February 4, 2011

Are All Drug Reps Hot?

cheer-rep.jpgbrought to you by Reaganomics

(This is only peripherally about drug reps.)

Someone was arguing with me about why all drug reps are hot.  I told him they weren't, and I would know.  I've seen a lot of reps, I even used to train them, fly out to their HQs and give them a two hour lecture on the pharmacology of their and the other drugs.

"Then why does everyone say they are?"  He told me that a friend of his in the medical field also noticed they were all hot.  And didn't CNN or some blog say they hire college cheerleaders and sorority girls?

Of course, he isn't asking me because he wants a date.  The point he is making, the point everyone always makes when they bring this up, is that this is a strategic plan of Big Pharma's: hiring eye candy to influence prescribing.

How would that work, exactly?  Pfizer tells HR to screen applicants by cup size?  You know HR is run by women, right?

I shouldn't have to explain that a company can't have an employment strategy that discriminates against a protected class.  Saying that your hiring practices are a necessary part of a marketing strategy does not get you out of this.

There are some jobs where appearance is a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ-- see, there's even an acronym for it) and if you have to ask if your job is one of those, it isn't. Elite Modeling can hire based on looks, but Abercrombie & Fitch can't.  I leaave you to tease out the details.

Surprisingly, ugly people are not a protected class, and phew.  But while Pfizer can hire attractive women, it cannot be a hiring strategy.  Could a manager choose the prettiest out of all the candidates and get away with it?  Sure.  But he couldn't hold out for only attractive ones.  So if they did want their salesforce to be all attractive females, it would have to be, in effect, a conspiracy: everyone knowing the deal, and everyone playing along.  Do you know how hard it is to get a conspiracy going in this country?  It's impossible. 

But most people have never met a drug rep.  And people who have seen one in a doctor's office are sure they're hot-- "I saw her!"  But the assumption is wrong, and your eyes are lying to you.  You are all making the same mistake.


When you hear that all drug reps are hot, you can be confident that the person speaking is a middle aged man and/or someone with... limited sexual power.  These people are prone to two errors.  A psychological one: fetishization; and a biological one: mistaking for beauty what is merely youth.

This is supported by the reverse complaint among young male residents, young male reps, and guys who've been around the block: where are all the hot reps?  This company blows.

These women aren't hot, they are polished, hair and nails, new shoes, clothes, time at the gym and plenty of sleep.  (Sigh, that was me-- never.)  What would you expect of a single woman with a lot of disposable income magnified 10x by credit?  If you saw them in a bar you might not even notice them, but in a doctor's office their appearance is jarring, out of place, no one else has such attention to their appearance.  No one else is as young.  No one else walks with such confidence. 


I'm not saying reps aren't trying to influence doctors; I am only saying that the looks aren't part of corporate strategy, and it asinine to the point of insanity to believe that the 25 year old female rep put on an Ann Taylor suit and Nine West pumps to look good for you, so you'll prescribe Zyprexa.

If you found an actual hot rep, and asked her if she thought she looked hot in that suit, she would say, "oh God, in work clothes?"

But it's those clothes, that job, that make her sexy.  Take a 25 year old and put her in a bar, she's a girl.  Put her in the clothes and she's a woman-- so for a 40 year old, there's much less guilt about seeing her as a sex object, because she isn't a sex object, she's a professional.

"Sex for scripts" is not a derivative of prostitution. It is sexy because it is not prostitution.  If it were strictly transactional, it would lose its sex appeal-- no one fantasizes about having sex with prostitutes, they have fantasies of paying for sex, and the fantasy isn't that she does it even though she doesn't want to, the fantasy is that she wants it so much she'll do it for so little.  What makes it sexy is the fantasy that the woman doesn't mind it at all; for her, sex is easy, comfortable, immediate.  She'll have sex with a man simply out of curiosity: "I just wanted to see if he was any good."  

They don't have to have sex with you, of course, but their threshold for doing it is much lower.  The image of a woman offering her sexuality to obtain a non-sexual reward-- in this case scripts, but it's no different from the idea of the woman who blows the bouncer to get into a club, or sleeps with the band's frontman even though she thinks he's kind of weird looking, just for the story-- is comforting.  It offers an explanation for why her sex seems so easy with other men and so out of reach for you: she's doing it for some reason that is not sex.  So you make it porn-- she has the ability to enjoy sex even with people she doesn't actually like-- and now you ladies know why your boyfriend doesn't care a lick about the three years you spent with your ex, but goes all quiet when you bring up a drunken one night stand.  Say this: "he was cute, I guess, but I don't actually remember his name," and strap in for the best sex he can deliver (or a beating.)

