Bill Marler, Marler/Clark & Outbreak Inc.

It’s amazing we aren’t all vegans.
The illnesses that can come as a result of meat and dairy products can be pretty disturbing. We won’t get into all the gory details (trust us, you don’t want to know), but suffice to say that working with lawyer and food safety activist Bill Marler for over a decade has taught us a lot.

If you’re from the Pacific Northwest (and, chances are, even if you’re not), you likely remember the E. coli outbreak stemming from undercooked Jack in the Box hamburgers. That happened in the early 1990s and was one of our first assignments with this food safety guru and his fledgling law firm, MarlerClark. Our job was to design and implement a communications strategy to keep the media, parents, and other affected parties on top of the rapidly unfolding situation, including the condition of the sickest victims, all of whom were very young children.

Since then we’ve been “on call” as media and public relations consultants doing everything from developing press materials on recent outbreaks and working on projects that help keep parents informed on how they can protect their kids from food-borne pathogens.

Our Approach
Food-borne illness isn’t exactly dinnertime conversation. Our job was to change that.

Before the outbreak at Jack in the Box, most people didn’t really think about whether or not their food was safe. The immensity of the tragedy changed that and we made sure we were ready. Even though he only represented a handful of the dozens of children sickened, we positioned him as the expert the media needed for stories on the incident, including updates on the victims and how we could make sure an outbreak like this would never happen again.

Bill is a lawyer, but luckily he isn’t the clichéd suit-and-tie stuffy persona. He’s an outgoing guy—someone you want to invite over for a barbecue. We used that in promoting him as a speaker about food safety issues in a friendly, non-threatening way.

Over the years, we’ve been called on to replicate this formula for Bill and his practice, which has grown to make him the top foodborne illness attorney in the country. Projects have included communication strategy to community health departments on a new outbreak database, the website launches including, dedicated to debunking the myths surrounding raw milk, and initial planning on the publication of a book about the Jack in tthe Box outbreak.