Are You With Me, Dr. Drew?

The Penn State brand has taken a major hit in the Jerry Sandusky scandal that sent the former coach to prison and has effectively ended the careers of the three administrators who along with Coach Joe Paterno, covered up the scandal for 14 years. But it could have turned out differently. At any time after the first, and certainly after the second incident in 1998, procedures and processes could have kicked in, or in the absence of those, somebody in the quartet could have “done the right thing.”

It’s an arguably tougher situation when you are the brand, as Dr. Drew Pinsky found out.

Recently, Dr. Drew–a medical doctor who had become a celeb of sorts for his long running “Loveline” radio series and CNN Headline News shows–admitted he took payments from pharmaceutical giant Glaxo for promoting its anti-depressant drug Wellbutrin without disclosing he was being paid.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Drew was among the subjects of a federal investigation revealing that Pinksy pocketed $275,000 to trumpet Wellbutrin’s alleged enhancement–or at least not lessening–of sexual desire. Generally, anti-depressant drugs are said to reduce libido.

“In the 90s I was hired to participate in a two-year initiative discussing intimacy and depression which was funded by an educational grant by Glaxo Wellcome,” Pinsky said in a statement to the paper. “Services for the non-branded campaign included town hall meetings, writings and multimedia activities in conjunction with the patient advocacy group the National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association (NDMDA). My comments were consistent with my clinical experience.”

Although we may not know what advisors Pinsky consults, this is clearly is a case where he is the brand, and there are no committees, boards or other potential stop lights he’s compelled to report to before embarking on such a short-sighted plan. Anyone, but Dr. Drew apparently, can see that the value of his brand is as an impartial broker of information regarding health, sex, medicine, therapy, and a cornucopia of credibility–at least in circles of people who watch his shows–that a drug company might want to exploit.

When a brand’s credibility is its sole asset, it’s short sighted to sell out for any fixed amount, no matter how attractive the amount may be. Perhaps, as in the Penn State case, Pinsky was confident that the deal would not become public knowledge. But remember Donald Rumsfeld’s musings about the “known knowns, the known unknowns, and unknown unknowns.”

Pinsky either didn’t know or didn’t care that Glaxo had been under a nine-year investigation by the feds for its marketing practices that recently led to paying a $3 million settlement.

Whether Pinsky’s payday will completely torpedo his brand is debatable; after all, Martha Stewart overcame a prison stay and is back on the air. And, maybe the market expects less in the space where professionals cross over into entertainers and celebrities.

Still, when Dr. Drew’s opinions are aired, informed listeners will now be left to wonder how much he got paid for whatever he said.

This is a guest post by Richard Larson
Richard Larson is Brand Manager for Go Promotional, leading promotional items supplier online.

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