Media Industry Helped Drug Firms

When the Democratic-led Congress started debating a big Food and Drug Administration bill earlier this year, pharmaceutical companies worried that it would sharply restrict one of their most powerful sales-boosting tools -- drug ads.

But in the final bill, which passed the House overwhelmingly on Wednesday and the Senate last night, such marketing is largely spared. One major reason: the drug industry found powerful allies among media and advertising firms who were determined to protect one of their biggest and fastest-growing advertising categories.

The toughest drug-ad restriction in early drafts of the bill gave the FDA authority to block a drug company from advertising a medication that carried serious safety concerns. That was left on the cutting-room floor. The FDA will get new power to require drug companies to submit TV ads for review before they run, but it can only recommend changes, not require them. The bill lets the agency levy fines for false and misleading ads.

Some are glad drug-advertising rules aren't headed for a major shift. "The upside is the fact that it's not changing significantly, because it could have been an ugly picture," says Mike Rutstein, executive vice president of consumer health care at Interpublic Group PLC's DraftFCB, which creates ads for companies including Wyeth and Eli Lilly & Co. [From Media Industry Helped Drug Firms Fight Ad Restraints -]

Surprisingly, Democratic Congress-critters are no less immune to the siren call of lobbyist dollars than their counterparts in the Republican Part. Who woulda thunk?

lobbying groups including the National Association of Broadcasters and the Advertising Coalition, which represents a broad spectrum of media interests and advertisers, swung into action. For some in that industry, the idea that regulators would be able to block ads about a new drug was a business disaster in the making. In the U.S., pharmaceuticals were the tenth biggest advertiser in 2006, spending $5.3 billion, or 3.5% of the total $149.6 billion U.S. ad market.

Pharmaceuticals also registered the highest growth rate among the top 10 U.S. advertisers, growing 13.8% to $5.3 billion from $4.6 billion in 2006. Advertising and media firms also feared Congress might later try to enact such restrictions on other types of ads. "People just looked and they were incredulous," says Harry Sweeney, chairman of Dorland Global Corp., a health marketing and communications firm that is a unit of Huntsworth PLC. "You're getting into a very slippery-slope area." The lobby solicited letters from legal scholars and groups across the political spectrum testifying that the moratorium would violate the First Amendment and would likely be struck down by courts.

The messages were conveyed through a campaign of visits, letters and calls to key lawmakers from advertising firms and broadcasters, as well as other media companies. Many members of Congress heard from media interests in their home districts, according to lobbyists and congressional staffers.

In the Senate, Kansas Republican Pat Roberts fought against the moratorium and won when his amendment was added to the bill. In the House, a subcommittee voted to kill the moratorium by adopting an amendment co-sponsored by Democratic Rep. Edolphus Towns of New York.

"We view the entire thing as a First Amendment issue," says Rick Blake, a staffer for Mr. Towns, who says his office heard from some media interests including the Advertising Coalition.

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This page contains a single entry by swanksalot published on September 22, 2007 12:52 PM.

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