Thursday, January 26, 2012

Should Pharma Disclose Payments to Celebrity Spokespeople?

In my podcast interview of Ambre Morley (listen here or read it here: "Novo Nordisk Defends Choice of Paula Deen as Diabetes Spokesperson"), Associate Director, Product Communications, Novo Nordisk, I brought up the subject of compensation for celebrity pharma spokespeople like Paula Deen, the celebrity chef who was recently hired by Novo Nordisk as a diabetes spokesperson.

Obviously, Paula Deen is being paid to do the deed, but she doesn't want to talk about money because it's ‘garish’ according to her. But for me, talking about how much money is spent in the different areas of pharmaceutical marketing is a valid topic. I’d like to get a better idea how much money the drug industry spends on celebrity spokespeople. I always ask the money question because the industry is criticized for spending so much money on celebrities and it takes away from other things that the money can be spent on.

When I asked Morley the money question, she demurred and said “We don't discuss compensation. If Paula was a regular, everyday employee, I couldn't tell you how much she is making. I can't tell you how much I'm making nor would I ask you how you're making."
Aside: Deen must have felt the heat about her compensation. It was reported that "she announced that she and her sons will donate part of their compensation from Novo Nordisk to the American Diabetes Association, and an ADA spokesperson confirmed that the Deens will be appearing without pay at upcoming events. (see here)"
A few years ago, the pharma industry could have used the same excuse for not revealing how much they paid physicians as speakers, consultants, key opinion leaders, etc. But today there's the Physician Payment Sunshine Act, which requires that all pharmaceutical companies reveal details about the payments they make to physicians (see "Proposed Rules for Physician Payment Sunshine Act").

Of course, the main reason why this law was passed was because of potential conflicts of interest -- physicians who are paid by pharma companies may be more likely to prescribe the drugs of those companies. Often, those drugs are more expensive than other, equally-effective products (eg, generics). Congress has a fiduciary duty to make sure that the government doesn't overpay for services such as Medicare re-imbursements for prescription drugs. Consequently, the impetus for passing this law.

Celebrities, however, do not have the power to directly prescribe drugs. But they are VERY influential. Morley admits as much: "When you talk about the pharmaceutical industry and it's spend on celebrities, it's interesting because you wouldn't see celebrities working on campaigns if it wasn’t a good investment from a marketing point of view."

Given the power of of celebrities to influence people, should pharmaceutical pharmaceutical companies disclose the details of payments made to celebrities like like they are required to do for physician payments?

That's just one of the questions I ask for your opinion on in the following survey. I also ask:

  • Is it OK for pharmaceutical companies to pay celebrities to be spokespeople to raise awareness of medical conditions?
  • How about celebrities being paid to promote specific Rx treatments? Is that OK?
  • Do such celebrity spokespeople provide a good return on investment for pharmaceutical marketers? 
Please take a few minutes to respond to these questions in the following survey. At the end you will be able to view the de-identified summary of results to date.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world's leading questionnaire tool.

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