Transcript: Peter Rost Talks Turkey with Ed Silverman

This article contains the full transcription of Ed Silverman's interview with Peter Rost (the briefer, edited interview is available for download as a Windows Media video).

By Ed Silverman and Agnes Shanley

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P.R.: The way I view the blog, which has a very extensive legal disclaimer about how to view the blog and what it’s all about, it’s like the Colbert Report on Comedy Central. It’s serious but it has a lot of fun with a situation and surrounding issues. So it’s taking the important issues but making it entertaining.

I get bored myself. If I were just writing about what’s bad with pharma, it would get really dull and nobody would read the blog. Secondly, not everything is bad with pharma. There’s a lot of good stuff there. It’s an industry I supported for 20 years. I just think we should change certain things. So I just point out some of these issues. But I also write about broader issues. And I’m finding my way as a writer. But I wouldn’t have the readers I do if I hadn’t had some fun with it and enjoyed it.

E.S.: So you’re saying it’s a strategy. You didn’t just stumble into what you’ve blogged about?

P.R.: It’s a strategy to make it entertaining.

E.S.: Did you start out that way?

P.R.: Yeah. I tried different topics that spanned quite a bit.

E.S.: Do you ever feel that you drill so deeply into something and say to yourself: Maybe I’ve gone too far? Maybe it’s time to go to a different topic? Maybe I appear as if I can’t let go and should let go?

P.R.: No, because I have a background and special knowledge in the pharma industry, it would be strange if I didn’t cover it. And point it out interesting tidbits and facts as they come up. But that doesn’t mean you’re harping on the same issue.

For instance, when it comes to reimportation of drugs and pricing, I haven’t written much about that for a long time. And quite a few people have pointed out that it’s pharma blog, but I don’t write much about pharma. So for a couple of reasons, people may think I’ve moved on, in that sense, and I’ve written about things that are fun to read about.

E.S.: Where are you taking the blog now? Will it be about something other than the pharmaceutical industry?

P.R.: I’m undecided. It’s a blog, which means you do whatever you feel like for that particular day. You’re impacted by the readers’ comments and what they seem to like. I’m a marketing person and I’m interested in what my readers are interested in and what they care about. And so I’ve used different tools where I could have the readers vote on what they wanted me to write about — pharma, interesting stories about this or that. And so I have all the data, and basically, my blog very well reflects what readers have decided to see. Half the people want to see things about the drug industry and then you have a couple of other categories that were more off-topic.

E.S.: What other kind of writing do you plan to do?

P.R.: My next project, what I’m really waiting for now, is some fiction writing. My first manuscript is for a fiction thriller has just been completed and I’m waiting to do a conference call with my agent.

E.S.: Will the pharmaceutical industry be in there?

P.R.: It’s a big-company thriller. It’s set in the drug industry, because it’s something I know and I can bring more reality to it. And the amazing part is that, some of things I wrote that I thought were fiction, I learned later weren’t fiction. Like when I found out Pfizer has a high-tech security bunker with monitoring equipment, where Jeff Kindler had himself shot in a picture for Pharmaceutical Executive.

I didn’t know that such a thing existed, but I used something like that quite a bit in the book. I was just surprised that reality was ahead of me. The next step is to see if we can sell the manuscript. It 100 times harder to sell a fiction manuscript, compared with non-fiction.

E.S.: How is the pharmaceutical industry portrayed?

P.R.: I think the pharmaceutical industry is portrayed realistically. It really shows the fights internally, between the companies. It’s warfare what goes on. You talk about warfare when it comes to gaining market share. Between the different people internally, who try to survive, who try to get up to the highest position, it’s a battle. It’s a daily battle.

This is fiction, a thriller. So clearly, it takes things a couple of steps further than you may see in any company, but the way people behave and interact, I really try to capture that.

E.S.: Do you think you’ll get pegged as somebody who’s trying to beat up the industry?

P.R.: I think I was pegged as that a long time ago, which really isn’t quite true.

E.S.: So, you’re not the anti-pharma?

P.R.: Listen, I gave 20 years of my life to pharma. I would like to to run a pharma company. My point is that some of the guys who are running pharma are doing the wrong things from a marketing point of view, the wrong thing for society, and they’re doing the wrong thing for the industry. And that’s part of the reason they’ve done so poorly.

There’s a reason Hank McKinnell lost 40 percent of his stock value. I think pharma is needed and is important. My experience is there’s tons of very good people in the industry.

But of course, none of these people are used to one of their own standing up and saying the emperor doesn’t have any clothes. And then some of them get very upset. And things get polarized and you’re cast as anti-pharma.

E.S.: Are you locked in this position where you have to be visible and vocal and critical in order to sell your blog, your books and get any sort of consulting? Assuming you can’t find a position you like, which you say is unlikely.

P.R.: Well, it would’ve been wonderful if I had the book ready a year ago. I think a lot of people have written a lot about my story. So now that the book is out, I have to repeat some of it. Clearly, for an author, it’s important to be visible. But you and I both know that I can’t just create PR and stories, because it has to be real, and really adds on to the story. So I don’t think it would work if I just tried to keep up with issues. The more you try to keep people informed, the less they’ll listen, because it just becomes a nuisance. That’s the art of trying to be out there.

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