PhRMA reviewing its PR agencies

WASHINGTON: The drug industry's trade association, a profoundly influential force in Washington, has launched a review of all its PR and lobbying agencies.

WASHINGTON: The drug industry's trade association, a profoundly influential force in Washington, has launched a review of all its PR and lobbying agencies.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), which works with numerous PR and lobbying shops across the country, issued the first of what may be several RFPs last month.

The contract involves state and grassroots work, according to Ken Johnson, SVP of communications.

APCO Worldwide, Edelman, Fleishman-Hillard, and Hill & Knowlton are currently pitching for the business, and other agencies might be invited to pitch as well, Johnson noted.

Both APCO and Edelman have previously worked on PhRMA accounts.

Peter Segall, GM of Edelman's Washington office, said only, "We have done work for PhRMA in the past, and we would be delighted to be doing work for them again."

Representatives at APCO were not immediately available for comment.

Johnson noted that other RFPs will likely be issued as the trade association continues "reviewing and analyzing" its relationships with agencies.

PhRMA is under new leadership this year after former congressman Billy Tauzin (R-LA) stepped into the role of president and CEO on Jan. 3.

He then recruited Johnson, his longstanding aide, to head PR. Johnson served previously as chief spokesman and communications director for the House Select Committee on Homeland Security.

Rick Smith, who temporarily had PR folded into his SVP position, will now oversee policy for PhRMA.

Tauzin joins the trade group at a time when the drug industry is facing questions about the high cost of drugs and their safety post-approval.

Since Tauzin arrived, he has made the image of the drug industry a top priority at PhRMA, said Jack Angel, former director of the Coalition for Healthcare Communication.

"These are extraordinary times for the industry," Angel said. "There's a sense of urgency that we need to better connect with the public at large. This must be their way of getting in focus."

In interviews with the media late last year, Tauzin said drug companies must "re-earn the trust and confidence of the American public."

He has recently taken steps to make himself more accessible to the public, launching initiatives such as the "Ask Billy" feature on the PhRMA website.

PhRMA members include Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, and Johnson & Johnson, among others.

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