Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Parkinson's Blog Network is a Giant Advertisement

Just in case there are others out there like me who didn't click into this right away, the Parkinson's Blog Network (PBN) is actually a giant advertisement for Valeant's Parkinson's med.

And I don't just mean that Valeant buys space on the PBN, I mean the PBN itself IS the advertisement.

You may have noticed that the Legal Disclaimer states that a company called Incendia Health Studios maintains the Parkinson's Blog Network "as a service to the internet community."

And if you went so far as to check out Incendia's website, you would have seen this description of the company on their homepage:
Incendia Health Studios is the first and only purpose-driven media company for chronic disease education. We leverage the latest technologies to develop and distribute health-related programming for the millions living with chronic illnesses, and those who care for them. Our purpose: to do good.

Well, I think that is just a teensy bit misleading, because if you look up the domain www.parkinsonsblognetwork.com (.com is usually a tip off for all sorts of interesting things), you find it is owned by a company called Ignite Health. The following is a quote from a February 2007 press release that is posted on their site:

Based in Irvine, Calif, Ignite Health specializes in medical advertising and interactive communications targeting patients, caregivers and healthcare professionals. One of the top 20 independent healthcare agencies, Ignite has won more than 100 industry awards since its founding in 2001. Key clients include Amylin Pharmaceuticals, Bausch & Lomb, Cephalon, Eli Lilly and Co., Genomic Health, Gilead Sciences, Merck Publishing, Novacea and Valeant Pharmaceuticals.

Note the use of the word "targeting" in the above quote - interesting that they don't use that word in the Legal Disclaimer - instead, they are providing a "service," and on Incendia's website, their purpose is to "do good."

Also note that Valeant is a client. You may also have noticed the Valeant product plastered all over the site.

Ignite Health formed Incendia in 2006 - again, from a press release on Ignite's site:

Irvine, California, Sept. 28, 2006 — Ignite Health, one of the country's top 20 independent healthcare advertising agencies, has formed Incendia Health Studios to develop and distribute unbranded disease-education programs targeting the millions of people who use the Internet and other digital technologies to seek and share information on chronic diseases. ..

Incendia Health Studios turns the traditional medical marketing and advertising model on its head," [Fabio] Gratton [president of Incendia] says. "By leveraging the power of new and emerging technology, Incendia will provide an unprecedented number of people with engaging health information tailored to their specific needs and interests. Our main objective is to serve patients and caregivers affected by chronic diseases — they, in essence, are our 'clients.' This makes Incendia Health Studios the first and only 'purpose-driven' media company in the field of chronic disease education.

Now, I am not saying that creating a Parkinson's blog network is, in and of itself, a bad thing. I just think people should know what the true goals and priorities of the entity creating it are. So, now you know.

Just for the record, I don't know who registered me there - just know it wasn't me.


IgniteBlogger said...

Dear Anuket,

My name is Fabio Gratton, and I am President and CEO of Incendia Health Studios, and I also function as the “Chief Innovation Officer” for Ignite Health. I read your recent post about the “Parkinson’s Disease Blog Network” and I wanted to take a moment to address your points regarding the website, Incendia Health Studios, Ignite Health and Ignite Health, LLC.

First of all, I wanted to thank you for taking the time to review the blog. I think it’s very important that people like you are watchful of how and why certain health-related information and services exist, because oftentimes they can provide inaccurate, misleading, or sometimes even one-sided information that does not present a “fair-balanced” view of the world.

With that said, I want to assure you that in no way did we intend to mislead anyone about the intentions behind the service that we provide for the Parkinson’s community via ParkinsonsBlogNetwork.com. We strive to be transparent in our disclosure of who we are and what we stand for. Our primary goal is to provide a helpful service for the Parkinson’s online community. As you can imagine, it takes significant resources to support any effort that involves design, architecting, programming, and maintaining an online application. To support this effort we offer companies the ability to advertise on our properties through a business model that is not unlike that of WebMD.com and RevolutionHealth.com. Advertisers on the Parkinson’s Disease Blog Network site are allowed to post their advertising banners – but in no way, shape or form do they have the ability to influence the content of the site. Oversight of our efforts has been established through the formation of an Advisory Board with a physician/professor who specializes in movement disorders and a Parkinson’s patient to ensure that we remain true to this mission (http://www.parkinsonsblognetwork.com/advisory.aspx). In other words, there is a clear separation of “church and state”. We believe that maintaining this separation is critical for the community.

