Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Should We Dine at Pharma's Table?

Well, I'm back from Florida. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to escape the after effects of the freaky ice storm that hit the Northeast. I've been chopping 6-inch thick solid ice off my driveway since Sunday! It's no fun going to Florida unless you can laugh at your neighbors who had to shovel snow when you didn't!

Not only am I pissed at that, but I missed out on free drinks and dinner at an upscale New York restaurant hosted by J&J PR people. This was an informal get-together of several bloggers, including Ed Silverman of Pharmalot (see "Bloggers Do What?") and Jim Edwards of BrandweekNRX (see "J&J Hosts Blogger Summit. Much Wine Consumed."), among others yet to fess up.

According to Jim Edwards, blogosphere attendees included: "Fard Johnson of Healthcare Vox, Nicholas Genes from MedGadget, Peter Pitts from DrugWonks, Steven Palter from Doc in the Machine and Ed Silverman from Pharmalot. And me."
As pointed out by Jim, I was invited but cancelled at the last minute, thus insuring that everyone else gossiped about me behind my back. I will reveal here the mysterious reason why I cancelled at the last minute. But first, a little history.

Let me confess that I was responsible for the format of this meeting. Marc Monseau, the director of media relations at J&J who organized the meeting of minds, called me sometime in February and wondered if I'd be willing to come by the J&J offices in New Brunswick, NJ to discuss blogging with some people there.

This was a first for me. It sounded like an interesting opportunity, but for what I wasn't sure. Marc really had no agenda or questions he could share beforehand. So, it sounded like a fishing expedition to me.

As you know, I'm a busy guy and I hate day trips without a clear purpose or benefit to me. As I told Marc, I don't work for a large corporation with an expense account. My time is my money.

I asked if I would be compensated for my time, but Marc demurred. So, he suggested meeting for drinks and conversation. Unfortunately, I only drink during dinner. "Make it dinner with those drinks," I said, "and you got yourself a deal!"

An that's how this dinner thing got started. I feel responsible because I am sure that Marc had something much simpler in mind.

Then I cancel!

Anyone with a suspicious mind -- ie, most PR people -- might view my last minute cancellation as an insult or manipulation on my part. After all, now I am writing this piece on bloggers accepting free meals from pharma and I can take the high road because I did not partake.

BTW, I cancelled for personal reasons (think of Alli oops! side effects and you may guess what those reasons were; imagine me eating a huge steak along with Jeff Leebaw!). I also cancelled an appointment with my dentist, which I was looking forward to with as much gusto as the J&J meetup.

So, J&J, please don't hate me!

But the question remains: Should we bloggers dine at pharma's table?

It did cross my mind that this could be an issue when I first suggested dinner, but I thought harder about it after a conversation with Jim Edwards before I left for vacation. He was concerned about how to pay for the dinner because he could not accept such a freebie. I see that he has worked out a way to do it as has Ed Silverman over at Pharmalot.

The majority of attendees of the J&J soiree were PR wonks or journalists -- birds of a feather that the J&J corporate communications people could easily relate to. Only two of the four journalist bloggers that attended have indicated what their policy is regarding accepting free gifts -- including dinner. As yet, I haven't heard from Fard Johnmar or Peter Pitts. [I suspect Pitts often wines and dines at pharma's table and enjoys it very much, thank you!]

Journalists like Ed and Jim just cannot accept any gratuity from the people they may be investigating and writing stories about. That seems pretty clear.

[BTW, I just learned that Ed Silverman is no longer a journalist. But you still work for a newspaper, right? I don't get what it is you are now.]

But bloggers who are not also journalists are a special case. I'm an even more special case -- sort of in between a journalist blogger and an ordinary blogger. I'm a newsletter publisher/blogger. I also wear all the hats, including the business development hat, which requires that I schmooze with advertisers and help them promote their products and services. So, wining and dining with clients and potential clients is something I do all the time.

After my conversation with Jim, the issue of whether or not I should attend was working it's way through my system and probably lead to the Alli-like condition I developed while on vacation (or was it the Dungeness crab I ate? It could happen: see "F.D.A. Warns Against Eating Organs of Crab").

Subconsciously, I was battling whether or not I should attend. For me, as for most independent bloggers, paying for the drinks and dinner out of pocket wasn't an affordable option.

What would I get in return? I've already taken the pulse of pharma's attitude about blogging by meeting and talking with executives at conferences and through personal contacts -- eg, simple phone calls.

I weighed all these factors and decided I would not dine at J&J's table.

What would you have done?

4 comments:

insider said...

It's better to be inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in!

Seriously.

Go - but then blog about what happened. Dont sign secrecy agreements etc.

I applaud Ed and Jim for writing about the event.

As for the other attendees who haven't said a word........

John Mack said...

Depends on whose tent you are talking about.

It seems to me that pharma wants to get into our tent.

The question is, are bloggers' goals to get inside pharma's tent?

Isn't "outside pissing in" the definition of blogger?

Do people want to tune into bloggers on the inside pissing out?

These are the important blogger pissing questions!

Winston said...

It was a dinner; get over it.

John Mack said...

OK. I'm over it. Thanks for your informed contribution to the discussion and debate. Not!