Burson-Marsteller has blamed ‘human error' for what it describes as a ‘total breach of policy', after offering journalists financial inducements to attend a NICE appeal hearing.
Ahead of the hearing, which concerned a NICE judgment affecting one of its clients, B-M sent out an email to reporters, saying: ‘As it is possible that the hearing will take up most of the day, and we understand that your time is valuable, we are able to offer £200 (€293) if you wish to attend.'
The appeal, which was held last Friday, concerned NICE's rejection of the use of erythropoietins for chemotherapy-induced anaemia.
The agency reportedly told Agence de Presse Medicale for Reuters Health that it was working for Ortho Biotech - part of the Johnson & Johnson Group - which is behind the brand Procrit/Eprex, and that the payment reflected the likely duration of the hearing.
NICE chairman Professor Sir Michael Rawlins told Agence de Presse Medicale, which first reported on B-M's email last week, that the offer was ‘entirely inappropriate'. A broader media statement added: ‘It is disappointing that a PR firm finds it necessary to offer financial incentives for journalists to attend NICE public appeal hearings.'
UK chief executive Per Heggenes told PRWeek: ‘It was a total breach of policy - human error. It was not something the client knew about, and was a mistake by an individual. It shouldn't have happened. The client is supportive.'
Heggenes added: ‘We have communicated to each journalist that this was not our policy, and have rectified it with NICE and apologised.'
A NICE spokeswoman said in a statement: ‘We are satisfied that the matter has now been resolved.'