Stephanie Swanson, Director of Marketing, Advanced Clinical
Ms. Swanson leads global strategic go-to-market efforts for Advanced Clinical, the only full-service CRO and contract staffing company focused on providing a better clinical experience for mid-market pharma and biopharma clients. Ms. Swanson is a tenured marketing and communications professional with over two decades of professional experience including 15 years in the life sciences industry. She received her undergraduate degree in Communications from Bradford College in Haverhill, MA and her Master’s degree in Corporate Communication and Technology from Rollins College in Winter Park, FL.
The year 2020 was a game changer for so many due to the challenges presented by COVID-19. It also presented life sciences marketing teams with the unique challenge of having to shift strategic marketing plans and priorities in a way that helps companies step outside functional silos and really come together with clients and internal staff to present solutions to the market that keeps drug development on track during a time of so many unknowns.
Whether it’s an emerging biopharma, large pharmaceutical, medical device company – or job seekers who have come to Advanced Clinical desperately looking to be placed in a new position in an economy that has slowed down – it’s been important to put quickly into action Marketing plans that allow us to adapt and better serve our clients. Pharma and biopharma especially are facing new pressures to stay ahead of drug development timelines, realize increased efficiencies and control costs.
In this blog, I’m excited to share the top 3 approaches our Marketing team implemented in order to better position ourselves amidst a pandemic and into 2021, in a way that creates opportunities for not only our company, but our life sciences clients and consultants.
1. Better understanding external stakeholder needs during a pandemic
One of the first approaches used by our marketing team was to slow down and hit “reset” and really think about the pandemic from our clients’ and job seekers’ perspectives.
We knew that it was time to think about ways we could work hand in hand with our clients to help bring innovative treatments to market during a time that poses many roadblocks. For example, we knew clinical research sites were experiencing lower in person visits, which impacted patient enrollment due to the restrictions and safety concerns of COVID, causing us to rethink ways to recruit. We knew our staff would be unable to travel to sites as frequently, which has caused a shift in roles and responsibilities – as well as the demand for new roles to accommodate more decentralized trial models.
We knew from a job seeker and consultant’s perspective that many companies experienced layoffs, which increased the number of people in our talent network. Yet as a result of trials having to become more decentralized – and in many cases – needing to ramp up quickly due to COVID, we also knew our clients needed top notch talent quickly, which is a service we continue to provide.
Understanding our external stakeholder challenges and how we could present solutions in the form of new offerings and messaging helped us to better hone in on marketing plans that truly helped us embrace these areas of opportunity.
2. Creating compelling thought leadership
Our understanding of our external stakeholder challenges allowed us to put our best foot forward to create compelling thought leadership in the form of white papers, insight briefs, webinars, blogs, etc. We worked with our internal operations teams to better understand how we rethought standard operating procedures (SOPs), relationships and communication styles with our external stakeholders. This led to the creation of a COVID-19 landing page to help respond to FAQs from clients as well as several pieces of thought leadership including our white paper: Response to COVID: A Mid-Sized CRO Perspective.
The number of thought leadership pieces continue to evolve based on breakthroughs in the industry, which these days happen almost daily – and by continuing to look at how the news impacts our external personas. By keeping on track – and as ahead of the industry as possible – we continue to publish and present value-add topics from our perspective.
3. Rethinking the marketing mix
There were many implications to tactical marketing plans this year due to COVID. Traditionally, our company prides itself on the face-to-face interaction we rely on with our external stakeholders. But the pandemic forced us to rethink our marketing mix as well as new ways to engage and interact with clients and consultants.
The big shift in events
If you’re in Marketing, you know how challenging it has been since large industry tradeshows like DIA for example, went 100% virtual beginning in the spring of 2020. This caused somewhat of an upheaval for the conference vendors as they scrambled to adopt virtual platforms that could connect industry leaders globally while also providing value to attendees and sponsor companies. As a result, our Marketing strategy shifted dramatically as we learned how to both embrace and realize a return on investment (ROI) from these traditionally face-to-face events.
With this shift came the need to find other ways of connecting with our clients and consultants. This was achieved by increasing a focus on other digital channels such as webinars and online panels with trusted partners like PharmaVOICE, pharmaphorum and Applied Clinical Trials – to name a few.
Winning with social media and marketing automation
Perhaps not surprisingly for some, social media continued to prove a successful channel during the pandemic. Through social channels like LinkedIn, it has been easy to insert our company into conversations by using popular hashtags this year like #COVID19 and #clinicalresearch, for starters. Of course, without the compelling thought leadership content mentioned previously, we would not have an engaging story to tell. So despite the slowdown for many, our social media metrics such as total followers and client engagement have steadily increased in many cases by 60% or more.
Similarly, engagement through marketing automation like nurture campaigns has continued to gain momentum, especially as more and more managers, directors and C-level executives are traveling less and spend more time in front of their computers than ever before. Open rates increased by 20% or more, for example. Even investigative sites in the EU have been more responsive to email.
Lessons learned into 2021
While we are proud of the work required to get us to this point, it’s important to acknowledge that we will continue to learn and adapt to life in a pandemic – and hopefully post-pandemic thanks to the promise of new vaccines from companies like Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca – as we head quickly into a new year. Having completed our marketing planning process for 2021, we continue to move ahead with the assumption that the marketing plan is, as I like to call it “living and breathing” – meaning it can change at a moment’s notice, and that we must be ready to move quickly when the market inevitably shifts.
Regardless of whether we are in Marketing, another functional team at Advanced Clinical or externally at a pharmaceutical or biotech, it will be increasingly important to remember that no matter where you sit, success for the life sciences industry, and first and foremost the patients we service, will continue to be a collaborative effort. Now more than ever, we live by our mission to deliver a Better Clinical Experience for everyone who has been impacted by COVID as well as support our colleagues and partners in our exciting and dynamic industry.