Pfizer bids to seize control of public healthcare issues

NEW YORK: Concerned that the public is not interested in hearing drug companies' solutions to their own serious issues, Pfizer is turning to a team led by Edelman in an effort to reverse the situation before irreparable legislative damage is done.

NEW YORK: Concerned that the public is not interested in hearing drug companies' solutions to their own serious issues, Pfizer is turning to a team led by Edelman in an effort to reverse the situation before irreparable legislative damage is done.

Last month, Pfizer issued an RFP painting a dour picture of its prospects in the current political climate. "The past year has been a difficult one for the pharmaceutical industry, it read. "Public opinion is at its lowest point since 1993, and given the amount of legislative and legal activity surrounding healthcare, we expect that we will remain front and center in the public consciousness."

The loosely outlined campaign would "neutralize public receptivity to anti-pharma messages, and increase public interest in Pfizer's own solutions to issues such as Medicare and tort reform. Last week, Edelman emerged as Pfizer's choice from a field of four finalists.

Nehl Horton, Pfizer's senior director of corporate communications, stressed that Edelman is only exploring the feasibility of such an effort. "I think anyone who's had their ear tuned to the public discourse would understand that the pharmaceutical industry is a hot topic of debate in political and public policy circles these days, he said. "We've decided to expand our existing relationship with Edelman to talk about some strategies we might adopt to increase awareness and understanding about our company, and public policy issues that are being faced by us and our competitors."

A budget has not been set, but sources close to the situation insist it would have to be in the seven figures. Though Pfizer is concentrating on the short term for now, the RFP explains that this campaign "is only the first step in what must be a long-term process to build a national consensus on the value of the pharmaceutical industry, and confidence in Pfizer specifically."

Regardless of what action may be taken, Edelman has already compiled a bipartisan team of heavyweights to wage the campaign. The team, headed by Nancy Turett, president and global director of Edelman Health, consists of former Clinton press secretary Mike McCurry's Grassroots Enterprise; The Glover Park Group, which includes McCurry successor Joe Lockhart; and Republican ad and political consulting shop National Media.

Glover Park was one of eight firms to receive the RFP, though it was not among the finalists. APCO, Burson-Marsteller, Weber Shandwick, and Edelman gave final oral presentations the week ending August 2.

"There are all kinds of public policy issues afoot in the healthcare industry, Horton said. "Comprehensive Medicare reform, a patients' bill of rights, prescription drug coverage, tort reform - not to say we plan to address any of those specifically, he added, "but all those issues are on the table."

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