I'll let you in on a little secret. Big Pharma has a tainted reputation.
Oh, you didn't know that? Shocking, isn't it.
Public Affairs TV
Last October, The Hill reported, in Lights, camera, PhRMA, that the drug industry's powerful lobby group had launched their own 30-minute TV show 'Healthcare Campfire with Billy Tauzin' on the local Washington WDCA, a Fox-owned channel and MyNetworkTV affiliate.
The idea of 'fake news' stories addressing healthcare, medicine, and pharmaceuticals is disturbing and self-serving at best. Consider the MedLinkTV programs which are going to be shown, whether you like it or not, in the waiting rooms of several New York doctors. Fortunately when you are at home, nobody forces you to watch a 30-minute paid advertisement, promoted as a public affiairs programing, or to buy-into whatever it is they are pushing.
The episodes, broadcast as paid advertisements but billed as public affairs programs, borrow the format of talk shows such as NBC’s “Today.” When Tauzin took the helm at PhRMA after retiring from Congress and surviving a bout with cancer, he promised to turn around public opinion about the industry.
“They look like a news story you would see at a local news station,” PhRMA Senior Vice President Ken Johnson said. Johnson had a 20-year career in TV, including stints as a news anchor and director, prior to working for Tauzin on Capitol Hill.
Buffeted by bad press resulting from the recalls of drugs like Vioxx, public bitterness over high drug prices and angry political rhetoric about the industry’s clout in Washington, the drug industry has sought to shift the emphasis to its role in developing medicines to treat serious and deadly diseases.
PhRMA’s desire to take more control over how the drug industry is perceived led to the idea for the TV show.
Tauzin’s interviewees [in addition to PPA spokesman Montel Williams and selected patients] include other well-known figures, such as former White House Press Secretary Tony Snow and motivational speaker Sean Swarner, who survived two fights against cancer and has since scaled the world’s tallest mountains.
The interview segments are interspersed with reports by PhRMA staff on new medicines under development or other healthcare topics.
PhRMA has posted some of the interviews on YouTube, probably to test-drive them a bit and developed a blogspot website, sharingmiracles.com, which is supposedly an "interactive forum for people to relate their own personal stories of hope and survival." There you will find a few video clips of interviews and photo stills obviously from PhRMA's new TV studio.
The drug industry’s foray into television is the product of a more than $1 million investment in a state-of-the-art, all-digital, all-high-definition studio and control room that probably rivals most TV stations’. The set is complete with teleprompters and a “green screen,” allowing any image to be digitally added in post-production as a backdrop for interviews.
The group also uses the studio and the booth for media training sessions for its staff and for interviews between broadcasters and PhRMA executives. “There’s such an advantage to being able to go live 24 hours a day, anywhere in the world,” Johnson said.
“Billy’s a natural at this,” Johnson said. On the day of a taping attended by The Hill, Tauzin worked off a teleprompter without having seen the script in advance. There was briefly a problem as crew members tried to position the ex-lawmaker so the flag on the photo of Capitol wasn’t visible (it looked too obviously fake), but Tauzin handled his hosting duties with aplomb.
At the taping, Tauzin showed the Cajun charm that’s one of his trademarks. Greeting Swarner, the mountaineer, before the cameras switched on, Tauzin shook his hand and joked, “Did you take the elevator or did you climb the stairs?”
Public Relations for PhRMA
I first discovered the Sharing Miracles site after looking into Montel Williams, the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, and PhRMA at the beginning of December after Montel threatened a high-school intern in Savannah, Georgia. I noticed the Sharing Miracles link at the bottom of a press release, which was unrelated to the controversial incident.
I wrote about the incident in Is Montel Williams Disturbed by Big Pharma? I have nothing against Montel personally and am glad that he is open about his MS and supports MS research abroad. What bothers me is that he uses, or allows to be used, his persona to represent a PR concoction of PhRMA to shift the drug industry's image into a caring, generous lot.
See PhRMA and PPArx: How much are they really helping patients in need?
The day after I wrote about Montel and had perused the Sharing Miracles site, an interesting thing happened. The traffic on my blog shot up considerably. Somebody from Edelman seemed to read almost everything I had written, followed by visits from several pharmaceutical companies. For those who don't know who Edelman is, this PR firm was responsible for the fakery, undercover, 'grassroots' bloggers who left messages on Wal-Mart websites in 2006.
Now this wasn't the first time I had noticed visits from companies who had briefly been mentioned in a post. After writing about APCO who has worked for PhRMA in PR, somebody within their DC offices using a company computer read my blog. This is monitoring social media, keeping abreast of what is being said about your company or your clients. Indeed, this post will probably draw in various PR monitors.
