Chandler Chicco fills the news hole

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This article was first published as "Chandler Chicco Fills the News Hole"in PR Watch, Volume 10, No. 1, 1st Quarter 2003. It original article was authored by Bob Burton and Andy Rowell and is used here with permission. As with all SourceWatch articles, feel free to edit and revise.

"The best marketing, and the cheapest, is editorial," explains the "Practical Guide to Medical Education," a how-to guide published in 2001 by Pharmaceutical Marketing, a British trade magazine. By "editorial," it means the news section of publications, as distinct from the advertisements where readers expect to encounter marketing. As the "Practical Guide" candidly admits, "Readers believe claims made in editorial section far more than claims made in an advert, the most expensive way into a publication."

In Lynn Payer's 1994 book, Disease Mongering, she recounted her own experiences as a reporter for Rheumatology News, a publication that was funded by Syntex pharmaceuticals. Formally, the publication had editorial independence, but Payer stated that on a number of occasions she was asked to cover "supposedly as a journalist" conferences sponsored by Syntex "at which investigators whose work had been sponsored by Syntex would be reporting their results."

"An even more questionable practice," Payer wrote, "is to be paid by a company to place an article as if you were an independent journalist." It was common practice, she wrote, for companies to look for opportunities to do this to ensure upbeat reporting of trial results and new drugs that may impress doctors or consumers.

The PR firms that specialize in promotional publicity for pharmaceutical companies rarely talk publicly about these sorts of practices. In August 2001, however, the Chandler Chicco Agency (CCA), one of the largest medical PR firms, with offices in New York and London, placed an advertisement with the "jobs available" list of the U.S. National Association of Science Writers (NASW).

Written by CCA's Brynn Thomas, the ad sought a freelance journalist to cover an conference of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) in Glasgow, Scotland. The ad stated that candidates for the job would be expected to "guarantee 2-4 placements in medical trade publications targeting general practitioners and/or diabetes specialists." It went on to say that all travel and out-of-pocket expenses would be covered, as long as the freelancer provided details of their availability, fee and media contacts. Not only would the journalist collect the daily fees--which some freelancers estimate can be as much as $1000 per day plus $100 per hour for writing and placing the stories--they would also pocket any fees from the publications in which the articles appeared.

Chandler did not respond to questions from PR Watch requesting details such as the identity of CCA's client. When asked if the freelancer would be required to disclose the source of their sponsorship to editors, Chandler replied only that "We would expect the freelance journalist, and the publications for which they write, to publish only what they see as legitimate news."