The HHS VNR serves as a case study for industry and highlights important issues for executives to consider when using the
tool. The first is to underscore the media's responsibility in how they use information transmitted through VNRs. Lisa Kovitz,
director of brand marketing at Burson-Marsteller, says, "What we do is provide the expertise of our spokesperson or the unique
finding of a survey or special b-roll that they couldn't get themselves, and then it's up to the journalists to decide what
to do with it."
ABC News' managing editor for medical coverage, Roger Sergel, says, "The responsibility here is upon news people to be sure
that they understand what it is that they are bringing to the public and that they make efforts to ensure that the information
is accurate and balanced."
However, Sergel uses the word "deceptive" several times to describe medical VNRs. He sees public relations firms and drug
companies using that video as a tool to get to the local affiliates that are more likely to run the material without question.
Sergel's perception demonstrates how pharma-sponsored news feeds can backfire without complete transparency. "It's always
very important when one is doing a VNR, press release, or setting up an interview to have full disclosure," says Novartis
executive director of public relations Gina Moran.
Other media, such as CBS News—which has its own paid VNR feed—have institutionalized the full disclosure process regarding
VNRs. The organization's spokesperson, Sandy Genelius, says that, even before the HHS incident, "CBS Newspath already had
in place an extensive set of safeguards to ensure that VNR material was clearly marked, and it would be virtually impossible
for Newspath clients to mistake it for anything else."
10 Tips for a Successful Pharma VNR
But if healthcare VNRs are so common and everyone claims to have a hard and fast policy about their use, why was the Medicare
VNR such a big deal?
"Perhaps in the HHS incident, it may have had more to do with politics than the use of a VNR as a public relations tool,"
Ryan concurs: "The reason it got so much publicity is that it was political. I don't think it was so much that it was the
VNR, it was the subject and the fact that it was an election year."
It's back to business as usual for the parties involved in the Medicare VNR. HHS still runs VNRs. Ryan admits only one concession:
"I won't sign off 'reporting' anymore."
In an election year when the industry is a favorite punching bag, there are lessons to be learned. To be up front with TV
journalists, ensure that editorial contact information is listed on the tape label and title slate in case reporters have
questions. Watch networks' coverage of drugs. Is your VNR just as balanced? As clear and engaging? Would you be proud if the
VNR's transcript was printed in the New York Times? If your answer is "no" to any of those questions, you might be heading for trouble.