As an individual, consumer, and potential patient, you should be aware that the internet has become a place where companies want to sell you their wares. Drug companies have been slow to adopt that model and have been clumsy in their attempts, but they are getting better at it.
Just today at the World of DTC Marketing Blog, the use of video on the web as a way to reach your customers is discussed. An idea which is gaining popularity is to offer an opportunity for an individual to share their story or experience with the owners of the website. The last time I visited PPArx's site, I saw that same opportunity but noticed that once you submitted your story, it became theirs to edit without any further agreements necessary from you. Editing someone else's statement or story is a clever way to say what you really want to be said.
I don't know this for certain, mostly because I didn't bother to ask, but I suspect that a number of the individuals featured on the Sharing Miracles blogsite may have been folks who agreed to submit their stories about PPArx. Why do I think this? Well, because almost half of the stories so far reference prescription assistance as part of their personal 'miracle.'
Addendum: Further investigation reveils that Qorvis, a strategic communications/PR firm right here in Northern Virginia, is responsible for the Sharing Miracles website and its' unconvincing fake forum.
Now, I think the term miracle is overused. Apparently, so does blogger Orac over at Respectful Insolence - "Resolved 2008: Let's not use the word 'miracle' to describe unexpected survival." There are very few occurrences which might warrant being called a miracle. I believe my brother's experience 20 years ago falls under this category.
The Miracle in My Family
When my brother was 11 or 12 he loved to dirt bike, that is ride a zippy little motor bike over dirt trails with lots of hills, ditches, and various obstacles. After being caught skipping band class (which was expected of him to participate in because all other family members were musicians), he was forced to make a deal with our parents. In order to continue riding his dirt bike, he had to stay in band....but he could switch to any instrument he really wanted to play. So my brother chose to switch to tuba as, with one instrument at home and one at school, he only needed to transport his mouthpiece to and from school. Very clever decision.
The summer my brother was 13, our father took him to the dirt track area at the nearby lake, maintained and monitored by the park rangers. This was a Saturday morning trip just as common as any other. However, this time the 1968 Volkswagen Bug which was used to haul the bike trailer wouldn't start. Engine trouble. My dad found the ranger's station, but it was locked and unattended. A simple lesson without any real significance it would appear.
The summer my brother was 14, he went dirt biking and brought along our 13 year old cousin who was not an experienced biker. They had a great time riding the tracks and took a second go around. But this time something unexpected happened. My cousin didn't notice that after jumping a particularly large hill and ditch, my brother didn't visibly come up over the other side. Our cousin jumped the same hill, ending up running over my brother who was caught under his bike. My brother was unconscious and wasn't moving. Cousin quickly rode to my dad who was waiting at the car and they retrieved my brother.
Here's fortune #1. Since my dad already knew that the ranger's station would not be manned, he didn't waste time trying to get help (days before cell phones). They brought my brother to the VW Bug while he was unconscious and bleeding out of the mouth.
Fortune #2. The front seat of the VW Bug no longer reclined although my father tried to make it recline to no avail. If he had succeeded in this attempt, the doctors say my brother would have drowned in his own blood before reaching the hospital.
Fortune #3. The surgeon most skilled in the type of surgery necessary happened to be at the hospital and available the moment my father arrived. He has since written case studies about my brother's experience and recovery.
Fortune #4. The type of injuries my brother sustained, detached lung and blown open trachea, usually are accompanied by other severe injuries occurring in a car accident. The surgeons removed a rib, using the muscle to rebuild his trachea/bronchial area, reattached the two lobes of his lung which were detached by the force of the accident, and even used felt patches to hold things together.
Recovery from these types of injuries is not guaranteed. Being placed in ICU for two weeks, it was interesting to be able to see the tire tracks across my brother's body. I think it was over a week before anyone even attempted to clean the dirt out from under his fingernails as the pain was so severe that it might put him into shock. He almost died three times in ICU before beginning his journey of healing.
Fortune #5. He was a strong athletic individual who had tremendous respiratory strength, partically attributed to his experience playing tuba. It takes alot of lung power to play the larger brass instruments especially. His doctors said that this was some of the best therapy his could have had before his accident to prepare him for the difficult recovery road ahead.
Indeed that school year is a big blur to my brother. He missed alot of school, took lots of pain medication, and worked hard at therapy (an expensive Schwinn exercycle rather than attending babysat physical therapy sessions). Then he had to stay out of trouble and not get rough-housed, because if someone accidentally hit him or threw something into his chest, there was the risk of undoing the surgical repairs which really took a long time to truly heal.
