Earlier this week, we wrote how the European Association for the Study of the Liver had difficulty maintaining an embargo on abstracts to be reviewed at its upcoming annual conference, even though the material is freely available on the Internet (see here). Then Embargo Watch notes that the public relations firm for the EASL is Cohn & Wolfe, which also represents various drugmakers, such as Allergan, Genzyme, Sanofi-Aventis, Boehringer-Ingelheim and Merck ( see this).
This raises a question: how can a public relations firm equitably run the media operations for a professional society conference and simultaneously represent drugmakers who may have a great deal at stake at these conferences? You know, abstracts from one or more clients could be on display at the gathering. How can the EASL feel confident, for instance, that a competitor to a Cohn & Wolfe client gets fair play?
As Embargo Watch points out, drugmakers "are notorious for angling for press attention at meetings, setting up their own press conferences, for example, in violation of society peer review and other regulations. How can a company that represents them be expected to treat them as severely as they would others?" (you can read more here).
However, Cohn & Wolfe is not the only public relations firm to have played both sides of the fence. B&K does the same thing (read this and this), as has Tonic Life (look here and here). But does that make it right?
We asked Cohn & Wolfe to explain how it handles such situations and Mike Kan, the global healthcare practice leader, sent us this: "We have no conflict of interest, as Cohn & Wolfe has always been completely transparent with professional society clients such as the EASL about our pharmaceutical clients. Further, we have installed the proper firewalls to ensure the safeguarding of interests for all of our clients. The fact is, we have represented professional societies for several years and have never had any issues or concerns arise.” We then asked how firewalls work and we were told separate teams are created to permit separate access for differing clients.
We understand that there is just so much business to be had, but we can also imagine that some drugmakers - who are not represented by Cohn & Wolfe, in this instance - may feel uncomfortable or skeptical about the situation. What do you think?
Should Big PR Firms Rep Drugmakers & Medical Societies Simultaneously?
- No (63%, 71 Votes)
- Yes (37%, 42 Votes)
Total Voters: 113photo thx to charlesboesel on flickr