The sun hasn’t come up yet. Only a few lights are on in this quiet, suburban neighborhood as an 18-wheeler roars down the road, hurling up the leaves that had fallen overnight. The truck comes to a stop and backs into a driveway, beeping loudly, bending a fence post and plowing the lawn in the process. Inside the house, Joann is still lying in bed, stiff due to her rheumatoid arthritis and scared. “What did I get myself into?” Due to her disease, she really can’t get going on most days until 10 a.m., but the Emmy award-winning director hired by the Madison Avenue agency insisted on a 6:30 a.m. call time. Joann can’t even believe someone from New York City would contact her via Facebook about her RA post and make her the star of a TV commercial.
“A Few Reshoots”
She’s not professional talent, and it starts to become obvious. She can’t read the teleprompter. Short break. Joann can’t eat the donuts they brought her, because she has celiac disease. The crew and director are frustrated. A grumpy atmosphere ensues. Joann starts to feel fatigue and pain. They decide to give up on the prompter and just let her speak from her heart. “It looks better,” the creative guy says. The compliance briefing was days ago, and nobody feels responsible for it now. “We make good money with the project, so we will put up with the lady,” the tenor says.
When the crew finally leaves, Joann realizes everything in her freezer has melted because the crew unplugged the fridge due to interference with the sensitive audio equipment. As she is wheeling the garbage out to the curb, she sees the damage the truck caused to her fence and lawn. Joann feels used and abused.
Four weeks later, when the brand director previews the footage, she stares in disbelief. She couldn’t make it to the shoot but thought by hiring the best she’d be okay. The good part of the interview is out of compliance, and the compliant part is useless. Most of the footage is unsalvageable. The agency account exec calls Joann about doing a “few reshoots.” Joann hangs up without a word.
Physician Access Waning
The above story is fictional, but all the highlighted problems have happened, and it’s not even a comprehensive list of potential traps and pitfalls of pharma-produced patient videos. So, should pharma steer clear of producing patient videos? No. The current pharma marketing landscape demands more patient focus, not less. Patients are savvy and get their information online 24/7. It is critical to have a share of voice in the patient space, and authentic patient videos are the most powerful key to open that door, especially as other doors are slammed shut in pharma’s face.
The most prominent of those waning channels is the notorious drug rep strategy. For awhile, building personal relationships between prescribers and company representatives was, despite shortcomings, the gold standard, perceived to be one of the most effective ways to disseminate information about treatment options. But according to the latest ZS AccessMonitor, the number of HCPs who will see reps has declined dramatically, from almost 80% to 47% since 2008. This extreme shift has led to thousands of layoffs.
The Patient Video Checklist
Moving more pharma marketing resources to the patient side is a logical consequence. The bad news is: A lot of things can go wrong. The good news is: Most mistakes are fairly easy to avoid. Here’s a checklist:
1. Patient competence: A good patient video team has to like interacting with patients. Their recruitment strategy will be more sophisticated than simply sending a private message to a random person who tweeted about their disease. They will take the time to build up rapport beforehand. Truly understanding the patient’s journey and story is a prerequisite for getting great video and it takes more time than many agencies or superstar directors are prepared to invest.
2. Respect: A good video crew brings the experience needed to get exceptional results from working with the amateur talent, which patients are. They plan their schedules according to the patient’s needs. A home can turn into an authentic film set, but it has to turn back into a home when the shoot is done. Good craft services understand that some people have special dietary requirements, especially when dealing with chronic diseases.
3. Industry-regulatory knowledge: It saves time, money and nerves to know instantly when to get another take because the patient implied “quality of life,” used a word that could be considered comparative, or says something off label. The key to a successful shoot is a producer on set who knows the PI, brand strategy, and legal and regulatory hot buttons. Otherwise, you can be sure you will be looking at an expensive reshoot after your video gets trashed in review.
4. Proper guidance: An Emmy award winner can make recommendations about obtaining high production value footage, and a brand manager can speak competently on pharma marketing and compliance. Probably neither of them, however, will bring much knowledge about a patient’s everyday reality or how to marry these things to produce meaningful content. Only specialized video professionals can tell you if shooting on an exotic island location makes sense for your brand, or if it’s simply a waste of money. Having said that, even a good video crew will do what they’re paid to do if the client chooses to override their guidance and turn the video shoot into a mini-vacation.
Saving Your Reputation
In today’s environment, we’re finally at a place in which the most critical stakeholders, the men and women living with diseases, are treated as the priority they are. The question is not whether or not we work with patients. If we don’t we’ll be left behind. The question is how we do it. The mistakes made in the fictional example above highlight the importance of ensuring industry specialization.
Hiring a Hollywood diva does not deliver authenticity. Nor does sending the crew and the patient to exotic locations to ensure that the footage actually reflects the million-dollar budget. In fact, a seven-digit budget in itself is a quite reliable indicator of having overspent. An agency will do whatever they’re paid to do. But if they know patients, they will make recommendations that don’t just save your budget, but also your reputation.