Category Archives: Culture

IT ISN’T ROCKET SCIENCE – Creating a Big Tent for Clinical Trials

I just celebrated three years working in the pharmaceutical space. The simplest explanation of what I do is to market strategy and communications that drive product awareness and, ultimately, customer purchase of a suite of clinical trial solutions.

 

In layman’s terms, I advertise solutions that help get medicine to the market faster.  In my role, I have no contact with patients or involvement with the implementation and/or execution of clinical trials.  However, this access that I am granted does give me a special perspective.

 

I had a conversation with an individual whose job is to lead clinical trial diversity for a large pharmaceutical organization.  This individual was sympathetic and resolute in how they face the challenges associated with achieving the application of diversity in the trials that their company implements.  However, they pointed out that the necessary allocation of resources and commitment was the greatest and most daunting challenge they face on an ongoing basis.

“I am able to make compelling arguments (to my superiors) in favor of diversity in clinical trials. But without a model that shows an immediate return on investment, the need is nothing more than a conversation without a resolution.”

 

In another example of industry complacency, I reflect on the global and domestic industry conferences, seminars and meetings I have attended.  As part of their programming, they offer what is billed as the “patient perspective.”  This is typically a panel or round-table discussion that includes patients who are trial participants. Without exception, the patient representation did not include people of color.  When I questioned this lack of diversity, the responses were a mix of bewilderment as to “why” I would ask the question and an often-repeated refrain of we could not find any minority patients.

 

How do we understand the impact of drugs on race when the minority participation in trials is underrepresented?

 

According to the U.S. Census, Black or African-Americans represent 13.4% of the U.S. population.  The FDA has reported only 5% participation in clinical trials by the same population.  This under-representation suggests not only a systemic industry problem, but (it) begs a larger and more important question — Are new medications effective and viable for all populations?  The racial composition and make-up of individuals enrolled in trials that lead to approval of drugs must be comparable to the overall population.  This is especially true if the medication is going to be effective once approved.

 

New York Times opinion columnist Charles Blow was the first to raise the issue of racial disparity in his April 1st column, The Racial Time Bomb in the COVID 19 Crisis.  My conclusion was that, under normal circumstances, it was vitally important to address the challenge of finding ways to increase minority participation in clinical trials.  Given the onset of the pandemic and its affects on African-Americans, it is absolutely critical.  Diversity and inclusion is not a nice thing to do. It is a bridge to building trust with what has historically been, with good reason, a skeptical and resistant audience.

 

Change starts at the top.  I experienced this first-hand while working on the McDonald’s brand.  While the company is best known for selling hamburgers and soft drinks, it has also been the benefactor of unprecedented powerful consumer connections.  McDonald’s understood that there is never one simple solution to building a trusting relationship.  But by demonstrating community commitment, engagement and investment, McDonald’s was able to effectively tap into what its brand stands for in the hearts and minds of African-American consumers.

 

Dr. Althea Maybank, the American Medical Association’s Chief Equity Officer and Group Vice-President sums it perfectly in the NBC News article, “A COVID-19 Vaccine Will Work Only If Trials Include Black Participants.”

 

“With any relationship, you build it,” she said. “Folks doing work from leading institutions have asked, ‘How do we build trust?’ Well, it’s not rocket science. It’s about building relationships. Are you getting to know me beforehand? Are you speaking in a language I understand? Are the concepts broken down so that they are digestible? Are you present? Are you giving resources to our neighborhoods beforehand? That’s not rocket science. It’s building a relationship. That’s how you build trust. And trust is a fundamental value in humans. There’s no rocket science behind it.”

 

Slip Away – A journey of love, loss and showing up

 

I didn’t know Charles Roberts, my paternal father.

My mother divorced him when I was a toddler.

Upon reflection and an examination of the facts, as I recall them, my father did very little to foster a relationship with me.

In fact, my father’s most important relationship was with alcohol…and, ultimately, it is the thing that took his life. He drank himself to death.

Much of the credit for the man I have become is due to my mother.

A single Black female, full of grit and moxie, determined to make a good life for herself and her son.  She is part of a legacy of strong Black women who wore multiple hats, made sacrifices and like a momma bear, nurtured and protected her cub.

Credit is also due to a man named James Burks.

My mother didn’t have a lot of boyfriends.

There were, of course, men that she dated, but “Mr. Burks+” was somehow a consistent presence in our lives.

He was the only constant adult male in my life while I was growing up.

As far back as I can remember, he always treated me with love, respect and dignity.  He treated me as if I were his own flesh and blood.

I questioned him about that recently and he replied,

“What was I supposed to do? I was dating your mother and had no choice but to love you and fill the void that was there.  You needed me.”

Over time, to the outside world, including family and friends, Jim Burks was my father.  To me he was Dad.

He taught me how to properly care for myself – things, I assume that men teach their sons – how to shave, how to groom and. most importantly, how to best navigate through life as a Black man.  Who better equipped to teach a young Black man these lessons than another Black man?

There are countless snapshots and memories from the past that solidify his presence and importance in my life.

An appreciation of the arts, mostly music: introductions to James Baldwin, Billy Strayhorn, Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Puccini, the simplicity and vibrancy of a Harold Wheeler string arrangement. He was passionate about history and antiques and he shared his passions with me. Like a sponge, I absorbed them all.

Education: He hired a tutor for me when I needed to improve my grasp of arithmetic.

When my boarding school tuition was due and my mother was short, Jim made up the difference and added a sweetener on top.

