PRescriptions for healthcare communications
Mike’s PRescription: Crisis Shouldn’t Be A Cross To Bear by Mike Huckman
Mike’s PRescription: Journalism Makes Strange Bedfellows by Mike Huckman
Pharma ‘Goes’ Where It Hasn’t Gone Before by Mike Huckman
I was all set to write the somewhat predictable year-ahead industry outlook blog, but it’ll just have to wait for another day.
That’s because I got sidetracked while thumbing through the “New York Times Magazine” on New Year’s Day when I came across this little gem, which I couldn’t resist tweeting and blogging about.
It’s a direct-to-consumer (DTC) ad for an enlarged prostate drug from Watson Pharma called Rapaflo, which I hadn’t heard of before. While a woman sits in the driver’s seat of a classic car parked in the middle of nowhere, her male passenger is in the brush on the side of the road, with his backside to the camera, obviously in full-on urination stance. “AVOID THE STOP AND GO OF BPH,” the ad screams in all caps. BPH stands for benign prostatic hyperplasia or enlarged prostate. It’s the problem that makes older men go or, at least, feel like they have to go a lot.
My tweets also go out on my LinkedIn page, where pharma industry marketing consultant Dan Reinhardt commented:
“Novelty of DTC advertising has worn off, one only needs to pick up Prevention magazine to see that, so this ad has some ’stopping’ power that’s creatively on target for the target audience….”
I agree with him. So many drug ads and commercials look and sound too much alike. They’re formulaic and predictable. To Dan’s point, this is certainly one way to break through the clutter. But now I can’t wait to see the SNL spoof of an ad that already looks like an SNL spoof.
(Nymox Pharmaceutical, which has an enlarged prostate drug in late-stage development, is a client.)
New CEO Brings New PR by Mike Huckman
In a little more than two weeks Ken Frazier will become the first African-American to run a big drug company. But that’s not what makes this particular CEO-to-be so different. Just check out the Merck homepage and you’ll see what I’m talking about. The guy’s smiling from ear to ear. No stereotypical, serious, stodgy, studio-shot CEO photo. Ken Frazier looks like a real person.
And kudos to Merck for heralding the recent announcement with the headline, “Introducing Ken Frazier. Merck’s Next CEO.” I can’t recall ever seeing anything like this from any other major corporation and certainly not from a big pharma. Usually, there’s just a link to a press release and that’s it. Here, Merck not only highlights the press release, but it smartly accompanies it with a three-and-a-half minute, “Hi, I’m Ken Frazier” video. What’s more is that the company didn’t stick him in front of a TV camera with the Merck logo plastered all over the place behind him. Instead, it made it look like Frazier’s talking to you from what could be his livingroom.
But part of me really isn’t all that surprised by the relatively savvy way Frazier’s going about introducing himself. I got to know him when he was Merck’s legal eagle and I was covering the Vioxx litigation for CNBC. After he got promoted from general counsel to the head of human health, Frazier essentially became the face and voice of the company. He’s a former litigator and the Merck communications staff used to report into Frazier when he was general counsel. So, he gets it. I’ll never forget when I sat down with him for a live interview on CNBC nearly two years ago and right before we went on I was completely taken aback when he disarmingly said, “Mike, you know this is a no-holds-barred interview.” Say what?! No one in my 25-year TV reporting career had ever said something like that to me before. And no one said it since to the time I left CNBC earlier this year.
Big pharma if you’re looking for a small way to start to shed an old-fashioned image, borrow a webpage from Merck. Say “Hello” to Ken Frazier. And say “Goodbye” to “That’s the way we’ve always done it” PR.
PR & Other Drugs by Mike Huckman
“Jamie! On your left. Jamie, over here! On your right.”
Jamie is the infamous (in pharma circles) Jamie Reidy. And he says he felt like “the belle of the ball” when he walked the red carpet among the paparazzi at the LA premiere of “Love & Other Drugs,” the movie that’s loosely based on his industry-rattling memoir “Hard Sell. The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman.”
I got to know Jamie more than five years ago, when I interviewed him on CNBC shortly after his groundbreaking tell-all book came out. He later played a prominent role in an investigative piece I did on pharma sales for the now defunct CNBC primetime show “Business Nation.” And outside of work we became frenemies. (He went to Notre Dame, I went to USC. And we’re both fanatics.)
