Launch to Success

March 2, 2006
Jeannette Park

Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical Executive, Pharmaceutical Executive-03-02-2006, Volume 0, Issue 0

When planning meetings, pharma companies need to work beyond what they think is satisfactory.

SUCCESSFULLY LAUNCHING A PRODUCT CAN BE as simple as knocking down a row of dominoes. Start with a good plan and a strong push in the right direction, and every piece will fall into place, one after another. A vigorous launch encourages and excites sales reps, holds their interest, and prompts them to get out there and sell a drug—which, in turn, leads to higher profits.

A pharmaceutical product launch needs to reinforce the message at every turn. According to Mike McGraw, president of events company Tneve and author of How Do You Spell Customer Service?: CA$H, successful meetings are the ones that integrate the message into all aspects of the week, day, or even hour. "When [sales reps] leave the event, the message has to be clear to them on all levels," McGraw says. "If a sales rep can't relate the product's message in 30 seconds or less, then the company has its mission."

Companies planning meetings mistakenly believe that the more money they spend, the more information sales reps retain from the event. "That's a popular misconception," McGraw says. "It's not the dollar amount spent, but the time spent in making sure every little detail relates to the message. Failure to connect the dots is a death sentence for meeting planners."

Giddyup Offering team-building activities at a working ranch gives city slickers a chance to bond, let down their guard, and have some fun.

Tighter budgets and stricter rules and regulations are forcing meeting planners to think outside the box. Pharma companies need to set themselves apart not only from their competitors, but also from their own product launches, in order to make an impact on their sales reps. For example, just because last year's drug-launch event featured a popular band, it doesn't mean the tactic will be as successful the next year. Meeting planners have to think of something extraordinary that will educate as well as it entertains.

Giving Back

For a large pharmaceutical company's product launch, Tneve put together an event designed to find the winner in everybody. Without informing the participants in advance, the event group coordinated a day of team-building activities with local children from the Special Olympics. In groups of 10 reps and one child, attendees participated in races and challenges that carefully incorporated teamwork into succeeding and winning. "We heard a lot of comments from the sales reps after that event about how much the meeting meant to them," McGraw says. "I think the day fostered a goodwill attitude, and it contributed to the focus of getting out there and succeeding despite any obstacles. A lot of the reps even became pen pals with the Special Olympics kids they spent the day with, and I think ultimately the children were the glue that bound the reps to each other."

Team Building

Destination Services in Colorado Springs, CO, hosts real-life cattle roundups to help foster teamwork at product-launch events. Attendees work at a ranch and live like cowboys for a day. Activities like stacking hay and rounding up cattle give city slickers a real feel for life on the ranch. But anyone who thinks he'll spend the day roping trees and fake animals should stay home. There is nothing make-believe about this event. Cattle are unleashed on the prairie, and it's up to the reps to bring them home, according to Susan Fort, general manger of Destination Services. With the exception of a few ranch hands on site to assist, the groups are left on their own to figure out how to complete their tasks. They learn to rely on each other for ideas and support. By the end of the day, an initially tentative group leaves the ranch with a renewed sense of confidence and camaraderie.

Breathing Room

Despite the rules and regulations governing the tone of pharma meetings, a product launch doesn't have to consist of rigidly scheduled activities. For companies that believe a little R&R makes for happier sales reps, the natural beauty of a destination can foster a lighthearted attitude for the week. The better you hold reps' interest, the more they will learn.

Good pointe This six-acre oasis isn't just for the kids. Implement product launches around a hotel's unique facilities.

In addition to the cattle round-up, Destination Services offers rock climbing, a Royal Gorge Route train ride along the Arkansas River, and a trip to the Garden of Gods—a 238 million-year-old red-rock hike. Todd Wells, director of national sales for the midwest at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, knows that getting some personal time is vital during a weeklong conference with hundreds of attendees. That's why he says the 3,200-acre hotel sitting at the base of the Rockies is a perfect spot for large product launches. "We offer multiple breakout and individual opportunities simply because we have the space for it, and people can go off and get some fresh air if they need it," says Wells. "For companies looking to emphasize the health and wellness of their sales force, we appeal to them because we foster a very active lifestyle on our grounds."

Making Memories

Mike Lyons, president and CEO of Global Event Partners (GEP) in Philadelphia, concentrates on spectacular launches indoors. For GEP's most recent event, the team produced a last night extravaganza that capped off a weeklong convention that celebrated popular music through the decades. "We wanted to create a really memorable send-off where attendees would actually say 'wow' when they entered the space," Lyons says. Five different rooms were made up to exemplify the last five iconic decades: There was a 1950's diner; a psychedelic focus to reflect the 1960s; a disco dance floor for the 1970s, complete with a John Travolta impersonator and Village People cover band; break dancers for the 1980s; and another room that exuded the stark lounge trend of the 1990s and early 21st century. "I think this is an idea that a lot of companies can replicate because, it's memorable and fun and it allows people to bond over common interests and network," says Lyons. "For a pharma launch, you want people to get motivated. And this jazzes them up a little and helps them get out there and sell."

Geoffrey Cooke, national sales manager, Pointe South Mountain Resort

Personalized Approach

When planning product launches, some vendors find that a more personalized plan works best. "Our approach is to be far more individual and catch this service much farther upstream," says Geoffrey Cooke, national sales manager of Pointe South Mountain Resort in Phoenix, AZ. "We ask the meeting planners, 'What is it that you want to do?' And we try to facilitate that and tailor the needs to the company."

Companies like to go to Pointe South resort for its six-acre water oasis, giant lawn areas, and helicopter-landing pad. For one company, the hotel set up a water-themed launch. Out by the oasis wave pool, Pointe South built a screen to hide a big event scheduled to follow dinner by the water. After a sumptuous feast personally created for the event, the Blue Man Group came out and performed a theatrical spectacle, capped by the unveiling of the company's product from the huge dropdown screen hidden in the dark. This was an effective presentation method because the guests weren't expecting a big display on their first night, and it excited them about what else was in store for the week.

"It's hard to get excited when you're sitting in a conference room looking at slides," Cooke says. "Our successful launches are based on having a shared experience and getting out there with your company—it drives home the theme of the meeting." To exemplify this point, Pointe South (with the help of Destination Services Arizona) creates scavenger hunts similar to the television show The Amazing Race. Running along a designated path, sales reps are split up into groups and challenged to complete product terminology or identify sales techniques in order to get the next clue. Throw in a few detours and obstacles, including a time limit, rocky terrain, and hurdles, and any rep is challenged to complete the mission. "It's a great way to incorporate a little fun and physical activity into teamwork and success," says Jennifer Rueb, director of Destination Services Arizona. And since the groups start and end on the property, it eliminates additional transportation costs.

Jennifer Rueb, director of Destination Services Arizona

McGraw says product launches are dependent on the event's strategies and integration of the conference's theme. "Meeting planners need to trigger every sense so that sales reps can cement the message into their minds when they leave," he says. And companies need to work beyond what they think is satisfactory to really make an impact.

Like dominoes, correctly positioning all the parts of a launch ensures each subsequent piece will fall into place. A memorable launch excites reps, motivates them to sell the drug, and creates positive return on investment. All it takes is a good strong push in the right direction—kind of like knocking down a row of dominoes.