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Authors: Jamie Reidy

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My logic was simple: If I went first and stank, people would still give me credit for having volunteered. Had I
gone fifth or sixth and stank, well, that would have really stunk. Or, had I gone fifth or sixth and done well, it could still have been argued that I had benefited from hearing four or five other details. If I went first
and
did fairly well, though, I’d look like a superstar.

Bruce fell in love with me that night. In one ten-minute period, I went from problem to asset, clown to go-to guy. Consequently, I started volunteering to go first all the time. Soon, Bruce stopped accepting my offers, privately explaining that other people needed to learn to detail under pressure. Thwarted, I amended my strategy: Try to go first, but when unable to do so, offer to go
immediately
after the worst person on the team. After all, how could I not look good on the heels of a terrible performance? Thankfully, we had some less-than-stellar detailers on our team who provided me with numerous opportunities to shine.

Too bad I didn’t sparkle so much when the cameras first rolled. The format was simple: A rep would detail a “doctor” using her vis aid—the pages covered with cheat-sheet notes on yellow stickies (“Fewer phone calls to nurses during the day!” or “Gold standard!”)—which took anywhere from seven to twelve minutes. Four or five more reps followed, and then they would gather to watch their tapes together and get feedback from the trainer.

It was truly amazing to watch what happened to people after that red light flicked on, myself included. Former fighter pilots froze, veteran sales guys stammered
and stuttered. Seemingly superconfident people collapsed in front of the camera. “One of the benefits of Mithrozax, Doctor …” While my detail itself went fine, I was humiliated to see on tape that I had developed, out of nowhere, a nervous tic. Cruising along, I suddenly, briefly, touched the area between my upper lip and nose—think Hitler’s mustache—and then returned to normal behavior. It reminded me of a frog snatching a fly out of the air, not exactly the image of professionalism I was hoping to convey. This happened at least ten times during the five-minute detail, and it caused me to nearly retch while viewing it with my teammates. “What the hell am I
doing
with my finger?” I asked. Between giggles, they tried to tell me it was barely noticeable.

My second taping featured no amphibian traits, which was good. Also absent were my normal enthusiasm and smoothness of delivery, which was bad. Apparently, the tic and a quality performance were inseparable. I started to worry when I developed a zit at the point of contact. Fortunately, as I grew more comfortable with my detail and the process, the constant touching stopped. Had it not ceased, a friend pointed out, I could have simply taken Zoloft to treat my obsessive-compulsiveness.

As we progressed and improved, the trainers cranked it up a notch to make it seem more real. Coincidentally, the amount of crying increased. In fact, some “doctors” seemed to enjoy making people squirm, and purposely tried to rattle reps by being unresponsive or contentious.
Bruce, sensing that I was getting a little big for my britches, tried to rattle me one afternoon.

As I detailed him with the tape rolling, he suddenly stood up and asked, “Is Zithromax going to kill my patients?” I just looked at him, incredulous. He continued, “I had a patient last week whose head just
exploded
after taking one of those new drugs! Is that going to happen with yours?” My heart pounded as my mind raced.

“Uh, well, uh, Doctor,” I began inauspiciously. “Is this something you’ve seen or …” My voice trailed off as I realized he had, apparently, seen this. There seemed little need to clarify (“So, Doctor, what I’m hearing is that you are concerned that your patients will die as the result of cranial explosion after taking Zithromax?”) or empathize (“I can see, Doctor, why you’d be concerned about that”), so I decided to audible. “Well, Dr. Bruce, it sounds like that patient may have taken Pop Rocks with Coca-Cola, which, as you probably know, can be fatal. After all, it killed Mikey.” Bruce paused for a moment, and I chastised myself for omitting the six-step objection-handling algorithm. He stared straight into my eyes with his face turning beet red. When he finally started to speak, he burst into laughter and pounded the desk between us. After he hit the Stop button and rewound the tape in the camcorder, deleting the evidence of non-Pfizer-esque role-play, he nodded approvingly.

