Facts never speak for themselves, says Pete Taft of Palmer Square-based Taft and Partners. He points to drugs that experts thought would be a slam dunk at the Food and Drug Administration but failed to get approval. “We have case studies where the presumption, going in, is that all but an idiot would approve this, and it doesn’t get approved,” says Taft.
Taft’s corporate communications firm has started a subsidiary, PharmApprove, to focus on the approval process for pharmaceuticals. Earlier this year the parent firm changed its name from Morris & Partners to Taft & Partners. Founded in 1999, the firm moved from Manhattan in 2003 and expanded this year from the fourth to the third floor, where it has 12 staffers, plus 15 subcontractors, in 1,700 square feet overlooking Palmer Square. In addition to corporate communications, it does events and marketing.
Taft’s specialty is the Big Picture, organizing and producing massive proposals. “Our job is to take ‘engineer speak’ and turn it into persuasive English and pictures,” says Taft, “to produce films and Power Points so the customer says, ‘What a fabulous idea.’”
His company just helped an aerospace contractor win a $500 million contract based on six months work on a sales presentation. The three-day pitch required making three movies, coaching 15 people, producing endless Power Points, and staging the presentation like a rock concert.
The son of an executive with Rohm & Haas, Taft went to Dickinson College, Class of 1973, and worked as a sports writer in Santa Monica and a reporter in Battleboro, Vermont, with a stint teaching English in between. While freelancing for glossy magazines in New York he met his future wife, Mara Connolly, who was working at big ad agencies. Taft decided to switch careers. As vice president of marketing at Denby Associates (a convention display firm) he helped grow the business and get it sold.
Connolly grew up in New York City, where her father was chief of federal probation. She majored in medieval literature at Smith College, Class of 1971, and won a major prize for her first commercial. When she married Taft in 1983, she went to graduate school in landscape architecture, and they moved to a two-century old stone farmhouse in East Amwell.
As creative consultant to McNeil Specialty Products ( a division of Johnson & Johnson) she contributed to the development of the sweetener, Splenda. She describes that experience as “a four-year Odyssey that took a sweet white powder from R&D into a model of consumer and trade appeal ready for the global marketplace.” She had also developed new products for Unilever, Max Factor, General Foods, Clairol, and toy firms.
When Taft’s business partner, Katy Morris, caught a virulent staph infection and died at age 38, Taft moved the office from Manhattan to Princeton and Connolly joined the firm. They waited a long time to change the name. “We had many clients to reassure it was the same company and the same service,” says Connolly.
“I made 30 to 40 visits and 175 phone calls,” says Taft.
One of Connolly’s first contributions as a partner was coming up with the name “Einstein’s Alley” for family friend, Congressman Rush Holt. This rubric for Central New Jersey’s technology corridor has garnered wide applause. Says Taft: “Mara is good at naming things.”
For PharmApprove, Taft hires experts, posing as FDA panelists, for pitch rehearsals. At one mock presentation a panelist criticized the initial pitch, “When you started, I was in favor of your drug. Based on what you told me today, I would vote against it.”
In a similar case an expert warned, “I’m for you, I love your product, I haven’t a clue what you are talking about.”
Not only do scientists act over-confident, they also sometimes provide too much information. Just last month, Taft says, an FDA rehearsal participant gave six answers regarding safety information. “We trained her to say a one-word answer: ‘No.’”
Taft and Partners/PharmApprove, 1 Palmer Square, Suite 303, Princeton 08542; 609-683-0700; fax, 609-683-8011. Pete Taft. Home page: www.taftandpartners.com