Judge and Jury: Media relations could have got better treatment for shyness drug - Before launching the shyness drug Seroxat, SmithKline Beecham should have paid more attention to planning media relations says Paul Blackburn, managing director of Ketchum

People afflicted by social phobia or social anxiety disorder aren’t just shy. They’ll totally avoid situations many of us take for granted, regardless of the consequences to their job, relationships or their health.

People afflicted by social phobia or social anxiety disorder aren’t

just shy. They’ll totally avoid situations many of us take for granted,

regardless of the consequences to their job, relationships or their

health.



Last week SmithKline Beecham launched a drug, Seroxat, to treat social

phobia. Shyness, the lay media terminology for social phobia, grabbed

the headlines when the Sunday Times led reports of its imminent

availability on the NHS, with a comparison between Seroxat and Viagra as

lifestyle drugs. It put the cost to the NHS as a massive pounds 700

million a year.



By Monday the Daily Mail had the cost down to pounds 250 million, but

continued to link Seroxat to the controversy over lifestyle drugs. These

were worrying times for SmithKline which saw how Viagra was banned from

the NHS due to cost fears.



Both stories ran before SmithKline Beecham’s press conference last

Thursday, where the company and psychiatrists put Seroxat’s case. The

Times subsequently wrote a balanced piece, the Guardian incorporated the

company line and a NHS bill of pounds 24 million.



For a drug such as this, evaluation is through quality of message and

previous comparisons with Viagra were at most unhelpful. Seroxat’s link

with lifestyle drugs could be foreseen. So it begs the question, how

much was done to prepare for and manage the product’s introduction?



Ensuring that all audiences appreciate the context and implications of

the product’s introduction is essential and should include the

media.



Psychiatrists led the press conference but failed to convince

journalists of the seriousness of the illness or the measures to

identify those deserving of treatment. Why? Lack of planning, briefing,

preparation, time in consultation with the media? All too often,

companies allow too little time for the complex series of tasks needed

to ensure successful media relations.



Would the media have taken the line it did if third party organisations

had supported the product more widely?



This weekend the Independent stated that the cost to the NHS of pounds

700 million a year was probably on target and that the arguments for

Seroxat’s availability are not convincing. However, no one has

questioned the effectiveness of the product - a crucial issue for the

public and doctors alike.



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