Who Killed the Talk Papers?

As I often like to do on Fridays, I’m going to have a post-lite for the blog.J0315598_2

I love a good mystery. 

Remember Talk Papers?  They were issued by the FDA when the agency wanted to emphasize an aspect of a news development.  So if a product was issued with a Black Box Warning, they might issue a Talk Paper.  If there was a specific public health concern to which they wanted to draw attention, they issued a Talk Paper.

The mystery, of course, was that a Talk Paper looked not very different than a Press Release.  Same size, same sort of layout.  There was no discernable difference between a Talk Paper and a Press Release, and while I’ve never done an analysis, I would bet that the messages contained in a press release did just as well as the messages in a Talk Paper, in terms of coverage.  But the agency said that Talk Papers were there to draw attention, even in the absence of obvious evidence that a Talk Paper in effect, has greater gravitas than a press release.    It seemed like an unintentional fiction to me.  The Talk Paper walked like a Press Release, Talked Like a Press Release – hell, it was a Press Release. 

J0401122I kept saying this for years, but if I asked anyone from the agency about it, they ran the company line.  But if you talk to the public relations people in a pharmaceutical company, they were interested in strategies for announcements to occur by Talk Paper rather than Press Release, as if there really were a special status.

In the end, I guess the agency decided that there was no difference.  Either that, or they have had nothing to talk about for months, because the last Talk Paper was issued by the FDA since October, 2005.  Prior to that, not a month passed without a Talk Paper issued on some topic.  Is it me?  Did I miss the Talk Paper that said that they are doing away with Talk Papers?  Did they just decide to stop it cold turkey?  Did they realize I was right? 

In any case, you would have thought they would have issued a Press Release to announce they were discontinuing Talk Papers.

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One Response to Who Killed the Talk Papers?

  1. The Talk Paper/Press Release distinction was a simple one when I was at FDA (1988-2000). Press Releases had to be issued by the Department of Health and Human Services, which meant that they had to go through a lengthy, opaque process that was not guaranteed to retain the sense, and was almost guaranteed NOT to retain the timeliness, of the announcement. Talk Papers were issued by FDA itself.
    I don’t follow the PR/TP flows, and I have no knowledge of why the TP flow has stopped. If I had to put my money down, I’d guess that HHS (like diverse other people & organizations, for diverse reasons) doesn’t trust FDA as much as it used to.