Health care public relations 101 – continued

It’s been quite a week for journalists to tell stories about how medical industry PR people have tried to manipulate them.

There was the minimum $100 offer.

Then the $250 offer.

And now Peggy Peck of MedPage Today writes, “The wolf in sheep’s clothing.” She posts and writes about an email she recently received:

Here is an edited (to protect the not-so-innocent, and to add emphasis where I feel warranted) copy of the email:

“I wanted to see if you were interested in an interview opportunity we have coming up about vaccines for teens and preteens.

Preteens and teens are at risk for a number of diseases including human papillomavirus (HPV), meningitis, pertussis (whooping cough) and tetanus. While many moms may say vaccination is important for their preteens and teens, they don’t typically remember to ask about them when taking their child to the doctor’s office.

The interview would be with ____, Director of Infectious Diseases _________. The interview will be by phone and we will record and send it to you . . . _________ will be available to talk to your reader about certain diseases that can affect preteens and teens and resources where parents can get more information.”

Okay, so maybe you would say what is the problem here? Just a PR person being helpful. I would say beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Back to the email:

“Possible interview questions:

* What diseases can affect preteens and teens?
* What did the survey reveal about American moms’ awareness of these diseases?
* Where can moms go to learn more?”


Giving a reporter suggested questions?

And now, the coup de grace:

“Thank you,
Dan Schwartzberg
News Broadcast Network
Interview provided by Merck”

Does anyone think this is journalism?

In the interest of disclosure, let me say that I’m not averse to receiving emails from agencies, nor am I averse to receiving press releases, heads-up announcements about media availabilities, and — at times — help in contacting researchers.

But at MedPage Today we draw the line at having PR people anonymously monitor interviews. Our rule is simple: we prefer to do the interview without a PR handler present, but if one is present in person or on the phone, we include that information in our articles.

And under no circumstances do we let PR people tell us what to ask.

Nope, nada, non, nien, nyet.

Thanks, Peggy. If anyone else has any other PR tales to share, we’re listening – and sharing.

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bob allen

May 13, 2011 at 10:35 am

Good lord. It’s this type of krap that gives PR a bad rap.
Bob Allen, Syracuse


May 13, 2011 at 11:24 am

Hi Gary–your posts this week have been very enlightening and call to attention cases of poor media relations practices. I hope more PR folks read them and learn from them.
I used to work in a PR healthcare agency, so I can tell when a pitch reeks of client review. More than likely, this pitch went through a few rounds before it made it into Ms. Peck’s inbox. Who knows what happend in those stages or who made the recommendation to include suggested questions. Thankfully, Ms. Peck doesn’t hold this against all PR folks, and instead, uses it as an opportunity to explain what Med Page Today will and won’t do when working with them.
PR folks in agencies often have to educate their clients on the various intricacies of media relations. Some clients listen, some don’t, and unfortunately, the PR agent bears the brunt of the latter. It’s always a learning process and one can only hope that PR folks uphold ethical standards and respect a media outlet’s standards as well.