Can You Hear Me Now?
Why In-Person Interactions Continue to be a Cornerstone of Outreach Programs in Clinical Research
Outreach programs are communication and training platforms with specific goals or messages and target audiences. Such programs are vital components of clinical research enterprises. Used at various stages in clinical research, outreach programs can facilitate participant recruitment, streamline processes for multi-site trials, promote regulatory compliance, and align stakeholder coordination activities, with dramatic impact on trial success. As a Contract Research Organization supporting several of the largest global clinical research portfolios, TRI’s expertise in designing and implementing outreach programs has significantly benefitted our clients. Current technologies, such as social media platforms and remote meetings/trainings via webinars, videoconferencing or teleconferencing, are always part of TRI’s outreach programs and are important to ensure economically conservative wide reach. However, TRI has consistently found that the outreach efforts with the greatest success included a strong emphasis on working with key players in person. Outreach programs should involve diverse communication and training strategies in order to most effectively impact either the widest audience possible or the specific niche audience needed for a particular message. Defining your outreach program’s goals, scope, and timelines is an important part of planning for any project, and the principles defined by the Project Management Institute (PMI) can be used for best practice. MATCH, as defined below, is also used to successfully achieve outreach for clients.
Message: Define the message of your program. It is recommended that the message be crafted in different lengths for a variety of communication platforms – similar to drafting a paper or presenting a pitch, you will need a message the length of a short title or tagline that is clear and concise, one that is similar to an abstract or 60-second pitch that provides basic information and points the audience to additional resources, and one that is in the form of a full length paper or seminar which provides all applicable details.
Audience: Knowing your audience is a must in an outreach program – after all, they are your target, and their experience is the key to your program’s success. Who are they? How do they prefer to receive information? Where are they? What are their goals? What are their pain points? How will your message/goals/tools help them with their goals/pain points? What is unique to the audience in the context of your message/goals/tools? How do they best learn? For a clinical research outreach program, your message must be strategized to effectively impact each stakeholder, such as the clinical research sites, the sponsor, and other collaborators. You must also consider demographics, such as age, gender, and ethnicity, and whether your audience is domestic or international. These factors will determine the avenues used for communicating your message in print such as brochures, websites, and social media, as well as the appropriate mechanisms for trainings or in-person delivery of your message.
Tools: A variety of tools should be developed to ensure clarity of your message and user friendliness. Tools can be a user guide, a website, an app, etc. They should be a mix of electronic solutions and objects your audience can hold in their hand or pin to their bulletin board. Graphic design, information technology, training, communication, and technical subject matter experts working together will be able to conceptualize on-demand and live tools and trainings appropriate for the target audience.
Choices: Your communication plan and tools should provide your target audience with choices in how they access information, and multiple ways in which the outreach message is delivered to them. Understanding how different people learn and adapt to new information is key to defining the communication methods to be used and the choices to offer your audience to further their knowledge and understanding of your message.
At Hand: Be at hand or on site to deliver information and tools, to listen to questions, and to see how your message should best be delivered and is received. There are many players in most outreach programs related to clinical research, but all of them typically have 2 things in common. 1) they are a piece of a puzzle and know the big picture but don’t necessarily know how each piece connects – which means they may not understand your message or the downstream impacts of your message, and 2) they are busy! This means the time you spend with them must be well-spent and crafted to maximize impact. It is crucial that in-person outreach efforts be tailored specifically to the audience at hand and that your message be communicated in a way that allows them to easily understand how it affects them and their piece of the puzzle. Meeting with your audience face-to-face is likely to be the most influential of all of your strategies. But since your time will be limited, your other strategies should complement this effort.
As the last point of MATCH emphasizes, in-person interactions with the target audience of your outreach program continue to be an important cornerstone of this type of work. It can be helpful to think outside the box for these types of interactions and you must plan them carefully to best utilize everyone’s time. TRI has found that taking advantage of meetings or conferences which several targets plan to attend is very effective if you are able to work closely with the meeting organizers to offer a training, information booth or other meeting session which is placed on the meeting agenda and announced ahead of time. However, it is important to note that your target audience is likely to be very busy at such meetings and will have limited time available. Often these interactions are the middle point of an outreach program that started with electronic communications and tools, progressed to a quick in-person meeting to further the message and make in-person connections, and that can then be even further capitalized on by meeting directly with your audience in their location whenever possible.
Such on site meetings demonstrate the significance of your outreach program and how much you value your audience. They offer a chance for your audience to demonstrate their knowledge and expertise and to communicate directly to you about how your outreach program’s message is impacting them. What are they excited about concerning your outreach program? What are they worried about? What constraints do they have? Feedback from these meetings promotes long term relationships and improved communications now that your audience has a face to visualize and a personality to remember while reading an email or talking on the phone. Meeting with people at their location also increases the chances of your message percolating to other stakeholders favorably and accurately.
TRI recently presented a well-received poster at the 2016 Drug Information Association Meeting in Philadelphia, PA, illustrating the recent successful outreach program embarked on in support of the NIAID DAIDS global clinical research program. The purpose of the outreach program was to influence stakeholders to enhance regulatory compliance and process knowledge. The poster was entitled, “So You Want to Influence Stakeholders…Now What? How Outreach Programs can Advance Clinical Research” and the poster abstract can be viewed here.
About the Author
Dr. Jessica Holden Kloda, PhD, RAC is the Associate Director of Regulatory Affairs at TRI. She is an experienced regulatory affairs professional and scientist with expertise in infectious diseases, neuroscience, and project management.