Wednesday, February 27, 2008

PR for MS - Ogilvy and Betaseron

Positive public relations exposure is a good thing when it comes to viewing multiple sclerosis in the general public. Tonight I came across two interesting items linked to by fellow MS bloggers.

Anonymous, blogging at Self-injecting Chinese hamsters since 2007, points us to an online-only Newsweek piece "Pins and Needles" in their Health Triumphs column. The story features Gregory Roehrich who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 20 and made Betaseron his disease-modifying drug of choice.

"My first step was to start treatment immediately with an interferon drug that I inject every other day. (Starting treatment after a first "attack" is important, as it may help delay disability.) Luckily, in the six years since I was diagnosed, the disease has progressed little."
For his 21st birthday, his parents gave him "a scheduled trip to go skydiving." In the six years since diagnosis, Greg has also enjoyed facing his fear of heights by rock climbing and "hanging on with my bare hands."
"It just goes to show you that attitude is a muscle you should flex every day. That's one reason why I still go climbing, too, despite my fear of heights. Whether it's on cliffs, mountains or boulders, I've climbed roughly once a week since I started three years ago, and it's taken me everywhere from Las Vegas to Italy and Switzerland. So far I've done all it without a wheelchair, walker or cane—in fact, without any hint of disability."
Then, Carole blogging at Carole's MS Blog, points us to "The Image of MS," [editor's note: The Image of MS website has been taken down since this original blog posting. Portions of the exhibit are visible on MS-Pathways.] a photographic exhibit of 27 individuals living "normal and active lives" despite facing a life with MS. Regarding the project, photographer Joyce Tenneson had this to say:
"It is my vision that these portraits will help change public perception that people with multiple sclerosis (MS) lack independence or strength. They are ordinary people who, despite having a sometimes debilitating disease, manage to live normal and active lives.

"I have always believed that art should be used to change the world. I saw the chance to work on this initiative as a "gift from the gods." Multiple sclerosis remains a mystery to the public at large, so this was an opportunity to capture the real face of people living with MS.

"Everyone I photographed has a truly inspiring approach to life, and I was overwhelmed by their positive attitudes and moving stories — all portraying a common spirit of strength, determination and hope. I sincerely hope that people who visit this site take away a little bit of inspiration from the participants about adapting to life's challenges and overcoming them.

"I think, often, there's an untold beauty about people who overcome challenges like MS to live the kind of life many of us take for granted. There's grace in the everyday existence of every person in this exhibit. That's what I wanted to capture — the real-life storytellers, the ones who can replace myths with reality and turn misconceptions into understanding. Being a part of that transformation is my focus and honor."

Although the stories are inspiring, they are limited to patients who use Betaseron because The Image of MS is now a pharma PR website for Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals Inc. who completed the incorporation of Berlex Laboratories into their company in early 2007.

[Here is an undated article which describes the original "Image of MS" website and the work of one participant.]

[Here is the March announcement for "The Image of MS" photographic exhibit which has been traveling through Europe, Asia, etc.]

It's fine and dandy for a pharmaceutical company to use inspirational stories to promote their products. In fact, we need inspiration every once in a while. It's good for the soul.

But what I find most interesting is that Gregory of the Newsweek column happens to be one of the featured "Images" of the photographic exhibit launched in 2006 for Berlex Laboratories. And - the contact person for the "Images" site is from Ogilvy Public Relations, a PR company with a flair for internet communication which influences consumer beliefs and behavior.

The name Ogilvy caught my eye specifically because I have noticed many visits to my little ol' blog from someone in their New York office. I don't doubt but someone is researching how to motivate and reach those of us with multiple sclerosis or other health issues around the world wide web.


  1. MS is such a perfect disease to manipulate people who have it and makes lots of money off of drugs.
    Makes me sick to my soul.

  2. Your eagle eye comes through again! Thanks for bringing these issues to our attention.

  3. WOW.

    Great, great researching here, Lisa. It honestly did not occur to me when I picked up the Newsweek article that it might be thinly-veiled drug-company propaganda. However, the link between the author of the article (Gregory R.) and the "Gallery of MS" images---and the link of both to Betaseron---certainly seems a bit fishy.

    I applaud you for making the connection and for publishing this post. The clever "viral marketing" potentially at work here reminds me of propaganda for "Accordant" the company that actually works *for* insurance companies in order to "reduce the cost" of patients living with chronic illnesses---but does so under the guise of offering "services" to these very same patients. (See: for details).

  4. I find it ironic how people have read this blog and mindlessly believed that propaganda from a PR company is involved.

