Working with endorsers can be tricky, though BMS reportedly said that every collaboration, except for this one, had been positive. Indeed, the first celebrity campaign -- for the arthritis drug Voltaren(R) -- gave CIBA-Geigy (now part of Novartis) quite a pain in the late 80s. Baseball legend Mickey Mantle, who wasn't taking Voltaren and didn't disclose the corporate relationship, went about as far off message as one can go by proclaiming the drug can cure hangovers!
The WSJ article gives us some insights on how one can minimize the chances of being surprised and disappointed by a patient spokesperson. Here are some principles for your consideration:
- Dont' talk in absolutes. When he switched to Abilify, Mr. Behrman said that all of his drug side effects "went away." This assertion was made repeatedly and never should have been sanctioned by BMS and its PR firm. While Abilify may have a better safety profile than some other atypical antipsychotics, it carries a long list of side effects and warnings on its label.
- Ensure authenticity. The BMS contract didn't require Mr. Behrman to take Abilify yet there he was talking up the benefits.
- Conduct due diligence. Mr. Behrman signed a waiver allowing his doctor to share his medical records but BMS never checked them.
- Communicate good news and bad. Although Mr. Behrman said he was in almost constant contact with BMS and its PR firm, the bad news that he was, in fact, experiencing some side effects and stopped taking the medication was either ignored and/or never brought to a higher level.
- Be prepared to jump the rails. It's hard to pull the plug on a program, an investment, but that's what we must do when things go dangerously off track.