Although almost all the negative press has been heaped on the AMA, Sunbeam didn't exactly cover itself with glory in this marketing deal. Sunbeam's chairman, the notorious corporate downsizer Al "Chainsaw" Dunlap, growled to the media: "We have a contract with the AMA, which we are prepared to honor, and we expect them to honor it as well." So Mr. Dunlap's image also is in need of a little buffing.
AMA's biggest sin in forging this marketing alliance with Sunbeam, in the eyes of critics, was that AMA would have made a lot of money. The medical group wasn't the first to endorse commercial products-the American Dental Association and the American Heart Association already have plowed that ground. AMA's mistake was to sign an exclusive deal with Sunbeam, whereby it granted the consumer appliance company the right to put the AMA seal on nine health-oriented products, such as heating pads, vaporizers, blood-pressure monitors and the like. A really dumb move, which the AMA pretty much admits.
"We did make errors of judgment and errors of process, and on top of that, we did get a second opinion-a rousing second opinion from the American public," said Lew Crampton, AMA VP of communications. So the AMA is feverishly backpedaling from its agreement and is asking Sunbeam to release it from the exclusiveness of the arrangement.
"All who meet our standards in medicine should be eligible to participate in health-education partnerships with the AMA," stated the group's exec VP, Dr. P. John Seward.
How this new stance is going to defuse criticism, I am not sure. The AMA still will be seen as selling out to commercialism. Predictably, the head of the Public Citizen's Health Research Group said that the AMA should be called "the American Merchandising Association."
Damned if they do; damned if they don't. And Chainsaw Al further burnished the tough guy image of Sunbeam by threatening to sue the AMA. "We will not hesitate to take all necessary actions to insure that the rights of Sunbeam and its stockholders continue to be protected," he rumbled.
Has the battered AMA inflicted a fatal wound on itself? Is this proud institution destined to limp along at greatly reduced capacity? How, in short, does the AMA heal and then rehabilitate itself? All good questions, if I do say so myself. And since I have posed the questions I will be so bold to suggest a possible solution.
What AMA and Sunbeam should do is to reaffirm their arrangement with each other and jointly announce they are forming the AMA-Sunbeam Alliance for Children. All profits and royalties from the sale of the Sunbeam health products backed by the AMA seal would be donated to worthy children's causes, such as cancer research, abuse centers, etc.
And Chainsaw Al, who-let's be honest-could stand a little rehabilitation himself, should further announce a $5 donation to the AMA-Sunbeam children's alliance on each Sunbeam appliance.
The Advertising Council has been devoting much of its public service announcements to children, and it's been having a tough time getting the TV networks and stations to provide the free air time for the Ad Council messages. So the AMA-Sunbeam alliance should step up to the plate and donate some of the money to running the council's PSAs. The Ad Council, in a break with precedent, should allow the alliance to say that spots "were brought to you by the AMA-Sunbeam Alliance for Children in cooperation with the Ad Council."
So there you have it, my plan to pluck victory from the jaws of failure. The essence of any good disaster PR campaign is to go on the offensive and neutralize your critics. I modestly contend this plan fulfills that criteria,