Following the change of classification of press releases in v8.5 of the IPHA Code of Practice from promotional to non-promotional, there are several points to consider when drafting and approving a press release, particularly when it is related to one of your company’s medicinal products.
Most importantly, the information contained within the press release must be genuinely newsworthy, factual and concise. To ensure that the content is newsworthy, the timing of the press release should be pertinent to the topic being communicated and press releases shouldn’t be issued as part of regular business activity. Additionally, each sentence should hold relevance to the newsworthiness of the topic, this also ensures the conciseness of the piece.The information presented must be capable of substantiation. It mustn’t encourage a member of the public to ask their prescriber for a specific prescription medicine, and doesn’t raise unfounded hopes for successful treatment.
When determining the non-promotional nature of the piece, it is very important to ensure that the language, tone and appearance of the content reflects this intent. Claims or comparisons with other medicinal products are not permissible. If the press release is product-related, careful consideration of the use of any product brand names is advised. For press releases provided to General Media sources, brand names must not be used unless in response to the publication of erroneous information or previous reference to the brand in the publication. Brand names for medicinal products with a Marketing Authorisation may be included in press releases for the Medical Media only if necessary or if there is relevance to the objective of the announcement. Use or over-use of a brand name without a valid need such as when the audience would not be familiar with the international non-proprietary name (INN), or the trademark, may change the perception of the piece to be promotional for that product. Brand colours, imagery and logos must not be used. Imagery unless specifically related to the product/product pack, should be avoided unless there is a legitimate purpose for their inclusion. For completeness of information, when a press release for Medical Media is making reference to a company’s authorised medicinal product, we would recommend including a link to the product’s Summary of Product Characteristics (SmPC) for the publication.
It is also important to identify who the target audience for the press release is to ensure that the information is used appropriately. It is recommended to clearly indicate at the beginning of the press release who the target audience is to ensure this. Moreover, the tone, language used, and information presented, must be relevant and appropriate for the intended audience.
Given the nature of press releases, there are number of risks which could be associated with their publication. For press releases for the General Public, the risk of appearing to promote a prescription medicine to the public must be considered. Is the information discussing a “bona fide significant medical/scientific development” which would be relevant to the public, particularly to patients in the specific disease area related to your company’s medicine, by clearly and concisely relaying the importance of the advancement in terms of treating the disease? As mentioned previously, brand names are not permitted in public press releases unless in response to the publication of erroneous information or previous reference to the brand in the publication.
With press releases for the Medical Media there is also a risk of disguised promotion associated with their release. This is why it is so important when providing a statement to the press that the purpose of the piece and the language used, is very clear and reflective of its intent. Although in most cases the company will have no oversight of the final piece published in the media, the company must ensure that the non-promotional nature of the statement has been appropriately communicated to the newswires. It should be very clear in this communication what the relevance of the information would be to the appropriate audience.
As a final point, consideration should be given to where the press release will be published or hosted by the company. Although press releases are statements provided to the press about a newsworthy matter, if the communication is truly genuine and newsworthy, provided it is not be published on the landing page of the website (to prevent immediate public exposure to the information and the perception of promotion to the public), it could also be published on the company’s website, in a designated “News” or “Media” section.
In summation, press releases can be an invaluable tool for communicating a pharmaceutical company ‘s genuinely newsworthy scientific advancements to both the general public, and to healthcare professionals, provided that your company’s considerations reflect that they are utilised for this intended purpose and are never perceived to be disguised promotion.
Lucy Tobin, Healthcare Compliance Consultant, Pharma Integrity