NEW YORK: In a move that occurs as some recent direct-to-consumer (DTC) marketing efforts have come under close scrutiny by both regulators and the media, drug giant Pfizer has quietly launched a proactive media- relations initiative to highlight what the company feels are the positive aspects of DTC.
DTC is the marketing of prescription drugs directly to consumers, which has become a staple of the pharmaceutical industry's marketing efforts in recent years.
Last month, Pfizer began disseminating a reference binder to reporters containing studies and additional support materials about DTC.
The resource, called Speaking to Consumers, was sent to approximately 75 media outlets. It was addressed primarily to the national policy reporters who frequently cover pharmaceuticals and DTC marketing.
Pfizer decided to distribute the binders, which were originally developed and distributed to policy-makers last year, to newsrooms because of the coverage DTC is now receiving in the media.
"The DTC debate is very much in the public eye today," said Dorothy Wetzel, VP of the consumer marketing group, US pharmaceuticals for Pfizer. "We wanted to make sure we were on the record showing why the ads have been a positive thing."
Included in the binder are surveys from Harvard and MIT, the FDA, and the National Medical Association, as well as some "myth versus fact sheets."
"It's your classic PR tactic," said Michal Fishman, director of US pharmaceuticals PR for Pfizer. "This is us saying, 'Hi, we're out here. Use us to get the whole story.'"
The binders reach journalists' desks just as the FDA has taken steps to heighten its efforts to increase regulation of DTC efforts.
Last month, the agency told Bristol-Myers Squibb it had to stop running advertisements that made exaggerated claims about its cholesterol-lowing drug, Pravachol.
This week, the FDA is expected to hold a meeting to review appropriate guidelines for advertising drugs.
"No one is going to argue that DTC is not a potent tactic," said Peter Pitts, head of external relations at the FDA. "The question becomes, how can it be more of an educational tool? Answering that goes beyond these ads."
However, Fishman said that Pfizer's resource guides were not developed in response to FDA crackdowns. Nevertheless, she acknowledged that the materials were in step with
the FDA's call on the industry to be forthcoming in its marketing efforts.