Anyway, now Reidy’s ready for his closeup. Actually, he tells me his tiny role as an extra in L&OD either got cut or goes by in such a flash he’s not even sure he saw himself on screen. He has to wait for the DVD to come out, so he can freezeframe it. If you want to play “Where’s Jamie?” when the movie opens the day before Thanksgiving, he says he’s standing about three people away from Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays Jamie in the movie, in a drug launch event scene.
I read the book, but I haven’t seen the movie yet, only the trailers, which focus on the Hollywood-made romance. I was surprised to find out, though, that Pfizer and Viagra and not some fictional drug company and pill names made it into the flick. “He sells Viagra in the movie, but the main point is really the love story,” Reidy told me when I talked to him this week over the phone. But the life of a drug sales rep still figures prominently in the screenplay, which Reidy, by the way, didn’t write. And that could possibly be cause for concern for the industry.
For instance, the now dead practice of fake preceptorships, where a drug rep puts on a white coat, pretending to be an intern while on a sales call and shadows a doc is in there. There’s also a manufactured foil to Gyllenhaal’s Reidy–a rival rep who sells a popular anti-depressant and who’s killin’ it in the field. There’s detailing, training sessions, launches, you name it. On the plus side, Reidy told me the movie “doesn’t do any of the stuff I did in terms of dodging work. That’s not a focus.” He wrote extensively in the book about how few hours he spent on the job, but still made his numbers.
A lot of people in the industry boycotted “Hard Sell” because it exposed what critics might call the old, seedy underbelly of prescription drug sales. But Reidy’s convinced those same people are more likely to buy tickets to see the movie version. He says a friend recently texted him from a drug sales training session: “25 reps r here & all they’re talking about is ur movie.”
Just don’t call L&OD a romantic comedy. Only Hollywood could do this, but Reidy says, “They’re calling it an emotional comedy. It’s really heavier than your popcorn romantic comedy.” So heavy that Reidy claims it reduced his former literary agent to tears. “If you’ve got a grizzled agent crying, then it’s really impactful,” he said.
But if you want a laugh, there is this: When I asked Reidy what it was like to have Jake Gyllenhaal playing him on screen he replied, “It’s just insane. He is slightly (his emphasis) more attractive than me.”
And Now Let’s Go To The Biopharma CEO With Breaking News by Mike Huckman
Harvard Business Review has a new blog post about the lack of CEOs on Twitter. And I totally agree with one of its main points:
“…CEOs should be where people are watching, reading, chatting and listening. CEOs should set the pace and embrace connectivity with customers, communities, advocates, new talent and others online.”
However, the blog leaves out one of Harvard’s neighbors and most prolific tweeting CEOs, Richard Pops of the small biopharma company Alkermes. Granted, he’s not in the same league as some of the big-time CEOs the article singles out like former Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz, Zappos’ Tony Hsieh or Pepsi’s Indra Nooyi, but he’s a well-known player, at least, in the New England biotech cluster.
And last night Pops went where no other biopharma CEO has gone before and may never go. Shortly after his company pushed out the press release on FDA approval of Vivitrol, its once-a-month shot in the butt for opioid addiction, he tweeted the news himself:
It’s not only significant, I think, that Pops tweets his company’s news and point of view, but in this case, it’s significant that he tweeted about the FDA approval before any of my former competitive colleagues did. If I were still on the other side, I’m not sure how I would’ve felt about getting scooped by a CEO I was assigned to cover, but from my new view on the dark side, I kinda like it. I also like Pops’ tweet tone. I mean, he didn’t scream (and I’m certain the lawyers wouldn’t have let him,) “Woohoo! FDA says ‘YES’ to Alkermes’ Vivitrol for opioid addiction!!!” Note that he also was careful to not even tweet a link to the actual press release. The “one to go” reference, by the way, refers to the scheduled FDA approval decision on October 22nd for another drug.
HBR should have included Pops in its blog. Maybe it left him out because he went to the Harvard of the West, which I’m still sore about for having beaten the Trojans last Saturday night in a barnburning squeaker.