Let's be clear. As one who has spent half a life working in the increasingly regulated “pay for what you get” advertising side of the communication business, I have regarded PR as something of an uncertain universe. The idea that a client could spend money on a communication service and only might receive media coverage was a notion I found confusing.
However, what has become clear is the important and expanding role PR can play in the transmission of healthcare information that is potentially problematic to promote through conventional channels. Elevating news of a new study whose findings may fall outside of the stringent guidelines of approved indication is a place where PR shines; and gaining awareness through media coverage is probably the surest way of getting this information to consumers and physicians.
Although there will always be a direct correlation between advertising claims and study results, the “grey gap” between what is supported for use in promotion and what has been found in a study has provided increasing scope for the use of PR as a highly effective communication tool. This opportunity may be further realized when one considers the results of a study* which found up to one-fifth of all prescriptions are prescribed for off-label uses.
An example of PR's effectiveness is found in the coverage of a 2008 study that implied Viagra was beneficial for the treatment of women suffering side effects from SSRIs. The widespread coverage of the study helped foster a positive dialogue, encouraging discussion about a debilitating side effect between women and physicians.
In an environment that is becoming more regulated whilst being more open to public scrutiny, PR holds an important and alluring promise. All that said, I'm sold.
Rob Rogers is co-CEO of Sudler & Hennessey
*David C. Radley, MPH; Stan N. Finkelstein, MD; Randall S. Stafford, MD, PhD Arch Intern Med. 2006;166:1021-1026.