This Sunday evening, for example, J&J will host a private speaker/blogger reception at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas prior to the Healthcare Blogging Summit 2007 that will be held the next day at that location. Beer and wine will be available in addition to a buffet dinner.
J&J has opened up to bloggers previously when it invited several of us to a dinner and drinks at a New York restaurant. That raised some concerns about conflict of interest (see "Dining at Pharma's Table"), mostly because it was exclusively a J&J "event" the purpose of which was to pick bloggers' brains on various topics of interest to them. Frankly, I consider that a consultation, rather than entertainment or a simple night out with the J&J boys. In the end, I opted not to attend.
At the time, I ran a little poll asking readers "Should bloggers accept free meals from pharma?" The majority (51%) of respondents said "No, never", 32% (me included) said "Sometimes, it depends", and the remainder (17%) sad "Yes, no problem."
Transparency is Key
But each individual blogger needs to make up his or her mind how to handle conflicts of interest such as this. After some online discussion amongst bloggers in the Pharma BlogosphereTM, a general consensus was reached that the conflict raised by the dinner could be mitigated through transparency. Several bloggers -- but not all -- who attended subsequently made their attendance known and expressed their policy regarding accepting "freebies" from the drug industry. Some -- mostly the journalist bloggers -- insisted on paying their share. Others said there was no conflict worth talking or expressing a policy about.
Since I am a speaker at the Summit -- where I will be presenting more details of the First Ever Pharma Blogging Reader Survey -- I will be attending J&J's Las Vegas reception.
This is consistent with my policy: at most industry conferences that I attend or speak at, I normally take advantage of sponsored lunches, coffee breaks, cocktail receptions, and dinners. As a speaker, I never accept or expect a speaking fee, but I do normally expect reimbursement for travel and hotel expenses. The free food at the sponsored lunches, etc. is part and parcel of sustaining me while on the road in lieu of asking for a stipend to cover food.
In the case of the Las Vegas Blogging Summit, I will NOT be receiving any reimbursement for my substantial travel and hotel or food expenses. A guy's got to eat!
I expect the reception to be cordial and to offer a great opportunity for me to meet people and make contacts, which is very valuable. I thank J&J for this networking opportunity and I am sure it will unduly influence me to be more positive about J&J in my blog (as in "J&J, You're No Elvis Presley!").
While J&J is not totally innocent of the foibles that plaque the drug industry, it ranks high in my and the general public's esteem (see "J&J Scores High in Reputation Quotient Study"). When it does make a misstep, I tend to feel let down (see "Say it isn't so, J&J!"). You can see that my views of J&J have been positive way before the company started offering me and my ilk free dinners or consulting gigs.
Yes, I have done some consulting work for J&J (and other pharma companies) over the years -- mostly internal speaking gigs about compliance and privacy issues and use of new technology for marketing. I do not work with pharmaceutical company brand teams to help them do marketing. I'm more like the hired gun compliance expert who can offer a fresh perspective.
J&J to Give 120,000 Employees Their Own Blogs?
Aside from the Las Vegas reception and the New York private dinner party, how does J&J intend to put its toes in the blogging waters? I've heard -- mostly through Peter Rost who heard it from BrandweekNRX's Jim Edwards -- that J&J may be gearing up to having its employees write blogs. According to Rost:
"The person responsible for snubbing me [for an invitation to the New York Dinner] appears to have been Adriana Cronin-Lukas, whom J&J has hired as a consultant on blogging. Lukas told Jim Edwards that she’s trying to get J&J to give all their 120,000 employees a blog, on which the workers could write whatever they liked. Jim didn't like that idea, since he felt it was a journalist’s dream and a brand manager’s nightmare."Over the past several months, I have offered the industry some FREE advice on blogging. See, for example, "A Few Rules for Pharma Employee Blogging." My rules were influenced by recent events that demonstrate how giving employees free reign to voice their opinions can easily go horribly wrong (see "The Zubillaga Affair: Effect on the Prospects for Pharma Blogging").
Some more free advice for J&J: Watch out for that bus -- the same one that hit AZ over the Zubillaga Affair!
I also notice that J&J people are talking up corporate blogging strategies at conferences these days perhaps lofting ideas as trial balloons for feedback. Marc Monseau, Director of Corporate Media at J&J, and the person who organized the New York Blogfest dinner, is making a presentation at a "Blogging for Business" conference in May. The title of his presentation is "Developing A Blogging Strategy" and the topics he will cover are:
- Identify Opportunities And Risks
- Understand Your Audience
- Work With The Organization