If I say "drug rep," you think she's hot.  If I say, "she blew the bouncer to get into the club," again, you think hot.  If I say she's a "nurse" then she's hot.  But if I say she's a surgical nurse, or a nurse practitioner, then she's not hot.  The more specific you get, the older you imagine her to be, and the specifics crowd out the fantasy.

That makes being a drug rep a fetish, in which the job-- not the woman-- is attributed with sexual power that it does not have, but we all act as if it does.  That same girl in a supermarket might be ordinary; but call her a drug rep and give her the uniform, and it's boner time.   That uniform is just as important as her actual appearance.  Uniforms de-humanize (that's the point of them.)  The uniform tells you to think of this person not as an individual but as whatever that uniform represents.  But if that uniform represents sex (as do nursing uniforms, etc) then the woman can't help but being thought of as sex.  So you have to abandon the uniform.


Instead of wondering why Pfizer hires only young women to be reps, you should ask why young people are lured into Pharma.

And why not?  Money is great out of college; it's a purely white collar job, not much experience is necessary.  While it's not a physically taxing job, who else wants to enter a career where they have to work three nights a week until 10p?   I know it's at a restaurant, but these young women you expect to be hot have enough money to go on their own, with people they like, not a 50 something "I was an obstetrician in my country" or a table of know-nothing residents who all think they're going to Vasco da Gama the buried data of the presentation.  

But the hidden danger is that for most of these reps, there is no future in Pharma.  Pharma cut more jobs than any other private sector industry, about 100k since 2009.

Whatever else you might think about reps, they represent the goal of the nation: young, motivated, college educated workers who want to 401k their future, have families, watch the Super Bowls and not get involved with nonsense.  The problem with the nation is that it didn't have any jobs to offer them except Pharma (and similar) jobs.  Those jobs don't exist now, and there aren't any other jobs for them.  It's one thing to say the poor/uneducated can't find work, it's another thing to say the explicitly desired outcome of this country's social and educational system can't find work. The supply is there; but there's no demand.  And there's no demand because there's not enough people who create stuff creating stuff which would justify the other jobs.

When this occurs, a country has two options.  It can support those young people through social services, healthcare, housing and food subsidies, etc-- with steady GDP growth of about 5%; or it can create jobs.  The first one is called Egypt.

Let's stick with the Pharma example, though it applies everywhere.  If Pharma was creating new drugs, it could justify all these jobs.  Now they aren't, so jobs are cut.   Create new drugs and everyone's back in business.  Ok-- but wrong.

They never were creating new drugs, they were only creating new markets.  I realize Zoloft and Lexapro are nominally different drugs, but they are really the same drug, packaged differently: markets were created to sustain both Lexapro and Zoloft; not one market with two products, but a doubling of the market.   In a perfect world, Lexapro wouldn't have been invented, they would have worked on something else.  But since they knew they could create a market for "another Zoloft," they took the easy route.  And they hired a salesforce, accordingly.

While that was good for Lexapro, it's terrible for the country.  Temporarily-- and ten years is temporary-- hiring all these people to essentially duplicate efforts cannibalizes resources from other industries.  All of those reps might have done something else, back when they were young enough to do something else.  You might say it's not for me to judge whether being a rep is more valuable to society than being, say, an engineer.  I agree, that is not my place to judge, the market can do that; but it is the responsibility of the nation's administrators to decide that what they want for their 18 year investment.   And if they want more engineers, entrepreneurs, creators, they have to incentivize that, and de-incentivize other choices.  And if Pharma is offering $60k + benefits, the country's got to come up with something better.

Here's an example: Pharma offers 401k with matching benefits.  The government, if it wants to use stimulus money the right way, could offer college grads who go into jobs the country wants (e.g. engineering) a matching pension.  In 2009, $50B worth of school loans were in default.  If you spent only $10B a year on grants to pay for e.g., engineering, you could get 200k engineers through college.  Etc.  And many people who are already employed would love a way to fund side projects, in essence doubling the output of a single person.

The chief predictor (actually, the only predictor) of suicide is hopelessness.  A person can withstand all manner of attacks and traumas, but if you take away hope all bets are off.  When the hopelessness becomes endemic, it looks like this:



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