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June 12, 2007

Drug Rep MySpace


Barnaby J. Feder, in today's New York Times, wrote about the new new thing in subversive websites: most def NOT approved by Big Pharma, the drug and equipment sales representative website cafepharma.com, and pharmaceutical sales representative training site pharmdrugrep.com.

"Pfizer... declined repeated requests to discuss cafepharma. Medtronic, which has the busiest cafepharma bulletin board among device makers, said, 'We do not endorse sites like this one.'"

You can bet that they watch it like a hawk, though, for leaks of confidential information.

bookofjoe MoneyMaker™ from the Times article: The site only screens posts after they've gone up, and even then not all of them are checked, so you can be certain there is extremely valuable proprietary material up there, hiding in plain sight, for those who know how to look.


And that's all I'm going to say about that.

Here's Feder's story.

    A TheirSpace for Drug Sales Reps

    The drug sales representative was expecting a $12,000 performance bonus. Unfortunately, the rep’s chance to jump to a better job at another drug company required that the move be made a month before the bonus would be issued. Was it possible to start the new job without the old employer knowing and still collect the bonus?

    “Wow, here’s a topic we have never done before,” marveled an unidentified respondent to the equally anonymous rep, who disclosed the desire to “double dip” last month on a bulletin board at cafepharma.com.

    Nothing, it seems, is off limits at Cafepharma, a water-cooler site where, for the last six years, drug and medical-device sales reps have hashed out their lives and work in tens of thousands of discussion threads.

    Cafepharma includes plenty of news about the health care industry, but its main attraction is the profanity-laced bulletin boards, where many of the industry’s 100,000-plus sales representatives vent their frustrations and fears. All but buried in the invective and sarcasm is a leavening of useful information or advice based on intimate knowledge of the industry. Others who read it include investors, plaintiffs’ lawyers, health care bloggers, journalists and recruiters, though they rarely post anything.

    “Everyone says they don’t read it, but they do,” said Lloyd Mandel, the founder and a senior consultant at Atlantic Management Resources, a recruiting company in Warren, N.J., focused on health care sales jobs. “There’s a lot of disgruntled people posting, but I have found out about companies that are expanding from the site, and when we post jobs there, we get a very good response from qualified reps.”

    The problem is that only industry insiders can figure out which postings are accurate, said Jane Chin, a former saleswoman for Bristol-Myers Squibb who now runs a training blog called PharmRepClinic.com. “People who post anonymously can tell the truth, but the signal-to-noise ratio is ridiculous,” she said.

    Cafepharma has had more than 1.5 million posts in response to nearly 150,000 queries since it opened in December 2001. Its bulletin boards are divided into health care specialties, regions and individual companies, with general topics like life outside work.

    The discussions range over general subjects like selling tips and layoffs, and more specific ones like how to deal with an unbearable boss who occasionally comes along on sales calls. One poster had this advice for such a situation: Have a couple of friendly doctors in reserve who will meet with you and the boss on short notice and make you look good.

    Then there is the “lost civilizations” board, home for talking about companies that have disappeared in mergers. Companies like Syntex are long gone but recalled fondly, while anger and anxiety permeate posts about recently acquired companies like Kos Pharmaceuticals. “As with a nuclear disaster, the living envy the dead,” wrote one Kos poster in a recap of a sales-training session that the company’s new owner, Abbott Laboratories, ran for the merged sales force in March.

    Numerous threads name and comment on the management shortcomings and quirks of individual sales executives. Others explicitly plumb the consequences of love affairs with customers and colleagues, although, truth be told, any subject attracting more than a few responses can veer without warning into sexual putdowns and other vulgarity.

    “There’s some pretty harsh commentary, and it’s not just generalizations,” said Jamie Reidy, a former salesman for both Eli Lilly and Pfizer and the author of “Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman.” Mr. Reidy said he had been surprised to find some spot-on descriptions of managers he had known, and that when he looked at reports about a recent national meeting of Lilly’s oncology sales force, he said he felt as if he were right back in it, adding, “It was like catching up on a soap opera.”

    Not surprisingly, Cafepharma lacks corporate fans.

    Pfizer, the subject of the site’s most popular bulletin board, declined repeated requests to discuss Cafepharma. Shreya Prudlo, a spokeswoman, said that Pfizer monitored every “communication channel” that reached its constituency, and that each needed to be “viewed based on their accuracy and integrity.”

    Medtronic, which has the busiest Cafepharma bulletin board among device makers, said, “We do not endorse sites like this one.” It said it monitored Cafepharma periodically to see if confidential or proprietary information had been posted. Cindy Resman, a spokeswoman, said that Medtronic had not asked Cafepharma to remove any information yet.

    Sarah Palmer, Cafepharma’s Webmaster, said that scores of posts were removed each day for violating bans on advertising, spam, personal attacks and racist language, but she acknowledged that the screening did not cover every posting and was after the fact; many postings that violated the policies have slipped through, she conceded. She said the site kept no information about who was posting or where they were.

    Cafepharma has more than 18,000 individual visitors on an average weekday, said Ms. Palmer, who is also Cafepharma’s chief executive, chief financial officer and secretary. Ms. Palmer said she operated the site from her home in an Atlanta suburb; a mailbox in a U.P.S. office in a Marietta, Ga., shopping mall is listed with the State of Georgia as her work address.

    Ms. Palmer, who said she had no background in the drug industry, said that her titles reflected the desire of Cafepharma’s owners to keep a low profile. Questions about the operations that she will not answer herself are referred by e-mail to Michael Bryan, who identifies himself as Cafepharma’s majority owner, director of business development and other full-time employee.

    Mr. Bryan, who said he was 41, said that he and his four partners were current or former pharmaceutical salesmen. He declined to identify which companies he and the others have worked for. He said that he had worked as a rep for several years after Cafepharma began, and is afraid that any publicity might result in legal action against him by his former employers.

    Although Cafepharma, which supports itself from advertising, only recently became profitable enough to give him a job, Mr. Bryan’s fears about fallout from creating the Web site while performing his sales job echoed the concerns raised in the recent discussion on double dipping by the rep expecting a bonus.

    The latest advice — posted May 21 — might serve as a verdict on the whole Web site as a source of reliable information: “Don’t count on it.”

June 12, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink


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Tracked on May 22, 2009 10:49:20 AM


Now is the time and the web is the place to participate in the true healthcare reform: we are all going to be patients at one time in our life. I want to know more than the color pharma ads or the physicians description of a procedure. And it is all going to be available at the tip of our fingers via the internet.


Posted by: Kurt | Jun 13, 2007 12:45:06 PM

I found this to be one of the best postings yet since discovering this blog. Thanks! Good stuff on both sites.

Posted by: Anonymous1 | Jun 12, 2007 10:08:23 PM

Be forewarned - CafePharma is not for the sqeamish. All manner of nonsense is spewed there, generally spiced with generous helpings of negativity and snarkiness. Although occasionally a nugget of good info here and there can be found...

Posted by: Steve Woodruff | Jun 12, 2007 8:49:32 PM

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