Tuesday, April 1, 2008

'Round the Sphere: Mothballs and a High Source

What's the difference between an award-winning journalist blogger and a plain old blogger? The journalist blogger can call the CEO of Sepracor and get a quote, the plain old blogger has to rely on his wits and talk to the non-C suite employees to get his information.

Yesterday, Ed Silverman and I were speakers at an industry conference where we learned something about the Lunesta ad campaign from an inside source.

Ed left the meeting promptly after his panel and I thought he would surely beat me to the punch and blog about what we learned at the conference.

But no! I beat him to the punch and published my story first last night (see "Sepracor Not So Keen to Spend Big on DTC for Its Next Product!") whereas Ed didn't get his story out until this afternoon (see "The Lunesta Moth Won’t Be Mothballed... Yet")! I believe that's called a "scoop" in journalism as in I "scooped Ed!"

How did that happen?

Here's my take on it: Ed wanted that quote from Adrian Adams, Sepracor’s ceo. This is what journalists call "checking your sources," or something like that. But mostly, it's a courtesy call. You never know when access to that ceo can come in handy later for another story!

But Ed had to wait for Adrian's quote. First, Adrian had to get the back story and check with David Lapinski, Associate Director, Commercial Analytics at Sepracor who spilled the beans about the moth at the conference and who was the source of information for the moth story, which I anticipated long before I heard it from him (see "Lunesta Moth Being Mothballed as a Result of Negative Marketing ROI").

Then Adrian had to meet with Sepracor's corporate communications person who would actually compose the words to be quoted.

Finally, Adrian called Ed and gave him the quote.

Meanwhile, here's what I did. I talked to some Sanofi-Aventis marketing people at lunch during the conference and got a few other tidbits ofinformation. Of course, these sources could not be quoted.

When you want to really know what's going on in a company, who should you talk to? The CEO? Or should you bypass him and seek out more reliable sources?


esilverman said...

Hi John,

Sorry to say, but your chronology and explanation is incorrect.

Here's what happened: Last week, you first wrote about the new Lunesta ad and speculated the moth was on its way out. I called and wrote the Sepracor pr person, Jonae Barnes, but two days went by and she never replied. So I called Adams directly last Thursday night and left a message. He called me last Friday morning and we spoke briefly about whether the moth is going for good. You saw his response.

Then came the panel this past Monday morning, where Sepracor's David Lapinski made his remarks about the dimishing returns of DTC over time. Like you, I found his comment interesting and planned to write about it. And I did - and gave you full credit for your earlier post and a link, as well.

Why did I not write about it immediately? One, although you were only speculating, you did guess correctly the previous week that that we would see less of the moth. So the idea was already circulating for nearly a week. Two, I had other items to write - I made a judgement call to continue to follow ACC developments and was tracking an exclusive item about Provenge. The moth item was interesting and noteworthy, but not an 'exclusive' at that point.

( I didn't leave the meeting that morning, by the way. I sat in the back for awhile before finding another spot in the hotel to work).

I post a lot of items and recognize I can't always be first with an item. I make my decisions and live with them. Nonetheless, I congratulate you for noticing the change in Lunesta advertising last week and asking a good question about return on investment.

Sorry, though, that you feel the need to inflate your standing by poking at me publicly. But if that sort of thing makes you feel better, go right ahead. I would suggest, however, that you avoid making too many assumptions. You looked smart in your posts about the Lunesta moth, but less so with this latest missive.

Ed at Pharmalot

John Mack said...


Thanks for your comments.

Of course I feel the need to inflate my standing as a blogger and especially at the expense of journalist bloggers with a lot more resources and business connections at their disposal. If a lone blogger can beat a journalist to publish a story -- even a "non-exclusive" one -- then chalk one up for the power of blogs -- the press for the rest of us.

I am sorry that you did not appreciate being the brunt of my jokes, but this blog is about pharma bloggers and my personal inside view of what they are up to. Welcome to the distinguished list of bloggers I have "roasted" here in this blog -- which you have to segregate from what I do on Pharma Marketing Blog and in my newsletter. Just a reminder -- I have been the target of many public roasts myself.

Anyway, who "broke" the story first is not as important as illustrating how journalists and bloggers approach the same story differently and your reply added a bit more.

1. Journalists seek sources high up in the organization -- eg, CEOs -- who have the least credibility with the public whereas bloggers often get information from the lower eschelons who are in the front lines. Of course, I was speculating in your case, but so what? This is not unbiased reporting (not "fair and balanced") -- which is another thing that distinguishes bloggers from journalists.

2. Journalists have to contend with breaking "exclusive" stories in order to compete and further their own "reputations" whereas bloggers can also focus on the trivial, which later may become top stories (for example, I wrote about Jarvik as a poor spokesperson for Lipitor and revealed that he was not a rower nearly a year before it was "discovered" by Congress and then by you and other journalists. To me it was just a fun story to blog about, to a journalist it wasn't important unless Congress investigated!)

I can probably go on and on about this because I think the topic of bloggers vs. journalists and whether or not the line between the two is being blurred is interesting and should be discussed and debated. As a journalist you should be talking more about that at conferences instead of being on panels that discuss the merit of DTC advertising!

esilverman said...

Hi John,

Again, assumptions can work against you. Despite resources and connections, I couldn't get Sepracor's pr person, Jonae Barnes, to respond to my phone calls or e-mail. In my view, she needs some communications training. I knew Adams, a little, because he used to run Kos, and so out of frustration, I left a message for him, complaining that his communications person wasn't communicating. I didn't think he'd call back, but I guess he remembered me. I suppose it was a courtesy call. Of course, no ceo wants to hear that their pr person is unresponsive, which was another reason I rang him.

Anyway, as to your discussion about blogger and journalists, I think the point is fast becoming moot. The lines are blurring and my role at Pharmalot is a perfect example - I try to bring the same journalistic standards to the site, but the venue requires me to adjust my role and my view of my own work. I write about big picture topics and smaller matters, so long as they're of interest to my audience. Sure, I have an advantage in that Pharmalot is owned by a large media company - tech support is the biggie - but this is new media and what I do at Pharmalot is a hybrid. Whether you realize it or not, you sometimes do the same thing, only you seem to view yourself differently. Maybe someone at Sepracor would return your calls if you rang them and you could then do what I do - report and write, with or without commentary or analysis. On the Internet, people visit Pharmalot for what it offers, not because I used to write for a big newspaper.

And as I noted earlier, I held off running that item for the reasons I already provided. I'm glad you're happy that I chose not to hit the send button any sooner. Maybe next time I'll make a different decision. Just don't complain about my resources - I type pretty fast, too.


John Mack said...


Thanks for continuing the conversation. I know you are busy. But at least you can type fast!

I am at a loss to understand what you mean by this: "Maybe someone at Sepracor would return your calls if you rang them and you could then do what I do - report and write, with or without commentary or analysis."

You are indulging in some speculation of your own here.

I DO "report and write, with or without commentary or analysis." (And I HAVE "rang" them and wrote them -- in May 2006, which was before you entered the Pharma Blogosphere.) So why do I not get return calls?

I think you should have said that they MIGHT return my calls IF I just wrote and reported what they told me WITHOUT the commentary and analysis. This is essentially the courtesy you gave the CEO in your latest post where you were nice enough to lead off with the his quote and title your post in conformance with the Sepracor spin on the issue.

That's journalism and you are a master at it, no doubt.

But, IMHO, it's NOT blogging!