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New Pharma Gift Ban Goes Into Effect
Volume 573


With the start of the new year, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) begins its self-enforced prohibition of non-educational gift items – commonly known as "reminder" items like branded pens, mugs, notepads and more that are given by pharmaceutical companies to doctors offices.

The new code, which does allow the distribution of "educational" items, portended possibly massive damage to the ad specialty industry when it was first announced in July. But now with the code just beginning to be enforced, Dard Design (asi/48500) President Bonni Shevin-Sandy says pharma sales may not be affected as much. "I don't think it's as bad as people think it's going to be," says Sandy, a member of the Counselor Power 50. "These kits, these educational models, they're all more expensive items so these budgets are still going to be met. They're just going to be met with more expensive, educational items." Another factor is that the code is voluntary, and while the largest pharmaceutical companies have agreed to comply, thousands of other drug and machine companies have so far not signed on. Go to to read the guidelines.

Drug companies before now were hazy about the meaning of "educational" material, but a clearer definition has begun to emerge. Reminder items imprinted with educational material are not being accepted. Meanwhile, anatomical models, charts, and multi-item patient kits (which can still include things like branded pens and journals) are readily defined as educational. Says Sandy: "We're still selling pens, just not millions and millions and millions of pens. We're selling thousands of pens with these care kits."

According to Sandy, pharma companies across the board have been compliant with the new changes, save for a few small entities and some larger health care providers. Ironically, pharma sales dropped off immediately after the new code was announced – but was not yet in effect – in the summer. "A lot of these orders were cancelled," Sandy mentions about the outstanding orders in 2008. "Pharmaceutical companies were paying for the material that was used and they were actually throwing out cases and cases of these items that they considered bribe gifts out of warehouses." Now, she says, pharma and ad specialty companies have had enough time to discuss potential options and start being aggressive, and the result has been a slow climb back up in sales.

A small part of the sales gain, says Sandy, is that her pharma clients have been willing to buy blank reminder items without an imprinted logo. "Basically, as long as you don't put the pharmaceutical logo on an item, they might still buy it," she says. "We've sold some blanks. They still need clipboards. Clipboards break all the time."

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