Surviving several bouts of pneumonia and other respiratory distress sending him back into the hospital, my brother survived that first year to become a rare survivor. He was asked at least once by his surgeon to visit a fellow high-schooler who had been in a car accident suffering similar injuries to his own. This young girl was scared of dying and needed to know that survival and recovery was possible. She died the next week.
Over the years, my brother's scars have brought him attention. I think he has jokingly claimed that the scar which curves along his back and around to his side (where the rib was removed for access and use of muscle tissue) was from a shark attack. The scar is somewhat jagged and spreads about two inches wide. The scar from his chesttube looks like a bullet wound. I think he has claimed the bullet's still in there. :)
Sharing Miracles on TV and Online
Consider each of the little things which had to occur, even a full year in advance, to prepare the way for my brother's survival. Very few of the stories shared on Sharing Miracles will rival this. You will read about medications to treat chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis, depression, and asthma. You will read about clinical trials and cancer treatments. You may even find stories which include references to carpal tunnel syndrome, sleep apnea, allergies, and irritable bowel syndrome.
How do I know this? I read each and every story on the website which has to be pre-approved by PhRMA for inclusion.
At first in September and early October, a few folks left comments on each entry but this must have started to look contrived (which it was.) Now PhRMA wants the public to start commenting and sharing their stories of inspiration and gratitude to the generosity of the Partnership for Prescription Assistance which is not really a program that doles out prescription assistance. Their service is kinda like a phone directory, but one which takes credit for helping anyone who opens it up and conducts a search, regardless of the final outcome or connection to a desired party. As such, PPA now claims to have helped over 5 million individuals find assistance.
So PhRMA has a press release ready to announce that the ‘Sharing Miracles’ Television Program Extends Reach Across America: First Episode Features Former White House Press Secretary Tony Snow (January 7, 2008). I note that the program will now air on WUSA-TV (CBS) in the Washington, DC area, on Sundays at 11:30am-12:00am which happens to be the same timeslot and station where I was witness to the infomercial starring Hugh Downs discussing the Health Secrets book just a few weeks ago.
Beginning in January, Sharing Miracles – a 30-minute publicPhRMA, please give the intelligent citizens of this country a break and stop pouring money into efforts to polish the reputation of profit-driven pharmaceutical companies. Granted there are some companies who are taking risks in research, but the quickly approaching lack of innovative drugs in the overall pipeline is evidence to the need for more research and less marketing/lobbying/public relations.
affairs television program about health care that features compelling and inspirational stories told by patients – will begin airing each Sunday in 17 cities around the country.
Hosted by former Congressman and cancer survivor Billy Tauzin, now the president and CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), Sharing Miracles is designed to raise awareness about medical advances that improve the quality of people’s lives. Sharing Miracles is produced by PhRMA’s Communications & Public Affairs Department.
The new show will also help to spread the word about the Partnership for Prescription Assistance, a program sponsored by America’s pharmaceutical research companies to help uninsured and underinsured Americans find access to the medicines they need for free or nearly free. The Partnership for Prescription Assistance has already helped nearly 5 million Americans.
The first episode features former White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, who is battling colon cancer. Future programs will highlight two-time cancer survivor and motivational speaker Sean Swarner, who has climbed the tallest mountains on each of the seven continents in memory of cancer victims; “Leave it to Beaver” television star Jerry Mathers, who is fighting diabetes; North Carolina State University Hall of Fame basketball coach and breast cancer patient Kay Yow; syndicated television talk show host Montel Williams, a multiple sclerosis sufferer; Telemundo personality Mayte Prida, a breast cancer survivor; and pop icon and Broadway star Deborah Gibson, who has suffered from depression.
In this month’s show, Snow explains how “sickness stretches your soul, opens your eyes, and introduces you to a world of unimagined grandeur, possibility and joy. You realize what life’s blessings are. Everything that is wonderful becomes more intensely wonderful and all the things that you love, you more intensely love.”
Each show features lively discussions that are informative and that convey messages of hope to patients around the country – and to their family members and friends – who must confront debilitating medical conditions every day.
The show’s corresponding Web site, http://www.sharingmiracles.com/, is an interactive forum for people to relate their own personal stories of hope and survival. Every patient's battle is unique, but the collective power of shared experiences can offer great help and courage to others who are fighting for their lives.
Do a good job and you will be recognized for it. People are not dumb.