    First, you should get your facts straight. Nowhere in the article is Betaseron ever mentioned as his drug of choice. The only reason you were able to find that information is through his campaign in the, “Image of MS.” Yes, the information is accessible, but I can assume that most readers have not delved deeper into researching his name online. To me, the article is nowhere close to promoting a specific drug, especially since it was purposely left out of the article.

    Honestly, I know for a fact that the author of the article personally and his intentions were in no way controlled by a PR company. The PR company was not involved in this article at all. I find it insulting that it is assumed that because someone is involved in a POSITIVE campaign (run by a PR company) and a campaign separate from that company, that the underlying theme of both is pharmaceutical propaganda. Is it not possible to believe that someone truly wants to disprove the stereotypes of MS and isn’t controlled by a higher source? I find it obnoxious that some people can even spin a positive into a negative.

    Why not take the article at face value and appreciate the true meaning behind it? Not everything in the world needs to have a negative side.

  5. Hello, Anonymous from Genzyme

    Thank you for having your say. Although the Newsweek article did not mention Betaseron by name, it is commonly known which of the MS drugs are used at specified dosing schedules. Gregory gave us the information necessary to determine which drug he uses.

    I agree that the message is positive and inspiring. Although if you were to listen to many of the people who read my little ol' blog here, you would come to realize that "I can do EVERYTHING although I have MS" hype wears thin. I believe that my fellow MSers would prefer to see a more balanced approach.

    From your comment, it is a little confusing to know if you know the author of the article personally or if you know for a face that the author and his intentions are not controlled by Ogilvy PR.

    It is interesting that you seem to be personally insulted by my observations. If I am to assume that you are familiar with Gregory and the purpose of the Newsweek article, then I infer that you acknowledge the Newsweek article is part of a larger campaign, albeit separate from Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals.

    It is also interesting to note that the photo of Gregory used is the same one published by Bayer/Ogilvy. In my experience, the rights to such promotional material is owned by the company who hired the photographer, not necessarily the photographer herself.

    Please, if there is further information which you would provide I would be willing to listen to it. And I believe that in no way did I speak ill of Mr. Roehrich.

  6. Hello all. After reading this blog and some of the comments on here, I wanted to take the time to clarify some apparent fuzziness. I am Gregory Roehrich, the author of the Newsweek piece.

    It is in fact true that Ogilvy had a hand in organizing The Image of MS campaign, in which I participated solely because I support the cause of MS awareness and knowledge of the disease.

    The article in question is very much my story and my voice. Like it or not, the optimistic nature of the piece is a direct reflection of my outlook on life, and it is this very outlook which has brought me this far in my personal battle with MS.

    I recognize that my experiences with the disease are in no way representative of the masses. However, as I've said earlier, this is MY story, and intended simply to be my own personal message of hope, not some viral marketing campaign.

    I would also like to add that the original draft of the Newsweek piece had no such reference to my injections or my medication. It was only after speaking with the Newsweek editor, that this information was added in, for what I assume was simply an attempt at filling in the details.

    Similarly, I provided Newsweek with the picture upon their request of an image from me. I found it to be fairly apropos when considering the article's subject of MS and the previous campaign.

    To those above, and Lisa Emrich, who I believe is the owner of this blog, I apologize if to you my message is "wearing thin". Once again, my intentions were simply to put my story out there in hopes that someone could draw something positive from it and take a little bit of hope away with them. I realize my attitude and outlook is simply that, mine - but it is that attitude that gets me through the day, hence the fact that I've had it permanently marked upon my body.

    If anyone would like to speak with me further or in private, feel free to email me at my personal address: gregory.roehrich at

    Best wishes to all of you in life and in your own personal fight with MS.

  7. Dear Anonymous from Genzyme,

    Your extremely strong reaction to Lisa's exposure of what, to me, still seems like a clever viral marketing campaign, including designating those who potentially "saw through" it as "mindless" merely reaffirms my belief that it is, in fact, probably a viral marketing campaign.

    Your recruitment of / invitation to the original author of the piece to come comment here also seems like overcompensation to me.

    Personally, I don't see why having the "PR / advertising" nature of your campaign exposed would be so threatening to you. People know that television commercials are intended to promote certain products, yet they still enjoy the funny and/or cleverly made ones.

