Virtual Speaker Q&A
At MedPoint, we generally advocate conducting local events and virtual events as part of an integrated speaker program. The goal is to maximize physician participation by offering live peer-to-peer programs in different formats to match the preferences of individual physicians.
Some characteristics that make virtual programs more “ideal” include:
• Tight marketing budgets that dictate low per-capita costs
• A “market event” situation where there is new, time-sensitive information and the goal is to rapidly conduct a large number of peer programs
• Medical specialties that have low geographic density, or that tend to have low attendance rates to local events, or that are highly reliant on peer guidance for current best practices
Cutting Edge Information presented data from their survey at a 2010 industry conference on speaker programs, and they indicated that the average range of speaker honoraria among all pharma companies was between $1,222 and $2,878 for local events, and between $406 and $860 for virtual speaker programs. Those numbers equate to reductions of 67% to 70%. For more information please contact Cutting Edge Information.
Virtual meeting speaker programs need to work in parallel with local speaker programs, especially as virtual program evolve into high-volume use. Virtual and traditional speaker programs generally overlap in many ways, including speaker faculty, speaker training, presentation content, and promotional materials. These resources tend to be similar but not identical, and there are cost and quality synergies in coordinating these elements.
Perhaps the biggest issue for coordination regards the Web-based systems, or ePortals, that many biotech/ pharma companies use to request/fulfill speaker events, and to post speaker program information and resources. These ePortals serve as the hub of speaker programs, especially for sales reps, and it simplifies work for Reps if they can use a single ePortal that supports both local events and virtual meetings. An integrated ePortal also can deliver significant value to brand managers (visibility to speaker activity, speaker evaluations, reconciliation reports, etc.), field managers (rep scheduling, budget utilization, etc.), and even the speaker program faculty (scheduling ease).
Integration of virtual speaker activity into an existing speaker program ePortal can pose significant challenges. Speaker program ePortals are usually connected with a company’s compliance-tracking system, and these tend to be large complex systems. When evaluating virtual meeting platforms and providers, you should look into the vendor’s experience and capabilities with integration into biotech/ pharma speaker ePortals. It could make a big difference in how quickly your virtual program gets onto an ePortal, so sales reps can schedule attendees and get going with virtual speaker events.
First, be cautioned that several pharma and biotech companies have discontinued assessing ROI on speaker programs because they do not want to create a link between peer education activities and a “profit motive,” which they believe may trigger a legal/regulatory risk. Following that same cautious reasoning, my firm refrains from directly connecting speaker programs to ROI, although we work with some pharma and biotech companies who have assessed ROI for their virtual speaker programs.
Perhaps the best way to comment on ROI is to focus on the “I,” that is, the investment. Virtual speaker programs can lower the investment (or cost) per participant, by 60% to 85%. That’s a lot! In our 17-year experience with virtual speaker programs, we’ve consistently observed that virtual speaker programs produce a similar market effect as local speaker programs. That may seem hard to believe, because local speaker events have the advantage of a more personal face-to-face interaction between speakers and their audience. However, virtual speaker programs have the advantage of leveraging top-tier national speakers, who tend to be more respected and persuasive.
The bottom line is that, if you can lower costs by two-thirds and maintain effectiveness, ROI is increased by 300%. And lowering the cost of speaker programs is not just good business, but it’s also good in terms of ethical marketing and public perception.
As with local and regional speaker events, the number of attendees per virtual speaker event can vary widely, from more than200 persons to less than five persons. Such variation depends on program goals, format, and recruitment resources, as well as audience interest in the topic and speakers.
Although we’ve “done it all,” our firm endorses holding a large number of virtual events with an audience size per event in a range of six to 12 HCPs. This size provides every HCP participant the opportunity to ask questions and actively participate, and we believe HCP interaction leads to more effective virtual speaker events.
In terms of the drop-out (or no-show) rate for HCPs who pre-register for speaker events, the rate is similar for virtual and local events, which is to say, 50% or higher. Although such a drop-out rate is worrisome, with virtual programs we can usually overcome this with very high reschedule rates. Our experience shows that most HCPs fail to show because they momentarily become too busy, but they maintain interest in rescheduling. With virtual speaker programs, we (or the sales rep) can often re-schedule the HCP for another virtual event within a few days, or even as little as 30 minutes later. This can lower the effective dropout rate by 60% to 80%, which is significant. Local events, by comparison, do not offer the flexibility to quickly reschedule no-show HCPs.
Generally our clients at pharma and biotech companies create their own guidelines for honoraria based on Fair Market Value (FMV) criteria. We’ve observed that most companies set honoraria for virtual speaker events much lower than for local events, on the basis that the time commitment (and therefore FMV) for speakers is much lower for virtual events.
