Former presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Bob Dole was one of the most memorable spokesmen for a medical condition.
In 1999, Dole informed the country in a national ad campaign about his erectile dysfunction (which resulted from treatment for his prostate cancer) and urged men across the nation to seek help if the condition bothered them. However, Dole did not mention directly the newly released drug Viagra or Pfizer, the company that was paying for the campaign, according to a 2004 essay by Ray Moynihan in the Public Library of Science. Dole's press secretary did not return messages for comment.
In the same essay, Moynihan cited research that such awareness work can run a fee of $20,000 to $2 million. Doner, who did not represent Dole, said the fees range from $10,000 to $1 million.
"While they are being paid -- and it's work, they should be compensated -- I can assure you their sincerity was completely evident from day one," Doner said of her clients.
As the media have grown savvier to the celebrity and drug company connection in campaign adds, Doner said she has had to spend more time finding a suitable face for a campaign.
Take, for example, actress Cybill Shepherd. Shepherd has been in the public eye since the 1970s, first as a model and then as a film and television star. With a well-planned campaign, coverage of the beauty's irritable bowel syndrome hit the Boston Globe, The Miami Herald and MSN. Shepherd's publicist also did not return messages seeking comment.
Just as with other celebrities, Shepherd was also receiving a fee from Novartis, maker of the IBS drug Zelnorm, according to Doner, who represented Shepherd.
"I think that there were definitely times of skepticism and cynicism: Why are celebrities doing this and are they just paid and doing this for money?" Doner said of her business.
Despite the recent criticisms, Doner thinks celebrities' selling power will keep drug companies interested in awareness campaigns.
"As long as Hollywood is out there, the campaigns will never go away," she said.