“You keep your cool like that out in the field, and you’re gonna be great, Jamie.” At that moment, neither
of us knew that out in the field I would never actually sit down and detail a real doctor for ten-plus minutes, but it was nice to know Bruce had confidence in me.

And, just like that, training was over. When I graduated from army boot camp, my drill sergeants had convinced me I was a lethal weapon, ready to march to Baghdad and take out Saddam Hussein by myself. Upon completion of Pfizer training, I felt a similar confidence, albeit with a vis aid rather than an M-16. Our trainers assured us that we were now
closers,
ready to snatch as much market share from Abbott Labs and Eli Lilly as we wanted.

It was up to each of us to decide how much that would be—some of us would choose less than others.

CHAPTER

Three

BABY STEPS

F
RAMED GRADUATION CERTIFICATES IN HAND,
we landed in our respective territories believing we were trained and ready for action. We were wrong.

Having invested nearly $100,000 to hire and instruct each of us, Pfizer wasn’t about to let us take the training wheels off and head out onto the open road without some “real-world” coaching. Our district managers (DMs) required a few days of one-on-one time to explain policies and provide additional instructions, the most important of which involved packing our car trunks. Before I could do that, though, I needed to get a car.

Just about every pharmaceutical company leased cars exclusively from American automakers. Four-door sedans were the norm, and the Ford Taurus was the most common rep ride. Management assured us, though, that because we were not typical reps, we would not get typical cars. In fact, Pfizer told the members of its new,
crackerjack Pediatric Division that we could get whatever car we wanted. As long as it was a white Chevy Lumina. My girlfriend’s grandma had a Lumina, too.

I had vastly underestimated the significance the company car would take on in my life. Basically, it was an office on wheels. Rather than report to a central Pfizer office every day, drug reps worked from home. Consequently, each salesperson had to have enough room in her home to provide a workable office area with desk, filing cabinets, fax machine, and printer. Aside from those items, the company car contained everything a rep would ever need in the field: studies, dosing charts, pens, pads, giveaway items, and, most important, samples.

Upon arrival in Indiana, I found waiting for me thirty-two cardboard boxes, each big enough to hide a preschooler. Full of samples and sales materials, they provided a fitting introduction to the industry-wide paranoia concerning “branding.” Drug companies took to another level the advertising concept of distributing items imprinted with product names. Like the arms race between the United States and Soviet Union during the Cold War, pharma firms engaged in a never-ending race to see who could make the most notable (or simply the most) giveaway items. Each product had its own color scheme and font, which were printed on everything from the practical (pens, pads) to the preposterous (long-distance phone cards). The logic held that in a harried moment of prescribing indecision, a doctor might look
down, see a drug’s name on the pen in his hand, and exclaim, “Yes, of course! Drug X works for genital warts!” and write a prescription for Drug X. Reps cheesily referred to this alleged phenomenon when distributing pens: “Now, Dr. Jones, keep in mind that this pen
only
writes prescriptions for Zithromax.”

Over postwork beers, I once asked an ob-gyn if he and his colleagues really paid attention to which company or product had the coolest pens. His happy-hour smile vanished into an icy stare. “Don’t you think I have better things to do than worry about crap like that?” Apparently, the marketing teams employed by the various pharmaceutical companies didn’t think so, because we kept getting more and more stuff. In the pediatric marketplace especially, branding took greater precedence as companies sought to establish “mascots” with which children could identify.

For example, Pfizer created a marketing campaign for our antibiotic based upon its generic (azithromycin) and brand names (Zithromax), using an “A thru Z” theme—Azithromycin is for Apple and Zithromax is for Zebra. Thus was hatched a zebra mascot with purple stripes (all Zithromax packaging was purple) named “Max,” short for Zithromax. Consequently, we got hundreds of items with zebras and “Zithromax” printed on them; we received slightly fewer items for our other drugs.