Allow me to explain the relationship between Ignite Health and Incendia Health Studios. Ignite Health LLC is a Limited Liability Company that is made up of two separate divisions. Ignite Health is the division dedicated to creating marketing solutions for clients in the healthcare industry. Incendia Health Studios is, in essence, a health-focused “publishing” company that has developed and owns several online properties that are designed to provide patients and caregivers that are living with chronic diseases support and educational resources. Incendia has multiple sponsors or advertisers for some of these initiatives. Some of these sponsors are also Ignite Health clients, and some of them are not.

A few of the properties owned by Incendia are provided solely as a service to the community without a sponsor (e.g., BannerMoments.com and BreastCancerBlogNetwork.com). Fundamentally, one of the underlying reasons for the existence of Incendia is to provide us with the ability to support the community with our efforts regardless of whether sponsors continue to invest in these properties. As you probably know, “disease education” initiatives are launched almost daily by the pharmaceutical industry. However, oftentimes these initiatives are abandoned after a company decides that the service no longer helps support their product(s). Since pharmaceutical companies typically pay agencies for the development of these properties, they also own them. This means that the moment they decide not to fund them anymore, those properties are shut down. That’s where Incendia plays a key role. Instead of giving up control to the pharmaceutical industry, Incendia creates, operates, and hosts the properties. Companies can advertise on those properties in one form or another, but they cannot influence content nor can they dictate the direction the community goes. This model allows these initiatives to have a much longer life-span than that which interests a pharmaceutical company. In essence, it provides a true home for the community… not a temporary settlement. In fact, if Valeant chooses not to continue advertising on the network, we will continue to maintain it regardless – because we believe it is helping people connect with others, and as a result finding some kind of emotional if not spiritual solace. After all, isn’t that what’s really important?

Finally, as you pointed out in your blog, Valeant is indeed an advertiser on the Parkinson’s Disease Blog Network. As such, advertising banners appear on the site for their product. Currently they are the only advertiser on the site but our desire is to provide additional companies with the ability advertise on this site in the future which would allow us to expand our online content offerings for Parkinson’s patients and caregivers. However, like any evolving community, it takes time to build sufficient critical mass to attract advertisers. In truth, Valeant took a big chance by agreeing to support an initiative that could easily have not found an audience. They believed it was the “right thing to do”, and they trusted that Incendia would create a tool for the community that would be valuable. Given the number of visitors the site currently experiences, it appears that indeed the network has found an audience.

We appreciate your feedback on any of the items that we have outlined as we also feel that transparency and integrity are integral to any effort that is provided for people that are living with the effects of Parkinson’s Disease. With that said, I would welcome an opportunity to speak with you further on this matter and perhaps discuss how we can do a better job of communicating how the various companies and partners are involved. In fact, if you have specific ideas for how we can make the community stronger and better, I would love to hear them. While it might be hard to believe that pharmaceutical companies and their various agencies are committed to making the world a better, healthier place, you have to believe me that the intent was truly to do good.


Fabio Gratton
Chief Innovation Officer and Co-Founder, Ignite Health, LLC
President and CEO, Incendia Health Studios

anuket said...

Dear Mr. Gratton,

Thank you for your very thoughtful response to my post. In the course of composing my response, I would have found it useful to access certain relevant websites, but you know it is the darndest thing.

It seems I am unable to access the Parkinsons Blog Network site, the Ignite Health Site, the Incendia site, the Breast Cancer Blog Network site, Banner Moments, or the Diabetes Blog Network.

Isn't that strange? I mean, it almost seems as though I have been blocked, which is do-able - I checked - but that would hardly be in the spirit of open dialogue you convey in your letter.

Not to worry, though, since I am able to access all of these sites from friends computers, so I will be able to respond soon.

IgniteBlogger said...

I am sorry that you are having difficulty viewing the other sites... it is absolutely strange, and I have no way of telling you why that it is the case -- except to reassure you that we have done nothing to block access from you. That would be rather pointless, given that I actually want you to see those sites! Anyway, thank you for taking the time to read my comment and reply. Again, I welcome any feedback you might have that would ensure that others like you do not feel they have been somehow misled.


Fabio Gratton

anuket said...

Dear Fabio,

I hope you don't mind me calling you Fabio. I would call you Mr. Gratton, but then you would have to call me Ms. Crusade and that just wouldn't do.

I wonder if you would mind if I moved your letter to the blog proper - well, if I copied it and posted it, i guess is what I mean.

Because my response has taken on epic proportions, as is my wont, and so I would like to post it as a post rather than a comment, and so it is only fair to do the same with you letter. I don't think you will object, but wanted to check, just in case.

If you say yes, I will entitle your post "Fabio Gratton of Incendia and Ignite Health responds" or just "Fabio Gratton Responds," pls let me know if you have a preference.

I probably won't get mine up until Thursday night, but I can probably post yours tomorrow.