Posted by Amanda Chapel
CarryOn CEO Latest to Pre-Qualify for Spot in Hell
It's a warm spring day. Recess fills the air at St. Mary's Elementary in Westfield, New Jersey as the schoolyard is teeming with hopscotch, jump rope and tag. Up pulls a gleaming white van and out pours a half dozen or so young pretty bright-faced PR account execs loaded down with press kits, fact sheets, brochures and oodles of free samples. They're here to educate and inform the 7th and 8th graders of the long-term benefits of "vitamin K"... in the new brand of Philip Morris cigarettes.
Well, of course not. But, there is a rising trend in PR that isn't too far from it. Cause marketers today now have their sights on the pot of gold that's at the end of America's drug-crazed rainbow. A few days ago CarryOn Communication, Inc., "a leading brand marketing, public relations and communication firm, announced the formation of its Advocacy and Social Marketing Practice," "to build upon the agency's significant pharmaceutical and healthcare business."
Yikes! Well that surely guarantees their CEO a spot in Hell. But you know; he'll have company. Pharma is one of the most ethically murky areas in PR today. The promotion of out-and-out Ponzi schemes aside, with regard to pushing drugs and drug companies, the profession seems to have lengthened their sounding line to plumb new depths.
Here, let's look at how this came about, why now, what now and what next.
HOW IT CAME ABOUT
Imagine two distinct vines that grow to intertwine and become hopelessly inextricable. The maturation of Cause Marketing and the consumerization of the pharmaceutical business ultimately have come together to form an inseparable and unholy alliance.
Maturation of Cause Marketing
Carol's credentials by some accounts are even more impressive. First, for Rockport Shoes circa 1982, she personally made the walking craze an international phenomena. Since then a few of her accomplishments include: $300 million raised through the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade and Worldwide Fund for Women's Health; One million meals served annually through ConAgra Foods' Feeding Children Better program; 550 new SAVE (Students Against Violence Everywhere) chapters created in US high schools as part of Chevy R.O.C.K. (Reaching Out to Communities and Kids); 10-year, $100 million commitment to improve school readiness among millions of young children through PNC Grow Up Great; and $20 million raised in 3 months to fight heart disease through American Heart Association's Go Red for Women campaign.
Absolutely stellar work. Quite moving on both a professional and personal level. Rare is the time in PR when one even gets the opportunity to do something meaningful. What a legacy. (Full disclosure, I am honored to have been associated with Carol Cone in my career.)
So let's look at cause-related marketing from a pure business perspective. The idea behind cause-related marketing is to personify the corporation as a "good guy." People are much more inclined to buy from "good guys." The pinnacle of both Jerry and Carol's lifetime achievement is that they've proven that corporate responsibility makes business sense. Indirectly, their clients sold a lot of stuff as a result of their "good works."
Consumerization of the Pharmaceutical Business
In the book, "Selling Sickness: How the World's Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies Are Turning Us All Into Patients"(Nation Books, 2005), Ray Moynihan and Alan Cassels examine how the drug industry has transformed the way we think about physical and mental health with the idea of converting more of us into customers. The book opens with an eerie prediction. Thirty years ago, the head of the drug company Merck made candid comments about how unfortunate it was that company's market was limited to sick people. He suggested he would like Merck to be more like the maker of Wrigley's chewing gum. It was his dream to make drugs for healthy people so they could "sell to everyone." It is that dream now that drives the marketing machinery of the most profitable industry ever.
WHY IS IT A PROBLEM NOW
Simple, drug companies have gone too far in their consumer advertising efforts, have come under scrutiny and pressure from Capitol Hill and others. Pharmaceutical advertising are now the things of pop culture.