    As for your assertion that Gregory's drug was not mentioned by name in the Newsweek article, you and I both know that this matters little. As Lisa pointed out above, MS patients are very well versed in the litany of meds available to them, each of which has a unique injection or infusion schedule (example: Rebif - 3x a week sub-q; Avonex: 1x per week intramuscular; Copaxone: Daily, sub-q, Betaseron: Every other day, sub-q, Tysabri: once a month, via IV infusion---and I just rattled those off in all of 10 seconds from memory). Merely referencing a drugs's injection schedule (in the case of injectables) or mentioning that it is delivered via IV once per month is enough to identify the medication to any MS patient. So while the general public may read the Newsweek article and have no idea which med Gregory is using, your target audience of consumers---that is, MS patients themselves will know which drug is being implicitly referenced. And I believe that whoever designed the campaign (very intelligently, I might add) was perfectly aware of this.

    Again, I don't see what the problem is. Clever marketing sells products, and Betaseron clearly has clever people marketing their products. This shouldn't upset you; rather, you should be proud of creating and launching such subtle and effective piece of advertising.

    Or perhaps it simply upsets you that I take Rebif. For what it's worth, my neurologist never presented Betaseron to me as an option. I was allowed to pick between Avonex and Rebif, and I picked the latter.


  8. Dear Gregory,

    Thank you for your comment. What I don't understand is why you would think that the "feel good" nature of your piece is somehow at odds with it being part of a larger (viral) marketing campaign for Betaseron. It doesn't have to be one or the other ("either/or," as in Kierkegaard's famous title). It can be both.

    With respect to your observation that you had initially not included any information about your medication in the piece, but that your editor later wanted the information "added in," I can only point out to you that editors have an agenda. How do I know this? Because I myself am a book editor, among other things. I have worked on some major projects with some major literary figures, and I know that when I choose to cut a word and substitute a different one, or add in a piece of information, or reword a sentence, I always have a reason for doing so.

    Editors are not free from "intentions" as we say in the academic world. I'd recommend you read Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht's The Powers of Philology, especially the chapter on "Editing Texts," if you'd like more information about how the mind of an editor works.

    If you want to discuss this further outside of Lisa's blog, you can find me on my own blog.

    Warm Regards,

  9. PS: Gregory, you've got mail from at gmail dot com.

    That would be me.

  10. It certainly seems that some nerves have been touched with this little piece. When one starts to look into promotional materials, it becomes easier and easier to spot connections and patterns.

    For the record, I read the Newsweek article first and as I was going through my feeds came across Carole's reference to the "Image of MS" website which is when I recognized the photo (without having really noted Mr. Roehrich's name.) But since I've received so many visits today from various 'google' searches, I decided to follow some of them myself.

    To Gregory - I'm very glad that you have not experienced any further relapses in 6 years and I hope that you do not have any in the future. But dude, seriously, you've got to get yourself some professional earplugs. From one musician to another, it is so totally worth the cost. See an audiologist, tell him you need "musician's earplugs" and he'll hook you up.

    And to the rest of my readers, I just want to share that comment #4 and comment #6 came from a visitor(s) using the same Genzyme computer. FYI.

  11. Dear Lisa,

    Personally, I wouldn't say that any "nerves" of mine have been touched. As you know (from your research on my identity---haha!) I'm an academic, which means that, naturally, I enjoy arguing with people.

    To me, this is one more stimulating mental exercise in debate and rhetoric, à Quintillian or Cicero. In other words: it's a good time.

    In light of your observation re: comments 4 and 6, it seems likely to me that the "Gregory" posting here is either a.) not actually Gregory or b.) works for Genzyme. If it's not Gregory, I wonder how he'd feel about someone from a drug manufacturing company (illegally) impersonating him without his knowledge on a public blog...

    I bet you can get sued for something like that.



    PS: Lisa---sorry for the multiple posts of this comment. I was correcting some wording I didn't like and have deleted the two earlier versions of the comment.

  12. Lisa,

    You must be mistaken about my previous comment. My good friend works at Genzyme and was the one responsible for post #4, but my post was most certainly mine. You can verify this via your log.

    Similarly, I appreciate your comment about me getting some professional earplugs, and I must admit I was apprehensive about even responding in the first place. However, nothing involving this article was ever intended to be "professional", just simply human.

    Perhaps I'm in the wrong for getting upset at people calling my story propaganda and questioning my identity, and I'd be better off to simply turn a deaf ear. But it is what it is, and this is something I am and always will be passionate about.

  13. Gregory,

    By all means, get the earplugs.

