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Mar 19, 2015

FDA Communications Webinar Provides Insight into FDA’s Operations


This article by Ginny Boland originally posted on McGuireWood LLP's FDA Life blog here.


On March 19, 2015, Kathleen Quinn, Acting Associate Commissioner for External Affairs for FDA, presented an overview of FDA’s communications strategy in a webinar titled “FDA Communications: The Strategy Behind Public Health and Regulatory Activities”.

Quinn indicated that communications is a top priority at FDA with high-level support across the Agency and explained that the Office of External Affairs (OEA) serves as the central point for communication and education about FDA’s public health and regulatory activities. OEA’s principal charges include working across the Agency and the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure consistent and clear messaging; building and maintaining effective relationships with stakeholders, partners and media; and providing communications expertise and evolving the Agency’s use of new/digital media.

In breaking down OEA’s operations, Ms. Quinn reviewed several Agency departments:

  • Office of Media Affairs has 15 press officers who work with news media, prepare press releases and statements, and arrange interviews;
  • Office of Communications is a multidisciplinary team of writers, editors, visual information specialists, and historian liaisons, who are responsible for speechwriting for the Agency, developing and disseminating information through the FDA Voice Blog and Consumer Updates bulletin, handling speaker requests and events, and managing the Agency’s History Office;
  • Office of Health and Constituent Affairs is a team of patient advocates, pharmacists, and health communications who serve as liaisons to patient advocacy groups and patients, consumer groups and health professional organizations, as well as managing programs like MedWatch and the Patient Representative Program; and
  • Web & Digital Media provides leadership and coordination for all digital communications for the Agency including www.fda.gov as well as the Agency’s social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr.

If FDA’s communications operations seem busy to you, you are correct. Quinn revealed the following statistics:

  • The Agency receives between 25 and 50 press inquiries per day–anything from verifying statistics to working on content for an in-depth news segment for television.
  • Between 15 and 20 interviews are coordinated and conducted with FDA experts per week.
  • The Agency issues between 15 and 25 press release per month.
  • For content development, the Agency produces 100 Consumer Updates per year, reaching 150,000 email subscribers, and posts 10 or more FDA Voice blogs per month on a range of topics.
  • The Agency manages and facilitates 30-40 public meetings per year, including FDA advisory committee meetings.

OEA utilizes a number of communications channels both online and offline, and focuses on building relationships with the media. The Agency faces a number of challenges because of the wide range of issues within the Agency’s purview, the mass audience that the issues often affect, the complexity of scientific matters, and the legal limits on disclosure. In all of its communications programming, OEA’s goals are twofold: to provide timely, understandable, useful, and actionable information to its audiences; and to foster trust and confidence among the public.

It is clear that OEA is a complex, sophisticated operation with big responsibilities. A big thanks goes to Quinn for pulling back the curtain on the inner workings of the Agency’s robust external affairs shop.