There was a time when the profession of medical representatives (called drug reps in the USA) held an enigmatic charm for those outside looking in. They were considered to be articulate, charming, suave, well-paid and well-informed. As with other (often erroneously) generalized stereotypes, the ‘bohemian’ quality of their lifestyle that was often whispered about was neither more nor less on an average than for any other profession. The opening up of information technology jobs in the middle 1990s, which offered astronomical salaries by the existing standards and international exposure disrupted many existing orders and changed many social paradigms. As the industry attracted articulate and intelligent youngsters, pharma selling jobs lost much of their sheen.
C. Northcote Parkinson's In-laws and Outlaws (1962) teaches enough tips and tricks to those interested in scaling the corporate ladder, from first entry, right up to the top – without actually working hard. Parkinson warns the reader that his book is not like other self-help books that “urge you to be a little more intelligent; a little more hard working; a little more painstaking.” He wryly observes that if a reader was all that, he would probably not need a book! Jamie Reidy’s Hard Sell: Love & Other Drugs (2005) may be less classy, as it was written by a first-time writer but it teaches enough tips and tricks for drug reps to beat the system, despite the industry’s sophisticated surveillance systems to check on its field sales people.
There were several works on the fascinating profession of pharma sales reps. Sidney Sheldon’s Bloodline (1977) is the story of a giant pharmaceutical company. Sheldon called the company Roffe & Sons, similar to the real life Hoffman-La Roche. The novel has a drug rep character and gives an account of the profession. The plot of Arthur Hailey’s fictional work Strong Medicine (1984) is based on the career of a drug rep who eventually becomes the chairperson of her company. Robin Cook’s Mindbend (1985) puts in perspective the lengths to which pharma companies go to – literally – “bending doctors’ minds” and the role played by drug reps in the manipulation. Douglas Farrago’s Diary of a Drug Rep (2017) gives an interesting and realistic peep into the seamy side of the enigmatic profession in manipulating the medical profession.
Hard Sell: Love & Other Drugs is however a first person account of a drug rep and reads like memoirs. The book is witty and hilarious, especially the Viagra tales! It lists quite a few maneuvers drug reps have tried and capers they pulled to beat the system. For some Indian medical reps there could be a sense of déjà vu in reading the memoirs. But there are quite a few that they could not even imagine.
Jamie Reidy disproves Pfizer’s assumption that former army men are malleable to organizational discipline, which was why the company recruited its drug reps from the army. After a career in the army, Reidy joined Pfizer's paediatric division as a drug rep and then moved on to the urology division that marketed Viagra the breakthrough drug for erectile dysfunction. Many would be surprised to know that the drug is not just for men! Reidy’s first inhibition when he sought to detail the drug to a lady doctor – as he explained how it worked in women – and how he she reacted makes for hilarious reading.
Reidy was with Pfizer for five years from 1995 to 2000 and then spent another five in Eli Lilly's oncology division. Eli Lilly sacked him after he published Hard Sell: Love & Other Drugs in 2005. Naturally! What he revealed was enough for pharma companies to see the need to scrutinize the work of their drug reps and probably sack half of them! He explained how he did his ‘best’ to beat the system: from bulging expense accounts to buy dinners for self and friends to scooting work and filing false reports. In any case, Reidy must have found that cancer was more macabre and less interesting than erectile dysfunction.
The book has been adapted into a major motion picture starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway. The success of the book and the motion picture set Reidy on a new course, as a writer.
Originally published at VOXINDICA