Traditionally when marketing a primary care or specialty medical product, the drill has been familiar: an army of well-spoken sales representatives detailing off sales aids whose efforts are complemented by non-personal promotional tactics. This model, supplemented by nationally recognized thought leaders presenting at dinner meetings had worked predictably and was usually sufficient to “move the needle”. The strategic medical education agency of record for the brand was often the partner chosen to support the logistics of speaker bureau programs. However, the major challenge for bio-pharmaceutical and medical device marketers in today’s environment of complex diseases is successfully communicating the science and clinical value of innovative medical products.
Thus, the need for effective promotional education programs delivered by credible and influential peers is greater than ever. Internally, to enhance speaker relations, specific functions have been created to manage speakers — who are typically key opinion leaders (KOLs) — such as professional education, speaker bureau operations, and speaker liaison. Equally, the need for a reliable and flexible external partner whose core focus is the business process of supporting promotional programs with logistical and technical excellence is greater than ever. As a result, a shift is occurring, whereby the infrastructure for what is, in essence, a sophisticated call center only exists in a handful of organizations. These companies have developed the required efficiencies and quality level due to delivering a high volume of promotional programs. The contracting of the operations and responsibilities of a specific business process to a third-party service provider is typically referred to as Business Process Outsourcing (BPO).
While a speaker bureau now is even more critical to the commercial success of medical products, with the advent of the Physician Payments Sunshine Act (PPSA), the remuneration of speakers for making promotional presentations and the value of meals consumed by health care providers (HCPs) has suddenly been illuminated. The largest marketing budget item, and one of the most important educational platforms available to medical product manufacturers, has become a liability as well as an asset. In response, most companies have empowered compliance to take a greater role in managing the risk associated with transfer of value (TOV) in relation to speaker bureau programs. Information systems, which are designed specifically for collecting, storing, and reporting, on TOV data, have also become instrumental to enable compliance personnel to discharge their risk mitigation duties.
No longer do the proprietary platforms of strategic medical education agencies meet the functional and technical requirements for transparency data management. Consequently, information technology and business analyst teams are now playing pivotal roles in evaluating systems deployed by potential speaker bureau vendors. Only a few organizations have made the investment in building platforms on a widely adopted system which enables a highly flexible and configurable solution to meet the broad needs of life-sciences companies. The industry standard for enterprise platforms are cloud-based, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), suites which allow for faster, smarter, and more scalable engagements.
In many ways, this shift in decision-making related to choice of speaker bureau partners has simplified the job of the medical product marketer. Now, marketing can focus on the strategic and tactical approaches for maximizing the commercial success of their products, and share the operational concerns related to the delivery of speaker bureau programs with colleagues in education, compliance, and technology.
Mike Strassberg, MHA, Sales Director, AHM
Mike has over twenty-years of experience in the life sciences industry, having held positions at several medical communications agencies, consulting firms, an HMO, hospital, and a pharmaceutical manufacturer. He has a Master of Healthcare Administration from Cornell University.