Are pharma PRs helpful, reliable?

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Local and national reporters assigned to the healthcare beat are asking questions about new drugs, the FDA, Medicare and the avian flu. Are pharma PRs meeting the challenge? If not, what advice would you give them to make your job easier?

Diedtra Henderson,
Washington bureau,
Boston Globe 
Most of my dealings have been quite positive. PR employees respond to my requests quickly, completely and, if they expect a delay, give a clear sense of how long it might take to receive an answer. They've responded after journal articles were published, as advisers to the FDA mulled approval decisions, at night, on weekends, on the way to the airport, at home, in the office, by  e-mail, by cell phone—the whole range. One interrupted my interview with an FDA adviser to argue with the adviser. The best anticipate media interest as a PDUFA action date approaches or as key congressional hearings occur. They understand FDA news sometimes breaks late Friday and give a heads-up if they expect to make news. They also understand that stories display better with high-quality art and, due to the sometimes frail nature of our e-mail server, are ready to copy my Hotmail account.

Tony Pugh,
National correspondent, 
Knight Ridder Newspapers 
Most of my contacts with drug company reps are cordia but always with an undercurrent of unease. I think years of aggressive media coverage of problem medications and spiraling drug prices has resulted in a circle-the-wagons mentality. While company spokespeople are generally very professional and return calls in a timely manner, very often they provide no information beyond a standard press release. Some-times they'll even steer questions to PhRMA, rather than answer questions individually. And they're also a bit reluctant to discuss controversies regarding their corporate practices, make company officials available for interviews and disclose information about their research and development costs. Unfortunately, these tendencies only make reporters more aggressive and readers more distrustful. 

Peggy O'Farrell,
Medical writer,
The Cincinnati Enquirer 
There are so many new drugs, both prescription and OTC, coming out every day, it's often difficult to keep them straight. I'd like more useful information on what makes your new heartburn drug work better or cost less or have fewer side effects than the 80 other heartburn drugs already on the market that I don't write about. If you're pitching stories about patients whose lives have been changed, I'd like them to be local. Our focus is regional and, except in special circumstances, we're not really interested in talking to people from outside the Ohio/Kentucky/Indiana region. I have the same issues with pharmaceutical PR reps as I have with reps from other industries: flooding my voicemail and e-mail with unsolicited story pitches. I appreciate persistence, and sometimes I even get decent story tips, but the only thing harassing me will do is send your release to the bottom of the “maybe” pile.

Jonathan Rockoff,
Baltimore Sun 
Most PRs have responded quickly to requests, in time for my deadline. That's important and I appreciate that. Usually, I am trying to get some basic information about a product or a response to an FDA action. Sending a press release or providing some figures often is enough. However, sometimes I'd like more depth. On those occasions, the best thing a PR could do is put me in touch with a knowledgeable company official who is comfortable talking with the media. Understand that I don't always know every question I'm going to ask ahead of time. Two other tips: One, kindly do not call me after pitching a story by e-mail. Two, please pass along sales, prescription, revenue and other statistics. These are a reporter's lifeblood. 
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