Selecting the best-fit patients to recruit for a trial is so important to their retention and to the power of the results you expect to get from them. This makes recruitment a significant priority in the trial process and determines the nature of your marketing as a result, as such, recruitment becomes a serious bottleneck in trials and is constantly responsible for delays.
Here, we’re going to look at some of the most common platforms for your trial advertising, and show some examples for each one. We’ve also got some best practices for each, and a list of general best practices to follow in your marketing strategy as a whole. First, though, let’s take a look at some of the importance of and challenges to advertising in clinical trials.
Clinical Trial Advertising
Clinical trials have different marketing needs than hospitals or other healthcare services. Compliance is a big example of one of these differences, including the need to fit certain regulatory criteria but the Institutional Review Board (IRB). Still, while these safeguards need to be navigated in trial advertising, they are not typically what gets in the way of trials finding and retaining participants.
Advertising in trials needs to battle negative associations among the population in relation to clinical trials, as well as a general lack of understanding and misconceptions. Understanding participant concerns and attitudes towards trials is a key component to figuring out how to draw in a viable participant base and, once they’re signed up, how to keep them engaged.
Recruitment and retention remain two of the major sources of delays in conducting trials, and this brings with it the desperate need for external marketing to contain clear and accurate communication in marketing with the right information, framed in the right way.
But internal marketing is also a challenging factor. When doctors are relied upon exclusively to provide patient referrals, sponsors are often met with poorly fitting or disengaged candidates This is caused by several issues relating to the source of the referrals and the lack of awareness of clinical trials as a whole.
So, there are internal and external weak points in trial marketing and they both relate to the lack of accurate exposure about available trials, and this creates a strange environment where the advancement of medicine is less reliant on advancements in science and technology than it is on effective marketing strategies.
Finding the solutions to these challenges is about leveraging the available marketing platforms and strategies in a clinical trial context and making use of what’s available to bridge the gap between sponsors and participants.
Clinical Trials Advertising and Marketing Platforms
We’ve put together a list of best practices when it comes to marketing trials, but first, we’ll cover some of the approaches that you can take, and try to explain why they work, and how.
1. Clinical trial recruitment companies
These companies approach recruitment from a number of angles, some of which we’ll detail individually in this list. For example, a good recruitment company might look for participants using digital marketing or partnerships, and lean on their specific expertise in your field. Essentially, they’ll do a lot of the work for you, and the challenge then becomes simply finding the right company to use with your budget.
Clinical trial patient recruitment companies sometimes offer extra options that come in handy too, like screening or site identification. These are companies that have experience finding the needs of your participant base and marketing your services to them accordingly. A mixture of their powerful networks and their intelligently-designed marketing strategies can dramatically boost the effectiveness of your marketing.
These companies often partner with companies, nonprofits, and community groups outside of the research industry, giving them access to a wide range of candidates with various conditions. In this way, they gather up groups of highly-motivated participants for your trial and take a lot of headaches out of the process. Despite their strengths, selecting the right one for your trial is the key to making this a good investment.
Best practice for interviewing a recruitment company: Find out how in-depth their research will be, and how their approach will actually provide you with an ROI. Ask for testimonials or case studies of their previous successes that they can show you.
2. Digital Advertising
This is another wide-scope strategy and one that recruitment companies will have a lot of control over too. If you’re planning on going ahead without one, however, it’s a good idea to know how to run a digital marketing strategy for your trial. Digital advertising would be anything that makes use of Google Ads, Facebook, LinkedIn, or other social media platforms to target users with tailored material to appeal to them.
One of the key benefits of this approach is the data you can gather in running such a campaign. It’s possible to identify where your audience is looking and what they’re looking at, and from there it’s a lot easier to provide them with content that they will respond to. This boosts attention, but it also helps you understand and correct any of the misconceptions that people might be having, which will further boost retention down the line.
Taking Facebook Ads as an example, the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research put out targeted ads with a simple format to recruit participants for an online study.
The ad itself has a simple format that works well in digital advertising.
Best Practice for Facebook Ads: A short header with a logo and headline that links to the organization, followed by a custom image and a call to action.
Facebook offers to target based on Location, Age, Gender, Ethnicity, and Language, as well as interest-based targeting which can spot those who visit pages and communities related to Parkinson’s.
Then, there are various engagement metrics that you can follow, based on likes, shares, and comments.
3. Traditional Advertising
While digital media is exceptionally powerful and versatile, there are some key ways that traditional advertising has advantages over it. Tradition ads would be billboards, radio or TV ads, or posters in the subway. These are used in ad campaigns to target people where they are in the physical world, rather than online.
Traditional advertising doesn’t have to be a replacement for digital, either. Sometimes, your participants will occupy both spaces. However, it’s particularly good for those demographics who don’t spend as much time online. If you’re dealing with particularly aged people, for example, or people with poor eyesight, Facebook might not cut it, and it might be better to use a radio ad.
From your market research, you should still be able to target these, although the metrics won’t be as precise as online. Still, doctors’ offices are a good place to put them up, as are public transport spaces like the metro. These two examples cast a narrow and wide net, respectively, depending on what you’re looking for.
In this example, the clinic posts a substantial amount of information under a headline that is very eye-catching to the intended audience.
Best Practice for traditional Advertising: Putting the ad in a location where people will have to sit for prolonged periods gives it a good view and a high chance of being read in its entirety, so it can afford to crowd the page a little more and lead the viewer through a series of qualifying questions to get to the contact details of the trial itself. Conversely, a billboard on the side of the road should be short and to-the-point, as people will pass it by more quickly.