A recent survey of speaker program managers at pharma and biotech companies indicates that prevailing rates for virtual speaker honoraria are indeed much lower. A 2009 survey by Cutting Edge Information reported that honoraria for virtual events were 67% to 70% lower than honoraria for local events. This translates both into big cost savings, and the ability to use the best speakers more often per year without exceeding annual honoraria limits.
Compliance with state and federal regulations keeps growing in complexity, and there are several key points to consider regarding virtual speaker programs. Virtual speaker events are “compliance friendly” in several ways, as follows:
• By eliminating meals and the use of the dining venues, virtual meetings eliminate one of the biggest elements that trigger various state and federal compliance requirements.
• Honoraria payments per event should be lower for virtual meetings, causing lower total annual payments to speakers.
• Data on participation to speaker virtual speaker programs is automatically captured on a secure central server database. This is more reliable and accurate than relying on field sales persons to submit paper records of attendance.
• Content (slide sets, videos, animations, etc.) presented during virtual speaker programs is under the control of the virtual meeting provider and not susceptible to unapproved changes in content.
• Virtual events can be readily monitored at very low cost by compliance officers or others.
• A virtual meeting moderator can provide regulatory statements and disclosures with superior consistency, and in other ways follow protocols to conduct virtual meetings in a compliant manner.
• Lastly, the Physician Payment Sunshine Act (PPSA) has recently become law and goes into effect over the next two years. The PPSA sets reporting requirements at $10 per transaction or $100 annually per physician for “payments of value” which includes meals. One result is that attendees to dinner meetings will have their name and the value of the meal reported on a public website, which may be a disincentive for many HCPs to attend dinner meetings. Virtual meetings that eliminate meals will also eliminate the PPSA reporting requirement.
Another great question. For starters, in my experience the best virtual speaker programs have been driven by pharma reps who support the invitation/registration process, and also host the event in the HCP’s office. So getting pharma reps’ buy-in is critical to success.
On the issue of distracting sales reps, to me this hinges on virtual program design, so that “the program supports the rep,” instead of “the rep supports the program.” By this I mean that the biggest challenges facing pharma reps are gaining access to target HCPs, and providing clinical value to their HCPs. Virtual speaker program must be designed from the ground up so that reps perceive virtual programs as tools that help reps gain access and deliver value.
It’s important to properly position virtual speaker programs as a compelling offer to HCPs. After all, they conveniently allow HCPs to connect live with peers and experts in a state-of-the-art digital meeting. That’s a great offer, especially for the many HCPs who are so busy treating patients that they don’t have time to interact with peers.
To make these programs easy for pharma reps, think about having HCPs join using computers that are already in the clinic, such as a desktop computer in the HCP’s office. This way the rep has no equipment to set up, and the activity moves from the break room into the HCP’s office. That won’t happen in every HCP office, but when it does, the pharma rep gets invaluable time with the HCP.
This is a great question and a big concern. With Webconferences, there’s no speaker in the room, and if you don’t somehow connect with your audience, you’ll lose them. So the first rule of virtual speaker programs is, DON’T BE BORING! Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to hold audiences’ attention, as follows:
Be interactive. HCPS prefer active learning over passive lecturing. Avoid lengthy, didactic slide decks. Design your virtual events so that attendees actively participate, using tools like chat, polling, cases and decision points.
Be stimulating. Use live video of presenters (no excuses!) to make the human connection. Turn flat slide sets into dynamic presentations by incorporating slide builds and effects, as well as live and embedded mark-ups. Consider using advanced animations, especially if your brand has already paid to develop quality animations on disease process or drug mechanism.
Be interesting. Select topics that excite your HCP audiences. This may mean less focus on your brand, and more focus on topics that relate directly to the challenges facing your HCP audiences.
Be respected. For virtual programs, select a subset of top-tier speakers from your current speaker bureau. Remember that virtual events leverage the ability of these top-tier speakers to reach larger numbers of their peers on a national basis, without travel.
Virtual speaker programs typically lower costs by 60% to 85% compared to traditional local speaker events. A 2009 survey* of professionals at pharma companies who manage speaker programs showed that virtual speaker events yielded a 60% savings over local events. When thinking about cost savings, consider the following:
• First of all, 60-85% cost savings are HUGE. This is one of best opportunities for pharma brands to lower their spending.
• The real cost-savings come from desktop-to-desktop virtual programs. If you conduct virtual meetings from studios-to-venues (such as restaurants), cost savings are minimal.
• In my experience, cost savings of 85% are quite possible, especially if you conduct virtual speaker programs on a scale that’s similar to most local event speaker programs.
• Desktop-to-desktop virtual programs can produce 60-85% cost savings even if the group sizes per event are relatively small (6 to 10 HCPs).
• Sources of cost savings include elimination of meals, elimination of AV and room charges, lower faculty honoraria, and no faculty travel expenses.
* Cutting Edge Information, survey on Speaker Program Effectiveness, 2009