Time To Go Virtual?

Pharma brand management is increasingly challenging these days. Doctors don’t have time to meet with reps or travel long distances to live symposia, but they do need to stay current on new treatment options and label changes.

Along with time constraints, budgets are shrinking and traditional live-based promotional methods are increasingly less viable. Skyrocketing travel and lodging costs and doctor’s busy schedules make “out of office” rep time nearly impossible. That’s why educating docs or reps at the local level is so critical.

What’s a brand manager to do? One good answer: Experiential marketing with live, high-quality virtual events—either in or out of the office.

Virtual meeting technology provides docs with opportunities to:

  • Learn from key opinion leaders in their field and interact with them virtually.
  • Encourage quality rep interaction with docs.
  • Improve peer doctor-doctor learning and relationships.

Forums for Learning

Experiential marketing and virtual events produce great forums for learning. Big Pharma was not an early adopter of virtual technology but that has changed dramatically over the past two years, primarily due to pricing pressure and major improvements in technology.

The first rule of the trade: Partner with a virtual meeting company that understands the pharmaceutical industry. The regulatory environment makes this a no brainer. You want to ensure that your virtual meeting partner will help you adhere to the regulations, PhRMA and FDA Guidelines (and your internal regulatory protocols) and reaches your target audience.

For that reason, work with a virtual event production company that integrates seamlessly with your internal content experts and agencies, medcoms and advisors. Let content folks stick to what they excel at and have them partner with virtual meeting technology and production experts.

Look for high-quality production value and the flexibility to deliver the information in varying virtual formats—all live, partially pre-recorded, or fully pre-recorded—as well as the ability to deliver the information in the most desirable way, to restaurants and hotels, laptops, iPads, Androids, iPhones. You need to have access to production studios countrywide and a full-time editing staff to develop pre-recorded content. Work with a company that can help you run your virtual productions from anywhere, whether it’s their own studio, your company’s studio, a hotel, or a doctor’s office. And, it sounds obvious, but work with a company that knows production! If you need a procedure, do you go to a doctor that does one a month or 10 a day?

Additional Key Items to Look For in a Virtual Meeting Provider

Seek out a company that can provide:

1. Interactivity with the studio via Q&A, polling, Twitter and Instagram.
2. A live presentation followed by live Q&A.
3. A prerecorded slide deck presentation followed by a live Q&A—or an entirely pre-recorded presentation that can be viewed with easy access.
4. On demand any time and on any type of device.
5. Registration service.
6. Attendee tracking and reporting.
7. Customized branding.
8. The ability to provide both day and night programs.

Day and Night Programs

Daytime programs are often coupled with rep lunch-and-learn programs. They are easy for reps to access on their tablets or laptop and convenient for the doctors, too. Evening programs go hand in hand with dinner programs. While thought leader webcasts transmitted into doctors’ offices are becoming a compelling marketing tool for reps, evening virtual events held at restaurants or local hotels provide reps with unique opportunities to interact with docs outside of the office in a relaxed setting. Both can work effectively.

To take advantage of the out of office opportunity, virtual meeting technology can be used in private dining rooms at restaurants or hotels, and your virtual meeting partner can facilitate cost-effective live broadcasts. Reps can then invite 20 to 30 docs to an event at a local venue to view the broadcast presentation and ask topical questions. This offers several advantages: Reps get closer to the docs; docs interact and learn from each other; and all get to learn from thought leaders in their therapeutic specialty.

But dinner events aren’t for everyone. Having the technology to allow docs to log on and view a presentation from anywhere with any type of device and with no need to install special apps is key. That’s because some docs don’t live near a venue and would rather watch a presentation from the office or at home. To maximize your reach, your partner must have the ability to allow physicians and reps to watch on their computers, iPads and iPhones. And of course, playback availability and ease of use after the event is critical. The best thing to do is work with an on-demand webcast hosting company to allow viewers who can’t attend a live event to watch your content at their convenience.

Interactivity is also key. Make sure that your provider’s interactive features virtually put the viewers in the same room with the presenting doctors. Viewers should be able to submit questions online and get answers in real time from key opinion leaders whom they may never have the opportunity to hear in person, nor interact with directly.

On top of that, audience response polling via the web or cell phone (think American Idol for the pharmaceutical industry), Twitter and Instagram should be features. Why? This keeps viewers fully engaged for the length of your program. Interactivity focuses viewers on your content and away from their email inbox. Questions should be monitored carefully to avoid regulatory traps.

POAs and Training Goes Virtual

Virtual programming is effective for POAs, sales training and speaker training, too. The average live meeting involves flying participants to a central location for a day or two of training—and that costs money and lost sales time. Virtual training programs conducted can be just as effective and:

  • Realize overall savings of more than 75%.
  • Allow attendees to stay local.
  • Build local team camaraderie.

Get on the Virtual Bandwagon

If you’re not using high-quality virtual meetings for physician education and training, it’s something to consider. Physicians like it because they can stay local and get information in real time. Reps like it because they get quality face time with physicians, and they get the training they need without having to travel. And in the end, finance people like it because it is cost effective. With this winning trifecta, what are you waiting for? It’s time to go virtual.


  • Doug Mack

    Doug Mack is the Founder and CEO of Inception Digital (formerly called ESSRX). In 2008, Doug launched satellite and webcast programs for the pharmaceutical industry, and produces and delivers high-definition digital programs in restaurant and hotel venues, as well as web broadcasts and webconferences for laptops, iPads, iPhones, and any other device that connects to the Internet.

    • Samantha Johnson

      Samantha Johnson is a Vice President of Client Services for Inception Digital (formerly called ESSRX) and has produced more than 100 live satellite and webcast programs for the pharmaceutical industry. Prior to joining Inception Digital, Samantha spent 10 years in the medical education industry focusing on account management.


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