CNN policy puts pharma PR tack under microscope

LOS ANGELES: CNN's new policy that requires informing viewers about celebrity spokespeople's financial ties to pharmaceutical companies has led to increased scrutiny of such campaigns.

LOS ANGELES: CNN's new policy that requires informing viewers about celebrity spokespeople's financial ties to pharmaceutical companies has led to increased scrutiny of such campaigns.

"The key word is 'transparency,'" said Jim Coyne, senior manager of public affairs for AstraZeneca. He explained that it has always been his company's policy to fully disclose its involvement with celebrity appearances. But whether or not media outlets will be hesitant to run such segments anymore will depend on "the relationship that outlet has with a particular agency or company," he said.

Mary Semling, SVP of entertainment marketing for Edelman, agreed that fully disclosing affiliations is necessary now that CNN's policy - announced in late August - is in place. "Using celebrities is not new. What is new is the media saying they did not know about the drug-company connection. It is imperative that we be up-front about the relevancy of our spokespeople."

CNN's decision stemmed from controversy surrounding the motives of pharmaceutical companies paying celebrities as spokespeople for certain drug brands.

Critics of the tactic argued that it was being used to avoid having to adhere to regulations that require advertisements for drugs to include warnings about their potential side effects. Pharma companies countered that celebrities are used to raise awareness about health issues so that people will seek further information.

Recent examples that have brought the issue to light include an appearance by Kathleen Turner earlier this year on Good Morning America. The actress was plugging arthritis drug Enbrel, made by bio-pharmaceutical company Immunex.

"There are definitive regulations in place when it's advertising," noted Semling, "but it's not as clear when it comes to PR."

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