4. Automation, Patient Databases, and Registries
This is another thing that recruitment agencies could help you with, but it’s also something you can use outside of their sphere. This kind of database is essentially a searchable directory that you can either build yourself – populating it with your contacts and candidates – or access at a fee from other suppliers.
There will be databases you can access that specialize in specific conditions and this can help you gather the details of those you want to recruit. For example, Profil offers access to a database with more than 31,000 patients across diabetes types 1 and 2.
This database can be filtered for medical history, lab data, and other variables and you can tailor your marketing to the individuals you find. This is just one example of how to use a patient database, but there are different levels to it, depending on how much work you want to put in.
If you’re maintaining your own database, automation is your friend. Marketing and automation programs are also available for outbound calling, emails, and other forms of outreach that work together to nurture your database and keep your trials at the front of your candidates’ minds. These programs should be HIPAA compliant and built for the needs of your demographics.
So, there’s a range of involvement that you can choose, based on your resources. Building and nurturing your own database will be more effective in the long run, especially if you’re repeatedly running trials with the same demographics; however, buying into other databases is fast and effective, once you find the right one.
The key difference in directories over other approaches when it comes to marketing will be the nature of your outreach. Finding individual contact details of potentially-qualified patients can cut down on recruitment times, but the balance between automating your content to bring them in and forming a message that’s personalized and meaningful can be tricky.
When it comes to creating content for any form of clinical trial advertising, some basic principles are worth following, regardless of your platform or medium.
Clinical Trials Advertising and Marketing: Best Practices
Marketing as a general discipline is about speaking the same language as your audience and offering them a solution to their problem. In order to be able to do this, you need to understand their language and their pain points, and with clinical trials, there’s a lot to be said about the motivations that patients experience.
Tapping into these motivations while dispelling any uncertainties and misconceptions, are the ultimate aims of a successful clinical trial advertising campaign, and with that in mind, here are seven best practices that might help you along.
1. Understand that patients want help, but that they also want to help
While your patients will be hoping for a solution to their medical condition, one of the key motivations among patient groups is not to get cured, but to contribute to the advancement of medical research. Altruism is commonly cited as a reason to join a trial, and your marketing needs to respond to this.
By all means focus on how your patients will likely benefit from the study, but also make sure it’s clear that they are contributing to something important, and instill the value of that into your media.
2. Highlight the right benefits
Financial gain was, perhaps unsurprisingly, another top motivation for joining a trial, but there are FDA restrictions on how much this can be emphasized in marketing due to the ethical implications. There are also restrictions on highlighting “free treatment” for the same reason.
Still, this leaves plenty of room for promoting your trial around countless other benefits, including the autonomy of a patient contributing to their own medical condition, and the contribution they’ll be making. All of these considerations should be at the forefront of your early outreach.
3. Understand the drawbacks
Inconvenience is the most often reported disadvantage of clinical studies. Finding a way to rank your candidates by how far they will have to move, or other inconvenience metrics will help you design your marketing strategy accordingly.
It may also help to emphasize your trial design elements that relate to mitigating inconvenience. For example, if you’re running a remote study, or have flexible scheduling, this should be one of the key features to show off in your ads.
4. Be clear and specific
Your ads should be part of your selection process from the start. Drawing in the wrong crowd wastes everybody’s time and resources, so be upfront about the strict eligibility criteria in your first ads, if possible. This form of targeting might reduce your click-throughs, but will likely improve the fit of those who show an interest.
Of course, you don’t need to list the full document of inclusion and exclusion criteria, but you can provide a link directly to that, where appropriate, and as soon into the funnel as possible without affecting its flow.
5. Relate to your patients
When using visual media, it’s important that the images depict something familiar to the audience. If there’s a disease involved, depict a common pain point that resonates with your audience. Sometimes that audience will be the patient, sometimes it’ll be the doctor or caregiver; it’s important to consider this difference when designing the imagery.
This will all come down to how well you research your patients and their community. Some diseases disproportionally affect certain genders or races, so reflecting this in your imagery is a good idea, as long as it’s not explicitly stated in the ad.
6. Experiment and combine
There’s not necessarily going to be a single best platform or strategy for clinical trial advertising so don’t be afraid to experiment a bit and mix things up. Identify what works and what doesn’t, and try to identify the strongest elements of each so that you can combine them into an effective strategy.
7. If in doubt, pay for it
Many of these approaches are free to use, such as building your own database or making use of social media platforms, but if you’re trying to cut too many costs in your outreach, you’re likely to be missing out on a much better ROI than you’d get from using exclusively free platforms and strategies.
If you find the perfect database, it might well be worth paying a premium for. Similarly, Google Ads or paid searches can boost your visibility significantly and if done right should easily give you a good return on ad spend. The important part of spending on any clinical trials advertising and marketing is to make sure it’s targeted right. Make sure you’re not wasting your money drawing in the wrong people, only to have to turn them away later on.
Balancing your ad budget against your recruitment needs can be a little daunting, but there are so many ways to streamline the marketing process using a multitude of platforms, that the matter hopefully becomes one of organization and research, rather than cost.
Identifying your candidates’ needs is the first step, then finding out where they’re looking and specifically what they’re looking for is the next. From there, there’s a platform or an app, or a directory available for you to reach out and bring them on board.