Swinging like wrecking balls through pharmaís marketing and education efforts, PhRMAís new code and increased regulatory scrutiny are forcing pharma marketers to find new ways to stay in compliance and get face time with physicians. One way to get that face time is through healthcare conventions and exhibits. (See ìOIG Guidance Reminder,î page 14.)
The hurdle for the meetings and conventions industry has always been proving the value of a scientific exhibit or symposium, or the return on investment of companiesí sponsorship dollars. Using a study conducted last year by the Healthcare Convention & Exhibitors Association (HCEA) and Exhibit Surveys, this article demonstrates the impact pharma company exhibits have on physiciansí attitudes and behavior.
The study analyzed data from 197 ìmatchedî interviews of more than 4,700 primary care physicians who participated in a telephone survey before and after attending a major national medical convention in 2002. The margin of error for the survey was plus or minus 6.5 percent.
Attendees came from a variety of medical specialties that fall under the primary care umbrella and a representative cross-section of practice types. (See ìWhat is your primary specialty?î and ìWhat is your practice type?î at right.) The average attendee at the meeting had 19 years of healthcare experience, with 44 percent clocking more than 20 years.
Is it Educational?
One of the studyís key findings is that physicians overwhelmingly say they learn when they visit exhibitsó80 percent of the HCEA survey respondents say so. That refutes the perception of exhibits as purely commercial forums that are of marginal value to the educational purpose of the event.
Further evidence of that comes from a question that probed why doctors visit the exhibit hall in the first place: 87 percent said they wanted to educate themselves, second only to 92 percent who cited seeing new products as the main reason. (See ìWhat are your main reasons for visiting exhibits?î page 15.) Changes in doctorsí attitudes about prescribing products also take place in the exhibit hall. Nearly half said they were more favorably inclined to recommend or prescribe exhibitorsí products as a result of their visit.
The HCEA study measured exhibitsí impact on physiciansí awareness of specific brandsóa commonly used measure that gives marketers a sense of the ìmind shareî they have with target audiences. The study showed that physiciansí awareness of the specific drugs studied increased an average 7 percent after visiting the booths. But that measure was heavily affected by where the product was in its lifecycle. Five of the six products studied were mature products, already well established in their markets. But one, a year-old gastrointestinal (GI) drug, saw its awareness level among doctors jump 15 percentóa sizable achievement from just one convention.
The HCEA study also showed that physiciansí awareness of the pharma companies studied increased by about 7 percent after the convention. But here again, the productís age may have been a factor. Physiciansí awareness of one particular pharma companyóthe GI drugís makerórose by 14 percent.
Educationís value in meetings and marketing is also demonstrated by the answers to another before/after question: "How valuable are each of the following to you in your decision to attend?"
Before the conference, the doctors predictably and appropriately placed the highest value on educational components of the meeting. (See ìValue of the Conferenceî at right.) After the meeting, the exhibit floor posted a 14 percent increase in its value score among attendees. That doesnít mean the symposia failed to educate. Rather, it reflects the impact each component had on meeting attendeesí educational expectations. It may be that attendees were surprised to find that the exhibit booths provided as much educational content as they did, improving their relative value.
The Detail Debate
One of the ongoing debates in medical marketing is about the comparative value of in-office and in-booth details at healthcare conventions. The HCEA study examined that question closely. It asked doctors how many pharma sales reps try to see them each month, how many they actually do see, and how much time they spend being detailed in their offices. It compared that data with the number of exhibitors physicians visited at the meeting and how much time they spent being detailed in booths.
Survey respondents said they are approached at their offices by an average of 25 pharma sales reps per month, but they only speak to an average of 22. The average length of an office detail is 7.3 minutes, for a total of about 2.7 hours per month.
On the other hand, the surveyed doctors spent an average of 5.9 hours visiting the exhibit hall over two and a half days. They visited an average of 33 exhibits and spent approximately 7.5 minutes at each. On average, 4.7 minutes represented detail time, bringing the total detail time for doctors in the exhibit hall to an average of 2.6 hours over two and a half days. Doctors spent an additional 1.5 hours looking at companiesí graphics, reading literature, and engaging in other activities.
What does it all mean? Pharma companies can reach roughly as many doctors in a few days at a conference as they would in a month using a field sales force. And, although in-office details last longer, the trend is toward fewer visits. According to the survey, 59 percent of the doctors say they see the same number of reps as they did the year before. A quarter say they see fewer, and only 16 percent say they see more than the previous year. That comes as no surprise to those familiar with the increasing pressure on physiciansí in-office time. Additionally, an ìattentivenessî issue also comes into play. Who knows where a doctorís mind really is when a salesperson grabs her or him for a few minutes of office time? In the exhibit hall, 56 percent said that one of their reasons for visiting the exhibits was to be detailed.
Where the Docs Are
Those survey results combined with new regulations governing pharmaís relationships with physicians may require marketing and medical affairs executives to take another look at healthcare conferences and exhibitions as a worthwhile spend. Why spend thousands of dollars getting doctors together for a company-sponsored meeting when reps can just go where they are, already in one place, waiting to be detailed?
The potent convention mix provides many opportunities for pharma meeting planners to accomplish their goals. In the post-PhRMA code environment, education is king. But in the convention environment, educationís reign never really faltered.
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