Pharmaceuticals & Biotech

Speaker programs and congresses can be data-driven too

By Ankita Praharaj, and Kumail Fazal

Feb. 2, 2020 | Article | 4-minute read

Speaker programs and congresses can be data-driven too

Speaker programs and congresses are a key component of the promotional mix strategy for pharmaceutical companies and are used to educate HCPs about the latest products, product benefits, and the best ways to use them. Every year, organizations set aside considerable funds for executing speaker programs and congresses.


Setting up an effective speaker program or congress, however, takes a lot more than funding, which itself is easier said than done. The planning and execution of such programs will likely benefit from a data-driven approach. Many programs today, however, still rely on human-experience-driven guesswork and intuition. And for those who have considered a more data-driven approach to speaker program planning and execution, it can sometimes be difficult to even know what questions you want the data to answer.


A data-driven approach to planning and executing an effective program involves five key areas, each with many questions that data can answer:

  1. Budget allocation (within programs): Budget allocation across promotional channels is just a start. A data-driven optimization approach can ensure that organizations spend effectively on the right kind of program by leveraging historical benchmarks. A well-thought-out analytical methodology will maximize key performance parameters such as targets per program and HCPs per program. It will also minimize ancillary costs like vendor fees. While leveraging a data-driven approach, companies should answer the following questions that will ensure an efficient budget allocation: What is an appropriate budget allocation across different types of speaker programs and congresses? What are the key congresses that the organization should focus on? What is the ideal speaker program format mix (in-person, remote, displays and exhibits) for a brand? How should the budget be allocated at national and subnational (regional) levels for speaker programs? What is the appropriate mix of in-office and out-of-office programs for a brand?
  2. Speaker contracting: The credibility of these programs depends on the quality of the speakers. Therefore, selecting the right speakers for the job is of utmost importance to organizations. Having relevant speakers on the panel helps attract the desired attendees and maximize program ROI. It’s also imperative to consider the historical performance of the speaker before deciding on renewing the contract as it helps identify and retain the top performers in the group. Some key questions that organizations struggle with while contracting speakers: Based on the desired outcome and strategic objectives of the brand, what criteria (research topics, location, specialty, influence network, etc.) should we be looking for when contracting a speaker? How many speakers should the organization contract for a specific therapeutic area? What’s an optimal contract duration? How much should speakers be paid? What’s the criteria for deciding speaker fees? What is the fair market value of a speaker? Which competitors are engaging with the high influence speakers/thought leaders?
  3. Speaker and attendee optimization: We don’t recommend setting up a speaker program for the sake of conducting one, because a program won’t deliver ROI and attendance growth without significant effort. Having the optimal mix of speaker, attendee and topic are critical elements of speaker program planning. To ensure maximum attendance, ROI and sales impact, we can bring data driven intelligence to boost performance of these campaigns. With advanced data science techniques, the organizations can mine a vast array of data sources to answer questions like What do the networks of speakers and attendees look like? Whom should we invite to speak to help target a specific attendee? Which thought leaders are our key competitors engaging with? Which topics will a given attendee be interested in?
  4. Performance monitoring: For speaker programs to maintain success, it’s important that organizations track their ongoing performance. To track the effectiveness of a speaker program, companies need a holistic view of all components that make a program successful. These key questions can help uncover useful metrics: What are the key performance indicators for measuring the health of the program’s engagement? How are your designed programs and speakers performing based on key performance indicators? How are these programs and events being perceived by attendees? How engaged are audiences on given topics? What is the average cost per program and attendee? Are we using the speakers optimally? How much has been spent on the program so far and what is left in the budget? How much is the organization spending on program cancellations? A periodic overview of metrics providing answers to these questions is essential to evaluate the overall quality and relevance of speaker programs and congresses.
  5. Compliance monitoring: Compliance is vital as there are numerous national, state and organizational regulations that speaker programs must adhere to. Program managers must ensure that programs comply with laws such as the Sunshine Act, which regulates spending on physicians in such programs. Organizations are always on their toes to avoid any lapses in compliance as the penalties for lapses are often quite hefty. Leveraging a data-driven approach ensures that organizations always consider the following questions to remain compliant:  What should be the spending threshold for speakers and attendees? How much is the organization spending on logistics such as speaker travel and lodging? Are we complying with national and state limits?                                                                                                                                                                                                    

A report showing the spend on each speaker that highlights which speakers will soon reach their compensation thresholds is critical to avoid any lapses in complaince.

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