B-M remains silent after ruling

Burson-Marsteller opted to remain tightlipped this week after Janssen-Cilag ­(J-C)'s failed appeal in the cash-for-attendance scandal.

The agency's acting London CEO Jonathan Jordan told PRWeek he had no comment on the episode because Per Heggenes - who was CEO of the agency's UK operations at the time of the blunder in June - had said everything the agency wanted to say on the incident.

Jordan refused to identify the individual who had made what Heggenes described as a ‘mistake' in sending an email to journalists offering them £200 to attend a NICE hearing (PRWeek, 9 June).

He also refused to say whether the individual remained employed by B-M's London health team.

PRWeek understands that B-M is not currently working with J-C, which would not comment on whether it would consider working with the agency again. J-C declined to reveal which agency - if any - was now advising on comms for the drug (Eprex) that the NICE hearing related to.

The Prescription Medicine Code of Practice Authority's (PMCPA) case report has been published on its website at pmcpa.org.uk. The report will also appear in the printed version of its Code of Practice Review this month.

Below, we ask Patrick Barrow, director-general of the PRCA, to interpret what the episode means for agencies and clients more generally.

The PRCA view

Patrick Barrow, Director-general: ‘In PR, almost by definition, the result of enthusiasm outweighing judgement
is public and embarrassing; irrespective of whether client or agency is ultimately culpable.

‘Whatever the ins and outs of this particular case, the results illustrate very clearly how careful both parties have to be when they enter a contract that makes one the agent of the other.

‘Most outside the esoteric and regulated realms of healthcare and financial services will be wondering why this ruling affects them. It does because the law of the land is reflected in the judgement. And vicarious liability affects everybody.  

‘The lessons are many but, broadly, agencies must be fully aware of any regulatory framework - not least the law - under which they must operate.

‘And management must be completely sure that executives working on accounts are fully aware of what they can and cannot do, operating under the simple mantra of: "if in doubt, ask".

‘For clients the lesson is even more important: you may be held responsible for what your agency is doing on your behalf, whether you are aware of it or not. Ignorance is plainly no excuse.

‘The best insurance policy must be ensuring that your approach to agency management puts you in a position to know; even a contract offers only so much protection.

‘So agencies need to be aware that they could be held liable by their clients for damage done, while clients need
to be aware that they can't walk away from the actions of their contractors.'

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