In my early teenage years when my maternal grandfather’s body was riddled with cancer and he was dying, it was Jim Burks who showed up at school to take me to Boston in order to say goodbye.  He didn’t tell me “how to” mourn, but through his actions, he taught me that it is okay for a man to be vulnerable, to cry and express empathy.

My mother and Jim came to visit me in the eighties.  I was in my twenties, living in New York – in an apartment that I could not afford, in a relationship that was toxic and detrimental to my well-being, and visibly thin and in trouble.

Disgusted and disappointed by what he saw, Jim called me later and told me to pack up my things.  He was coming to take me home.  On the appointed day with no more than a hello, we loaded his car with my belongings and he brought me home.  The two-hour car ride was filled with silence.

All that was needed to be said remained unspoken. He rescued me. He saved my life.  He saved me. He showed up when i needed him most.

Eight months ago, I got a telephone call from my dad’s doctor…He was concerned that he had missed two appointments.

“These are radiation treatments for the skin cancer, Eric.  It is important that Dad not miss these appointments. They are scheduled every weekday for the next two weeks, and you have to make sure he gets there.”

Skin cancer? Radiation? This was new information to me.

When questioned, my dad made light of the situation and referred to the treatments as “this thing.”  He saw it as no big deal and, at 95 years of age, I assumed that, given all that he had been through in his life, it was no big deal.  So, for two weeks we would go to the oncology treatment center at the hospital.  Outwardly he appeared fine and without any visible side effects.

Three weeks later, everything changed and the world turned upside down.

 

 

+As a child, I was instructed to refer to any adults as “Mr” or “Miss.” My mother believed that it was not only a sign of respect, but, in her mind, a differentiator, that separated her child from others.  So for close to twenty years, I referred to my dad as “Mr. Burks.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Other Threat to Men of Color

iStock_000000403827LargeImprisonment and gun violence are the threats to the lives of Black men that are most commonly discussed and reported…for valid reason.

Approximately 12–13% of the American population is African-American.  African-Americans make up 60% of the 2.1 million male inmates in jail or prison

According to a study from the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, a young Black man is nearly five times more likely to be killed by a gun than a young White man. If a Black person is killed by a gun, it is judged a homicide 82 percent of the time. For the broad population, most gun deaths are ruled accidental or the result of suicide; only 34 percent of gun deaths are attributed to murder.

There is another threat.  Click here to learn more.

HIV is a pervasive threat that continues to spread rapidly.  Chief among the challenges that contribute to its spread are poverty, lack of access to health care, higher incidence of sexually transmitted infections, lack of awareness and stigma.

Unfortunately, HIV awareness and how people of color are disproportionately affected are not reported enough.  We are midst of a health crisis.  Education and information about the HIV epidemic is essential.

 

Tough Love and Truth about the Ad Industry

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Pepsico President — Global Beverages Group, Brad Jakeman  

and

Harley-Davidson, Chief Marketing Officer Mark-Hans Richter “truth tell”  about the ad industry.

“The Lack of Diversity”

“I am sick and tired as a client of sitting in agency meetings with a whole bunch of white straight males talking to me about how we are going to sell our brands that are bought 85% by women,” he said. “Innovation and disruption does not come from homogeneous groups of people.”

“Fake Fight: Millennials vs. Boomers” — Why limit (your) growth to marketing directed to young adults?

“Youth does not own cool. Youth does not own growth. Youth does not own innovation or disruption.” he said. “Old people are a growth market, too.”

The article, Pepsico Exec Has Tough Words For Agencies, underscores issues that have long been prevalent in the ad industry.

Chief among these is diversity or more appropriately, the lack of diversity within the industry.

Whether the target audience is African- American, Latino, Asian, Women, LGBT or combinations including one or more, your agency has to have knowledgeable staff in order to effectively connect.

 

“Ghetto Uber” or When S%*t Works Out

I had meetings in Los Angeles last week and flew into LAX.

I didn’t make arrangements to be picked up like I normally do, assuming that I’d order a ride from Uber when I landed.  I was surprised and disappointed to discover that Uber cannot pick up passengers at LAX.

So, I did the next best thing – stood in line for a cab. 

As I stood waiting a young brother approached me and asked if I needed a ride.  He was neatly dressed in a black suit with a white shirt, armed with an Ipad and had an outwardly friendly disposition. 

I told him yes, I did need a car and gave him my destination. He plugged the address into his Ipad and quoted me a fair based on the 20 mile trip. 

“All Love and Respect will get you there right away Sir, and much cheaper than a cab.”

Meanwhile the arrival area at Terminal 7 was absent of cabs and I was the sixth person waiting in an ever growing line. 

I thought to myself, why not give the young brother a try? 

I agreed to his terms.  He grabbed my suitcase, explained that a client’s flight was an hour and a half delayed, led the way to his car and off we went. 

His Lincoln Town Car was immaculate and the complimentary bottle of water was a nice touch.  The a/c was on full blast and the dulcet tones of Anita Baker provided the soundtrack for our ride. I spent the 1/2 hour car ride on my cell and ended my last call just as we pulled up to my destination. I thanked Taylor for getting me there so quickly. 

I am not in the habit of getting into unmarked cabs and I am certainly not the trusting type.  This experience proved that you can never judge a book by its cover.  It wasn’t Uber but it produced the same results.  A young Black Entrepreneur focused on giving superior service. The right time.  The right place. A chance encounter.

“Ghetto Uber” that demonstrated “all love and respect”…or a perfect scenario when “it” worked out?