    I did scour my logs (and it's not like I have SO much traffic as to get confused with overlapping visits or anything), but the Genzyme computer was the last visitor to click on '5 comments' and an appropriate time for the 6th comment to register at 4:14pm. And comment #14 (yours) comes from a different computer which had not been used to visit the blog before 6:36pm or so (both computers being registered in Massachusetts.)

    Now there were some visits from a couple of folks in New Jersey who had googled various terms including 'gregory roehrich'. I'm not disagreeing that it is possible the person at Genzyme does know you, maybe even contacted you today. But I hold firm to the impression that comments #4 & #6 were from the same computer.

    If you wish to interact as a fellow MSer here in the blogworld, you are welcome to do so. But please do use your blogger identity - it helps to keep the trust within this community.

  14. Oh, cool. Gregory's in MA?

    If so, so am I.

    We should hang out.


  15. Hey Anon,

    you two are pretty much the same age...and I could imagine you (in my mind anyways) hanging out with a rocker. But according to the Newsweek article, "Roehrich lives in Ringwood, N.J."

    What to believe??

  16. My, my, my; this reminds me of a certain "World Class Cyclist" who credits Copaxone and her great motivaional spirit, so great that she gives motivational speeches about how to be doing so FINE with YOUR MS (sponsored by Teva Marion, makers of Copaxone) just like her!
    Come on guys, just because WE have MS WE are not stupid. Maybe you can jive talk a bunch of newbies, make them feel hopeful that they too will climb mountains, ride bikes, GEE WHAT WAS I THINKING? If ONLY I had signed with a drug co. or been interviewed by Newsweek after *I* was diagnosed with MS and I played basketball, walked for miles, lifted weights; and I can speak, missed opportunity. Back then my spouse wass ill and that took priority over fun/inspirational stuff; oh, and my 40hr plus/per week job...the only people I had time to inspire were my family, friends, and co-workers. There is absoluetly not one SHRED of doubt in my mind (partially because a rather prominent neurologist confided in me this vey fact) that MS drug companies are using every person with MS who can do some physical feat to be admired/THAT AGREES TO BUY IN to promote their drug as THE drug that will allow YOU TOO to do such feats, even though you have MS. MS in the MAJORITY of cases, has symptoms that come and GO, withot ANY drug intervention. One can be blind, bedridden for two years, then ride a bike a mile with 20/20 vision (I did!) for YEARS, some will NEVER have a relapse again, (those are the most sought after-duh) and once a drug co. uses them and they HAVE a relapse--POOF! we with MS never hear about them again. Greg is a lucky man, but am I inspired by him because he has MS? No, that is his course. It has nothing to do with me. It will have nothing to do to the MAJORITY of people with MS, except to give them false hope. I prefer true hope, that when the day comes you need a cane or wheelchair you can still lead a happy, fulfilling life. (I do.) Shame on drug companies for using the natural course of MS to make money, shame on motivational MS speakers sponsored by (that means PAID BY, hello? I will motivate and nobody is going to pay me.) a drug co. to tell people just diagnosed that they too can follow THEIR course if only they ____.
    And shame on you who think we are stupid enough to believe your spin. People like LISA inspire ME. She took the time to research this foolishness, and expose the ugliness.

  17. Hi, I know this is an old thread, but I am new to this blog and would like to comment, even if no one reads this.

    As a former pharma manager in market research (and now independent researcher), I am flustered.

    So I guess this is proof that fake or flaky marketing campaigns don't fly in the blogosphere.

    This is great news, it shows you guys in the blogosphere are smarter than this and pharma can stop wasting money on them.

    Does this mean though that pharma should stay away from the blogosphere? Should pharmacos read this blog for example or should they just stop looking at what you write all together? Some of the posts are directed at them though, right?

    I am truely interested to know, what interactions you would like to see between you and pharma (and by the way there is not such thing, it is all different individual departments and geographies from research to development to health economics, regulatory affairs and yes, marketing, right?)

    What would a good interaction look like? What information could pharma provide to add value to the online MS community?

  18. Silja,

    Thank you for your comment. I do have some ideas which I would be willing to share. In fact, I spoke at the J&J Global Communications Conference on a very similar topic.

    But to give you more reaction and discussion which arose out of this post, please read -

    The topic of 'why not a feel-good campaign' is discussed by some of my regular blog friends.

    I will get back to you (although your profile is not available to the public and thus there's no way to contact you directly).


  19. Hi Lisa,

    thank you so much for getting back to me so quickly and as you can see, I really got hook on your blog as I still online reading it.

    Sorry about the profile hiding thing - that is not intentional. You can contact me at silja.chouquet at

    Best regards,