Monday, July 23, 2007

Brandweek: "Novartis and Olagunju: A Case Study in Pharma PR and Media Failure"

Jim Edwards over at Brandweek wrote a most interesting article about the Novartis whistleblower scandal. You can find it here, but it is soo good that I also reproduced it below:

July 23, 2007

Novartis and Olagunju: A Case Study in Pharma PR and Media Failure

LessonLast week, Peter Rost broke a nice scoop about how Novartis has alledgedly submitted false data to the FDA to support its application for Tasigna. That application -- by amazing coincidence! -- has now been delayed while Novartis provides more information from the FDA.

This comments thread on Ed Silverman's Pharmalot contains pretty much everything you need to know about blogs, pr, the media, pharma marketing and the future.

Lesson one, the scoop was broken on a blog, Peter Rost's, and not by the WSJ, the NYT, BusinessWeek, Forbes, Fortune or any of those guys. Arguably, Rost has broken more scoops on the drug biz this year (AZ bucket of Money scandal, Pfizer Maraviroc scandal, Pfizer India scandal, and now this one) than any single reporter at any of those publications. It used to be that the media's fear of blogs was offset by blogs' dependency on the media -- blogs were reduced to fact-checking or commenting on real reporting that was still done by the media. But now that is no longer true. Any of these stories would have made decent 'readers' at the WSJ, but instead that paper's coverage of them has been tepid at best and non-existent at worst.

Lesson two, Novartis -- and I can say this from experience, virtually every pharma company operating in the U.S. -- is not equipped to deal with the blog-based internet media. Look at this description, by Ed Silverman, of Novartis' pr resources:

"Novartis is a complicated beast - pr is run out of Basel, then
there’s the New York corporate office and finally, there’s the pharma
appartus in East Hanover, NJ. This makes it difficult for me to know
where to turn, partly because Basel sometimes, I believe, viewed The
Star-Ledger as local media. Pharmalot, however, is seen all over the
place (and I noticed a great number of Basel readers over the past two
days). So maybe now I’m on their radar."

None of the execs answering the phones in any of those three offices -- four if you count their outside pr counsel, Ruder Finn -- has the power to simply return a phone call and engage in a straight conversation with a reporter. They all have to consult with each other before delivering a canned answer itself creates more questions than answers.

Lesson three, in the old days, the news media didn't pay much attention to who delivered the message to them. If the comment came from a company spokesperson or the company's outside pr agency, it didn't make much difference to us. But for bloggers like Rost, the medium is the message and your pr people -- and lawyers, for that matter -- are now as much a part of the story as the story itself is. Check out Rost's blast of Ruder Finn here. This is not the first time Ruder Finn has managed to become the subject of coverage rather than a guider of coverage. See here, here, here and here.

It's not limited to Ruder Finn, of course. Robinson, Lerer & Montgomery managed to get themselves mentioned here and here.

There are some signs that pharma is waking up to the new reality. J&J just got itself an interesting new blog and AZ at least returns bloggers' phonecalls.

But the bottom line is this: Until now, most of the thinking about blogs has been about how they will affect the media. But for pharma, and any other business segment for that matter, the more grave consequences will be for pr. Because Rost et al, unlike the Times and the Journal, just don't feel the need to cooperate with Novartis' four sets of pr folk before running with what they've got. And Rost's sources (and Ed's and Jack's and this guy and this guy and this guy) don't feel the need to wait for The Times and the WSJ to conclude that their info has reached whatever importance threshold they use as a benchmark before publishing -- and beating them -- on some great stories.

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