflicts through providing open conversation with key stakeholders and young leaders. And protesters should remind themselves the purpose of the (protests) as well as the consequences of their (actions).

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PROREIT buying office, industrial buildings in Ottawa, Halifax





(PROREIT) will use some of the proceeds from its latest, and largest, share offering to help it purchase two office and industrial properties in Ottawa, and five industrial properties in Halifax for $97.8 million.

(PROREIT) will use some of the proceeds from its latest, and largest, share offering to help it purchase two office and industrial properties in Ottawa, and five industrial properties in Halifax for $97.8 million.

“These acquisitions provide meaningful increases in our industrial sectors and expand our presence in Ontario and the strengthening Halifax market,” president and chief executive officer James Beckerleg told RENX.

PROREIT (PRV-UN-T) is acquiring a fully occupied boutique office building in Ottawa’s central business district. It’s surrounded by tourist sites, multiple restaurants and retail offerings.

PROREIT is also purchasing a class-A mixed-use, multi-tenant flex industrial property in the west-end Ottawa suburb of Kanata. It includes an office and a research and lab facility with what the trust calls exceptional power, air handling and cooling specifications.

The building is fully leased and its tenants are in the material sciences, defence, communications and medical technology fields.

The two Ottawa properties have a combined gross leasable area of 338,000 square feet and a weighted average lease term of 6.6 years. Many of the leases include contracted rent steps.

While the property addresses and additional details are confidential until the deals close, which is expected this quarter, Beckerleg said they’re both institutionally owned and have been maintained to high standards.

The addition of the Ottawa properties will increase PROREIT’s portfolio exposure to the Ontario market to 29.1 per cent by gross leasable area and 29.3 per cent by base rent, making it the REIT’s largest provincial market. It increases the Ottawa portfolio to approximately 620,000 square feet.

“We entered the Ottawa market with our $52-million portfolio acquisition of five office properties last year,” said Beckerleg. “This fits our strategy of investing in strong markets where we can increase our exposure to both of these industry sectors.

“Ottawa is seeing significant growth in office and industrial properties.”

PROREIT’s new Halifax acquisitions

PROREIT has a contract to acquire five light industrial buildings with clear heights of between 18 and 24 feet in Halifax’s Burnside Industrial Park. The portfolio represents 358,000 square feet of gross leasable area.

The buildings are 93 per cent occupied with a weighted average lease term of 4.1 years. Many of the leases include contractual rent steps.

While more details won’t be made available until the deals close, which is expected this quarter, Beckerleg said the condition of the buildings is similar to its Ottawa office purchases. The five buildings have been institutionally owned and maintained at a high level.

“The Halifax industrial market has enjoyed declining vacancies in line with the expanding Halifax economy,” said Beckerleg. “There has been a marked increase in institutional interest in the Halifax industrial sector.

“We like this market. Again, it fits our strategy of focusing on mid-size cities with strong investment metrics.”

PROREIT’s $50-million offering

As part of its funding for the purchases, PROREIT will issue 7.15 million shares on a bought-deal basis at a price of seven dollars per unit, for gross proceeds of approximately $50 million, to a syndicate of underwriters.

PROREIT has also granted the underwriters an over-allotment option to purchase up to an additional 1,072,500 units on the same terms and conditions, exercisable at any time, in whole or in part, up to 30 days after the closing of the offering. It’s expected to close on or about Aug. 16.

“This capital raise, our first since graduating to the TSX, is the largest in PROREIT’s six-year history,” said Beckerleg. “We believe listing on the TSX and consolidating our units to trade in the seven-dollar range has substantially broadened our potential investor base. We believe the success of this capital raise confirms that.”

The Ottawa and Halifax acquisitions will be funded with approximately $30.8 million in cash from the offering and approximately $67 million in new mortgage financing at a weighted average interest rate of 3.4 per cent.

PROREIT intends to use $13 million from the offering to repay debt.

Impact of acquisitions on PROREIT’s portfolio

Upon completion of the acquisitions, PROREIT will own 91 income-producing commercial properties representing approximately 4.4 million square feet of gross leasable area and $625 million of gross book value, with a weighted average lease term of 5.7 years.

The acquisitions will also increase PROREIT’s industrial and mixed-use exposure by another 636,726 square feet to more than 2.8 million square feet. That represents 64 per cent of its total gross leasable area and 46 per cent of its total base rent.

While PROREIT has no other immediate acquisition plans, Beckerleg said opportunities are always being reviewed.

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