While APCO mentions some of its clients on its Web site under the heading of "Client Success," it doesn't disclose all of them. You will find no mention of AHIP there. That's because AHIP does not want the public to know anything about the PR strategies the firm creates and the front groups it sets up for the insurance industry.
At the time of the Philadelphia meeting, Tuffin had recently returned to AHIP from APCO, where he had served as a top account executive whose clients had included the pharmaceutical industry. Before APCO and his first stint at AHIP, he'd been the se nior director of strategic communications at the trade group Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America and, earlier, the communications director at GOPAC, a Republican political action committee. Schooling, who had joined APCO in 1995 after working as a senior field director for the National Association of Homebuilders, came from the other side of the po liti cal aisle. In the early part of his career, he had been a field director for the Demo cratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
For the strategy meeting, AHIP had encouraged the PR people to attend in person rather than calling in. It did not want to risk the chance that anyone other than those specifically invited would be able to hear how the industry planned to discredit Moore and his film. Secrecy was paramount. There would be no handouts. A secure conference call line was set up for those few who could not attend in person, and they were given passwords - but only after the meeting started- so they could view the PowerPoint presentations on their office computers. The "save" and "print" functions were disabled so that no one could keep any evidence, other than their own handwritten notes, that the meeting had taken place.
To drive the point home, the first slide of the presentation warned that any communications we disseminated in writing, even to employees, could wind up on Moore's Web site.
Though the movie would not reach American screens for another month, AHIP and APCO had created a comprehensive PR campaign, elements of which, we were to learn, were already being implemented. The initial thrust of the campaign would be an attempt to shift the media's focus away from Moore's agenda as much as possible and to position health insurers as part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Tuffin said that when any of us talked to the media about Sicko, we should acknowledge the compelling stories and personal tragedies in the film but then try to change the subject to how insurers contribute to the American health care system.
Schooling added that it was imperative for all of us to redouble our efforts to educate the public on the positive things the industry does. Hanway suggested that every company should begin collecting positive stories to counter the negative ones in the movie. Schooling said that APCO would work with any company's PR team to help place positive stories in the media. While this effort was under way, APCO would work behind the scenes to "reframe the debate" by mounting a campaign against government-run health care systems. Schooling said the strategy to do that would be bifurcated. On the one hand, insurers would need to stay on message by continuing to talk about how they can help solve problems relating to access, cost, and quality of care. On the other hand, AHIP and APCO would recruit allies to communicate what industry spokespeople could not do with credibility - that Moore was a nut whose ideas on reform would be a disaster for the country.
Tuffin and Schooling said they had already begun recruiting conservative and free-market think tanks, including the American Enterprise Institute and the Galen Institute, as third-party allies. Those allies, they said, would be working aggressively to discredit Moore and his movie.
Excerpted from Deadly Spin by Wendell Potter. Copyright © 2010 by Wendell Potter. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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