PR agency DDB Issues & Advocacy was hired earlier this year to campaign for a favorable FDA decision and on the agency's approval of US sale of the pill, to market it to healthcare professionals, said DDB senior vice president Arlene Fairfield.
Fairfield, in charge of a six-member PR team spread between Seattle, Washington, DC and New York, said that the secrecy associated with the abortion drug is not unlike other campaigns for new pharmaceuticals because nondisclosure agreements are often built into those PR contracts.
Marketing the drug under the name 'Mifeprex,' Danco has gone to great lengths to maintain the anonymity of the pill's manufacturer, even concealing the address of its Manhattan offices to avoid being targeted by anti-abortion groups, which have protested vociferously against the drug's introduction.
But the drug's Web site, earlyoptionpill.com, represents a comprehensive effort to reach the public, media and doctors with a press release archive, detailed scientific information and explanations on how doctors may qualify to prescribe it.
Constrained by FDA application regulations, DDB was unable to publicize mifepristone prior to approval, instead providing embargoed press kits, video and B-roll material to the media as the agency's decision date neared.
'This campaign is unique because it's the biggest story we have ever worked with,' said Fairfield, whose agency works mostly on environmental and reproductive rights issues.
The agency's next task is a direct marketing campaign to health professionals.
PR practitioner and abortion rights activist Rebecca Sive of Chicago's The Sive Group warns against an all-out PR effort. 'Building up a crescendo of understanding is really important' she says. 'With sensitive health issues, it's about educating the consumer first.'
DDB's PR effort may soon face political battles as well. On Capitol Hill October 4, Rep. Tom Coburn (R-OK) joined Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-AK) in introducing legislation aimed at heightening the qualifications required of medical providers seeking to prescribe the drug.
Abortion rights supporters like Simon Heller, director of litigation for New York's Center for Reproductive Law & Policy, contend that the law's requirement that doctors be able to perform surgical abortions in emergencies is an effort to restrict the availability of the drug to abortion clinics.
However, The FDA rules issued with the agency's approval of the drug require only that prescribing doctors have an arrangement with another physician who could perform such an abortion should an emergency occur.