Aventis on alert as Michael Moore plans healthcare industry documentary

BRIDGEWATER, NJ: At least one major pharmaceutical company is attempting to seal up any cracks in its communication front before it can be exploited by filmmaker Michael Moore in his next movie ? tentatively titled Sicko and scheduled for release next year ? which will focus on the healthcare industry.

BRIDGEWATER, NJ: At least one major pharmaceutical company is attempting to seal up any cracks in its communication front before it can be exploited by filmmaker Michael Moore in his next movie ? tentatively titled Sicko and scheduled for release next year ? which will focus on the healthcare industry.

Aventis recently sent out internal e-mail and voicemail messages to US-based field associates warning them to be on the lookout for Moore. The text of the voicemail ? which was also reproduced in the e-mail ? reads in part: "We have learned through PhRMA, our industry trade association, that Michael Moore has begun work on his next documentary, which will focus on the pharmaceutical industry and managed care... Reports from various pharma companies indicate that their field personnel have been approached by Mr. Moore for comment." The message instructs Aventis associates to direct "Moore or anyone associated with his film" to the corporate communications department in Bridgewater.

The e-mail, which was obtained from a source not directly connected to Aventis by PRWeek, states that it was sent on behalf of Chip Rouse, Aventis' North American VP of communications and corporate relations. It says that Moore has been approaching sales reps for comment "and/or using actors to pose as sales reps and then staging interactions with physicians." The e-mail also notes that, "I have discussed this with Pascal [Soriot, SVP and COO of Aventis Pharmaceuticals] and he has authorized the sales VPs or RDs and medical directors to issue a voicemail with the goal of helping our associates avoid a potentially difficult situation."

Rouse would not return calls for this article. Christine Kirby, senior manager in US communications for Aventis, when asked about the specific e-mail obtained by PRWeek, said, "we routinely provide our field force with heads-up info" such as the Moore advisory, characterizing the messages as a normal informational reminder of policy. Kirby would not speculate on what the repercussions would be for an associate who spoke directly to Moore, but said she was "not aware" of any who had been approached to date.

PhRMA communications manager Court Rosen declined to elaborate on what the association has heard about Moore's actions, or what companies he might have contacted. Rosen did say, "What we really need is a serious debate on healthcare based on facts, not just another one-sided mockumentary."

Rosen gave the same quote almost verbatim in a Chicago Tribune story last week that discussed the healthcare industry buzz over the film.

Mark Benoit, Michael Moore's spokesperson, would not confirm that Moore has begun work on the film, though would not rule it out. "He could be doing preliminary work, I'm not sure," Benoit told PRWeek. "He does work really hard, so I wouldn't put it past him."

Benoit said he has heard rumors of pharmaceutical companies circulating internal memos about the movie, but has not actually seen any. On commenting on the text of Aventis' e-mail, he said, "They have reason to worry, because when [Moore] takes on a project, it's well-documented... it's the truth."

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