Thursday, July 06, 2006

PhRMA's Response - PRwise, it Stinks!

On May 3, 2006 I wrote to PhRMA's Office of Accountability complaining that Sepracor was "sneaking" in Lunesta "reminder ads" despite being a signatory to PhRMA's Guiding Principles for DTC Advertising (see "Wake Up PhRMA! or Tilting at Windmills"). Read my letter here.

Two months later, I get a response!

Just in case you don't believe me, here's an image of the envelope, which I will place in my archives and cherish:

The envelope didn't convey much authority or professionalism -- "Office of Accountability" in the return address block is
handwritten for Pete's sake! It appears that PhRMA does not expect to write very many of these letters. Or maybe it needs to save $200 on official Office of Accountability stationery. Or maybe it just doesn't give a shit, which is my opinion.

Here's the content of the letter itself:

June 29, 2006

Dear Mr. Mack:

Thank you for your comment regarding PhRMA's
Guiding Principles on Direct to Consumer Advertisements About Prescription Medicines. We appreciate your feedback on compliance with the Guiding Principles.

Your comment has been forwarded to Sepracor for consideration.

Emily M. Johnson
Office of Accountability
Since there is no title after her name, I have no idea who Emily Johnson is. Maybe she's the PhRMA office receptionist or a temp typist. It looks like she composed the letter at home on her kitchen table using an old Dull computer. [Sorry, Ms. Johnson, but I don't know who the hell you are. Therefore, why should I treat you as a professional?] The stationery was plain bond paper and the PhRMA logo and "Office of Accountability" return address block was printed by ink-jet using a default Helvetica font.

PhRMA's response says to me: "You're just a small-time editor of an insignificant online publication and a dirty rotten blogger to boot! You want a response? Here's your response."

[BTW, do a Google search on "PhRMA Office of Accountability" and see what you get. Posts from Pharma Marketing Blog are number 2 in the natural results list, after PhRMA itself. You may find more information about PhRMA's OOA here than at PhRMA's site!]
Should I have expected anything more? Yes, actually. I expected a more Public Relations (PR) savvy response, by which I mean, a quicker response, a more detailed informational response and a more professional response -- perhaps from a person with some authority within the "Office" of Accountability. Maybe the letter should have been signed by Lawrence "LB" Brown, PharmD, PhD, chair the "Guiding Principles Independent Review Panel" charged with providing "transparent, unbiased analysis of the industry-wide progress made in improving direct to consumer advertising consistent with the new guidelines." (See PhRMA Press Release.)

Maybe, in other words, the Office of Accountability should exhibit some more "Accountability" itself!

Instead, PhRMA sends a response that lacks accountability (Emily included no professional title, no direct phone number, no email address, no invitation to follow up with her). At best, the response is PR-challenged. Little attempt was made to engage me in any conversation that could win me over. Instead, I am treated with contempt.

That's OK. I can handle it. However, if this is how PhRMA responds to all such complaints (there may be 2 or 3 others ;-), then it's another example of the organization's notorious PR ineptitude, which is a standard criticism of PhRMA expressed by many industry supporters.

At least PhRMA sent a response. So far, I haven't heard a peep from Sepracor, which also received letters from me in May. Stay tuned...


  1. Anonymous12:50 PM


    It's not a surprise to me that PhRMA responded the way they did, it's an obvious attempt to skirt the issue. I mean if Congress is already probing you, do you really want more public attention?

    I believe though that this shows the switch hitter nature of this group. They say transparent, they say unbiased, yet your letter wasn't sent through their proper channels. I find this a kin to their position on CME and the transparent nature of MECC's and required unbiased CME presentation(s) without influence from their client. I mean common on, we all know that if your client has asked for CME “they are darn well gonna get it”. Will it be slanted to their product? The answer Chuck! Of course it will.

    It's all smoke and mirrors, that's why the public, congress and folks such as Michael Moore are hell bent on exposing what they preceive to be the truth...maybe their truth is our reality??? I don't think so..but if PhRMA is going to let one group break the rules...why not all in DTC or CME? Then what's the point of PhRMA at all? At least with a good PR team they could at least smoke a bit more and find some more mirrors to put up! ;-)

  2. Anonymous1:48 PM

    It's hardly surprising that the Office of Accountability is like the old saying about the Holy Roman Empire -- neither an Office nor Accountable.

    Sepracor continues to run reminder ads for Lunesta -- see Parade magazine virtually every Sunday.

    A letter to the OOA is something like:

    "Dear National Fox Association:

    It has come to my attention that certain of your members have been seen recently entering and exiting the henhouse. This is a clear violation of the NFA Guiding Principles on Predator Forebearance and Self-Monitoring. Please investigate and take action."

    Self-regulation is an oxymoron, like Educational DTCA.


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