Hence, the thirty-two boxes that greeted me upon my arrival in Indiana. This taught me a basic tenet of
working for Pfizer: Expect FedEx boxes every day. They never stopped coming, so much so that a woman in my sales district ended up marrying a neighbor in her building who had talked the FedEx guy into letting him sign for her packages every day. This gave the stalker, that is, the neighbor an excuse to knock on her door every night. (She heard the story later, yet was not at all alarmed by it. She got promoted before I did.) Rumor had it that Pfizer was Federal Express’s second-biggest customer behind L.L. Bean. It was easy to believe.

I had a harder time accepting the fact that Bruce thought I had packed my trunk improperly.
Who can’t pack a trunk?
I wondered.

Just as a mechanic sets up his toolbox according to how often he uses each tool—most often closest, least often farthest away—a drug rep was supposed to pack her trunk with the most commonly given out items in front and the rarely used things stuffed way in the back. The first time I packed my trunk, everything was packed in the exact opposite position of where it should have gone, according to the Pfizer Way. I had placed the items according to monetary value: bulky, plastic models of the respiratory system up front, cheap pens and sticky notes in the back.

Standing in a pediatric parking lot with Bruce, I watched with my mouth agape as he unloaded the entire contents of the trunk, spreading everything out in the vacant spot next to my car. Boxes of pens, pads, magnets, stickers, Kleenex boxes (a single buddy of mine would
later develop a crush on the Diflucan model who graced a tissue box in my house, only to lose interest when he learned Diflucan was a one-tablet cure for yeast infections), zebra-shaped stethoscope ID tags, zebra puppets, coffee mugs (my mom loved hers), antibacterial soap dispensers, and cherry-flavored tongue depressors lay strewn across the blacktop like remnants from a car crash. (In the late 1990s several of these giveaway items reprised their real-life roles on the small screen, giving Pfizer exclusive,
free
product placement on television’s top-rated program:
ER.
The Hollywood-area physician serving as
ER
’s on-set consultant was the good friend of a Pfizer rep, who gave the doc various Pfizer items that were then strategically placed in scenes; only Pfizer had this access. Dr. Mark Green even mentioned Zithromax by its generic name, azithromycin, in one episode.) Bruce would not allow me to begin making sales calls until my trunk was packed in the proper order. As mothers and their sick children walked past us en route to the pediatrician’s office, I wished I could pack
myself
into the trunk.

My first mistake was failing to insert the Pfizer sign into the bottom of the trunk. This was a major problem, he explained. It wasn’t that I hadn’t noticed the thin blue piece of rubber, approximately thirty-six inches wide and sixty inches long. I simply thought it a bit much to cover the samples and materials with a huge sign that screamed PFIZER to the world every time I opened the trunk. Egomania, it turned out, was not its inspiration.

The sign did scream PFIZER on one side. On the other side, however, it screamed HELP, and was to be left hanging from the trunk in case of emergency. Not only that, but the sign was intended to be placed like a liner on the floor (samples and so on placed on top), with two feet left slack so it could be dropped down over the side to protect a rep’s clothes from getting wet or muddy when touching the bumper. The latter resulted in tremendous dry-cleaning savings.

Bruce explained that the pens and sticky notes I had stashed in back were a form of currency that could buy entry at myriad levels of a doctor’s office. Like cash, pens came in differently valued “denominations”: cheap, flimsy writing instruments were the one-dollar bills, given out indiscriminately to any office employee in sight; sturdy, brightly colored pens were the twenties of the rep world, distributed to overvigilant gatekeepers and reticent nurses much the way handshake tips were given to maître d’s at crowded restaurants. Similarly, since the amount of paper used in medical offices would’ve made trees shake with fear, sticky notes and scratch pads were accepted like manna from heaven. “You’re going to give these away on
every single
call, so they go up front, where you can grab them easily.” Pens were stored vertically to save space, divvied up according to the name of the drug printed on them. Likewise, all other giveaways were kept together to reduce the odds of a mix-up. “Zoloft here, Diflucan over here.”

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