Monday, February 20, 2012

Referencing—a Necessary Evil?

In the wonderful world of pharma advertising, copywriting has its challenges. Surprisingly, describing diseases and medicines are not at the top of the list.

The real challenges are those that send shivers up and down the spines of even the most seasoned writers, such as referencing. This is the process of finding information to substantiate pieces of advertising, and then backing up the facts with specific sources (think college research papers). When faced with this prospect for the first time, many writers see it as a kind of brutal hazing—welcome to pharma!

So why do we need to reference? Because the FDA says so. If you’re writing something that states that shortness of breath is a symptom of heart failure, you’d better be able to prove it with reputable research. Referencing accurately is an important and required part of the writing process, and the FDA does sometimes ask to see where the facts came from.

It’s the writer’s responsibility to make sure that their source material is correct. I’ve heard that some agencies hand off written pieces to their account team so they can track down the backup. This seems ridiculous to me. Since the writer wrote the piece, he or she knows where the facts come from. So why wouldn’t we be the ones to reference our own work?

In the past, my opinions about who “owns” the referencing process has gotten me into trouble with writers who’d rather have a root canal than go through this potentially painful process. But, as an extrovert, I believe that this responsibility rests squarely on the writer. Yes, it’s tons of work. And yes, it can be frustrating. But it’s the best way to ensure you’ll be able to look your client squarely in the eye and confidently tell them that all your information is kosher. And though references and annotations are invisible to the consumer, they’re crucial to the client’s legal, regulatory, and medical responsibilities. Not to mention an agency’s reputation.

When it comes to referencing, I’ve been teased that I “drank the Kool-Aid.” Perhaps. Or maybe it’s just that I like being able to stand behind every piece I work on and know that when it comes to accuracy, it’s bulletproof. If that’s “drinking the Kool-Aid” bring that pitcher right on over.


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