Amusing new rules for drug sales representatives

Hilarity Ensues

Imagine if one of the presidential candidates were to announce a new “get tough” policy to curb the influence of Washington lobbyists, and the key provision of the new policy called for all lobbyists to stop giving free pens and coffee mugs to congressmen.

You’d laugh in his face.

And when everyone realized that the new policy wouldn’t take effect for another five months, and even then it would be completely voluntary, the candidate would be mocked throughout Washington, on late night television, and in all variety of political blogs.

Welcome to the hilarious new PhRMA guidelines for drug sales representatives.

Removing that look

Every few years we’re entertained with some light comedy from the drug industry advocacy group known as PhRMA (Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America). PhRMA officials probably don’t intend to make us laugh, but somehow they always manage to look silly when they’re trying to be so earnest.

Earlier this month, PhRMA released some new guidelines for salesmen who bring gifts along on their many visits to doctors’ offices. According to the new provisions, salesmen can still bring meals for office staff when making “informal presentations.”

In other words – “Who wants pizza!? And by the way, here’s a big box of free samples of blockbuster drugs you can give out to your patients to get them started. See you next week! I’ll bring the sushi!” (And that concludes our informal presentation.)

But now PhRMA is going to spoil at least part of that little party. Because, sadly, there will be no more handouts of free pens, coffee mugs, clip boards, note pads, note pad caddies, lotion bottles, etc., emblazoned with pharmaceutical logos.

Actually, there will be TONS of these items for another five months before the new voluntary rules take effect.

Billy Tauzin, PhRMA’s president and chief executive officer, told Reuters that all these office products printed with logos present “the look of an unprofessional relationship. Removing that look is important.”

Right. We get it. Most patients are never really aware that the guy or gal delivering lunch for the office staff is a drug salesperson. So while that might be an unprofessional relationship, unlike the product logos plastered everywhere, it doesn’t have the glaringly obvious look of totally selling out to the drug companies.

Big bucket of money

But PhRMA reps aren’t the only comedians at work here. Seamus Fernandez, an analyst for Leerink Swann (a healthcare investment bank) offered up a bizarre knee slapper, telling Reuters that while the new measure won’t add up to big savings, over time, drug companies might see cost cuts from reducing the need for representatives.

Seamus? Seriously? You honestly believe that drug reps are basically just office supply delivery people? Please. They’re one of the three vital links that keep drug company sales rolling higher and higher. (The other tw the FDA and direct-to-consumer advertising.)

Last year, an AstraZeneca newsletter carried this quote from an AZ sales manager: “I see it like this: There is a big bucket of money sitting in every office. Every time you go in, you reach your hand in the bucket and grab a handful. The more times you are in, the more money goes in your pocket.”

There’s your reality. Take away the logos on pens and mugs and you’re removing ONLY the look, not the reality.

As I’ve noted in many e-Alerts, the relationship between doctors and drug reps will only change when doctors start saying no to pens, mugs, packs of free drug samples, staff lunches, and everything else. Politely turn these guys away at the door, and the look changes along with the reality.

“PhRMA Revised Marketing Code Reinforces Commitment to Responsible Interactions with Healthcare Professionals” Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, 7/10/08,
“New Drug Marketing Code Draws Line at Gift Pens” Deepa Seetharaman, Reuters, 7/11/08,