Tag Archives: marketing

Evidence-based reporting leads to award-winning exploration of robotic surgery

Tara Haelle

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Laura Beil

Robotic surgery has exploded in popularity in recent years, but is that because it actually improves patient outcomes over traditional surgery methods or because of marketing campaigns? That is one of the questions Laura Beil dove into in her award-winning story for Men’s Health, “What’s Wrong With Robotic Surgery?

In a story that involved months of reporting, Beil “used FDA and legal documents to explore concerns over the safety” of a prostate robotic surgery procedure and wove together her findings “into one concise narrative that engaged and informed Men’s Health readers.”

The reporting required FOI requests for adverse events from surgery (along with documents related to recent inspections and findings), legal documents from malpractice lawsuits and a class action suit against the manufacturer, and dozens of scientific studies to determine whether robotic surgery represented an advance in treatment.

Beil also describes the pushback after publication, adding that posting corporate responses online is a powerful way to expose unjustified pushback. Read about how she did her reporting.

Peck reports another questionable PR pitch

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

In the wake of the discussion over whether public relations folks should offer money to journalists to serve on focus groups for pharmaceutical companies, MedPage Today Executive Editor Peggy Peck writes about a story pitch she recently received via email.

In this case, the PR person offers to set up an interview, record it and then send it to Peck. Sounds like a pretty helpful offer, right? Well, as Peck says, “I would say beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

The email then goes on to suggest questions she might ask in the interview. And, to top it off, the PR person’s signature says the interview will be “provided” by a pharmaceutical company.

See Peck’s post for excerpts from the email and her reaction.

Related

PR rep says journalists’ stipend to attend Allergan event was misconstrued

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

An invitation to journalists to participate in an Allergan-hosted “Facial Aesthetics Advisory Panel” that included an offer of a $250 stipend was misconstrued, according to the public relations representative who sent it.

Sarah Smedley, of Chandler Chicco Companies, said the panel was intended to be “in the nature of a focus group.”

The agency, which sent the invitation to 10 freelancers, wanted the journalists to tell them what types of questions their readers have. Smedley characterized the questions they would put to journalists as broad and not product-specific. Allergan manufactures Botox, Juvederm and Latisse.

They chose freelancers because they have a broad view and write for multiple outlets, according to Smedley. “There was no intention to get stories or coverage; we wanted to listen.”

Two journalists have accepted the invitation but one of them has declined the stipend, she said. “We expected a few to come to participate as experts in the media.”

AHCJ member Lisa Collier Cool shared the invitation with AHCJ, saying she considers this “an all-time low in drug company promotion to the media.”

Karl Stark, AHCJ’s vice president, said the organization’s board of directors was alarmed by the offer.

“We report all the time on the potential conflicts of interest that money creates between drug companies and doctors,” said Stark, a Philadelphia Inquirer editor. “How would this be any different?”

AHCJ’s Statement of Principles includes the advice to:

  • Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
  • Refuse gifts, favors, and special treatment. Refuse meals from drug companies and device manufacturers and refuse to accept unsolicited product samples sent in the mail.
  • Weigh the potential benefits involved in accepting fees, honoraria, free travel, paid expenses from organizers of conferences or events against the desire to preserve our credibility with the audience and the need to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.

“We really regret that Lisa [Collier Cool] misconstrued this,” Smedley said. “The allegation that it was a bribe took my breath away.”

Smedley, who said she has worked in health care public relations for about 15 years, said she was “disappointed that Lisa wouldn’t have called, reached out somehow … for more information.”

She said the invitation has been “misconstrued terribly wrong and out of proportion.”

When asked if she is aware of journalists’ codes of ethics, she replied, “We’re highly aware and we respect journalists and their code of ethics.” She said she also observes the PRSA’s code of ethics.

She does not believe their invitation was unethical and her agency will “conduct focus groups and adhere to codes of ethics, as we’ve always done.” This is the first focus group of this kind for Allergan.

A spokeswoman for Allergan told Forbes’ Matthew Herper that the stipend was “for their participation in a three-hour meeting as a means to compensate them for their time, nothing more.”

PR professional offers cash for attending Allergan-hosted event

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Journalist Lisa Collier Cool was “truly appalled” to receive an email that offered her a $250 stipend if she would attend a “Facial Aesthetics Advisory Panel” hosted by Allergen – makers of Botox, Juvederm and Latisse.

The PR pro, of Chandler Chicco Companies,  a health care public relations firm, wrote:

The goal of this Panel is to engage in a discussion about current facial aesthetics trends and innovations, perceived gaps in data, and any questions, concerns or misperceptions your readers may have about products and treatments. Allergan will provide an overview of the evolution of the facial aesthetics marketplace and then will open the panel for discussion.

As a seasoned reporter in this space, we would greatly value your feedback, and we’d like to offer you a stipend of $250 for your attendance and insights.

Cool, who brought the email to AHCJ’s attention, said she considers this “an all-time low in drug company promotion to the media” and that this is the first time she’s received such an offer in more than 25 years of health reporting.

AHCJ’s Vice President, Karl Stark, said AHCJ’s board of directors was alarmed by the offer.

“We report all the time on the potential conflicts of interest that money creates between drug companies and doctors,” said Stark, a Philadelphia Inquirer editor. “How would this be any different?”

Cool agreed, saying she is “shocked that along with questionable payments to doctors, the pharmaceutical industry – or at least Allergan – is now stooping to offering fees to reporters, presumably in the hope of securing favorable press coverage for its products. I view this as a thinly disguised attempt at bribery and hope that this practice won’t become widespread.”

Certainly accepting such money would violate common ethical guidelines for journalists. For example, AHCJ’s Statement of Principles includes the advice to:

  • Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
  • Refuse gifts, favors, and special treatment. Refuse meals from drug companies and device manufacturers and refuse to accept unsolicited product samples sent in the mail.

The Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics advises journalists to:

  • Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
  • Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.

“Assisting medical companies with their public relations efforts is not the role of journalists,” Stark said.

AHCJ has contacted the representative who sent the email for details on this arrangement, including whether other reporters have taken her up on the offer, if any reporters have raised questions about it and whether this is an approach she or her company has used in the past. We will update this post if we get a response. [Update: PR rep says journalists’ stipend to attend Allergan event was misconstrued]

Meanwhile, Forbes’ Matthew Herper contacted Allergan and posted its response.

PR specialist: Health journalists have critical role

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Health journalists may be surprised to find support from Paul Oestreicher, a marketing communications consultant and adjunct professor at New York University with experience in the pharmaceutical industry.

Oestreicher makes the case that the health care industry has a vested interest in increasing the public’s health and science literacy – something he says will be supported by “news outlets being repopulated with professional journalists to help carry information forward.”

Though the pharmaceutical industry has suffered from behavioral, communication and performance missteps that have lowered reputation, it is low health literacy among consumers and the decline of science journalism that are fundamental to this problem.

Oestreicher cites numbers that show the pharmaceutical industry is suffering from a poor reputation that will only be helped by the public’s ability to evaluate medical facts and evidence. He also cites articles and a survey done by AHCJ and the Kaiser Family Foundation about the critical need for journalists who understand scientific studies and statistics.

Professional health and science journalists must help to communicate the progress and the failures, and to differentiate the facts and evidence from the frauds and junk science. Unfortunately, we’ve seen surveys confirm what we already know about the state of health and science journalism over the past few months. It’s a shrinking, wounded profession. We know the symptoms – they’ve been well documented. Like the global economy, journalism needs a recovery plan.