In an article title "The great direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising con," Dani Veracity for NewsTarget writes:
And in the white paper, "Blurring the Boundaries, New Trends in Drug Promotion" by Barbara Mintzes, she writes, "The underlying problem is a tension between optimal use of medicines only if and when they are known to improve health, and the pressure companies are under to continuously expand product sales. The World Health Organization (WHO) described 'an inherent conflict of interest between the legitimate business goals of manufacturers and the social, medical and economic needs of providers and the public to select and use drugs in the most rational way.'"
Too far! The ads look like sexy lingerie commercials and old farts in Congress and the FDA got spooked. So feeling the heat, the drug companies decided to regulate themselves before they got regulated. They issued industry guidelines last summer, "Pharmaceutical Industry Issues New Direct-to-Consumer Drug Advertising Guidelines in Response to Increasing Criticism from Congress":
This was reiterated last January. In "Drug companies tone down advertising," Theresa Agovino for the Associated Press writes,
"Facing a furor over its advertising practices and the potential of more government regulation, the pharmaceutical industry adopted voluntary guidelines in January to improve the accuracy and balance of ads so the severity of diseases and drugs' side effects aren't whitewashed. The guidelines, announced last summer, have already sparked changes: Spending on brand advertising is flat while disease awareness campaigns are flourishing. The look of the ads has become more straightforward; doctors bluntly describing products is becoming de rigueur. The possibility of more government regulation looms. Late last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration held two days of public hearings on drug advertising and is now reviewing comments on the subject. The FDA said it is too early to say whether any new rules will be instituted, but some say it is likely."
Now to keep their commitment to Wall Street and their shareholders, drug companies are scrambling to find new avenues to basically do the same thing. The drug companies are shifting money away from television ads into other avenues such as public relations and the Internet. Enter cause marketing.
For comparison, here are a few chapters from Selling Sickness followed by a few quotes from the CarryOn Communications announcement.
Chapters include: Doughnuts for the doctors, Working with celebrities, Partnering with patients, Making risks into medical conditions, Advertising disease, Shaping public perceptions, Testing the markets, and Taming the watchdogs.
Sounds like PR.
From the announcement:
Kevin Grangier, CEO of CarryOn said, "A long-time service objective of CarryOn, the Advocacy and Social Marketing Practice positions our clients to optimize their brands around critical social issues and allows us to further affect behavioral change among consumers and policy makers."
Mark Bennett, the newly appointed head of the Advocacy and Social Marketing Practice at CarryOn Communications said, "Drawing from CarryOn's extraordinary consumer branding and marketing expertise, DC's new Advocacy and Social Marketing Practice will offer powerful, creative and integrated solutions to organizations challenged by particular issues. CarryOn's creative flexibility will provide new outlets and opportunity for organizations looking to define their position around social issues."
More simply stated by Ray Moynihan author of Selling Sickness, "The marketing people and the sophisticated PR people who work for them are doing what shareholders demand of them. They're looking for ways to maximize markets."
Okay... so why is this a mortal sin guaranteeing Kevin Grangier a place in hell? Because of the surreptitiousness. Because of what he's trying to sell us without telling us. Because "issues" are always about leveraging fear and spinning fact. Because it is positioned as if to have deeper meaning as if the company cares. Finally, because these guys believe that if you take more drugs, they'll all get richer. They're right. Such are the wages of evil on earth.
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Excellent analysis, Amanda. Regardless of the seemingly obvious motivation, can you really blame Mr. Grangier and his agency from capitalizing on such a high-potential and highly-lucrative opportunity? I don't, although I do not necessarily agree with it. This is precisely what any astute agency executive would do, and Grangier is just that. To his, and the agency's, credit, CarryOn has been one of the hottest and most successful shops here in Los Angeles (where I am based) for some years now, and his growing client roster, agency billings, and account staff certainly reflect that. Only time will tell if this was a sound decision on Grangier's part. Like the Doug Dowie/FH trial, the jury is still out...
"Because of what he's trying to sell us without telling us. Because 'issues' are always about leveraging fear and spinning fact."
Good thing we have medbloggers (http://www.medlogs.com/) to "translate".