Jack Morton Worldwide’s client list reads like a Who’s Who in the pharmaceutical industry. Whether it’s for a splashy rollout of a new remedy or a jump-start to sales of an old standby facing new competition, virtually every major medical company has called on the firm to inspire an audience.

Based in New York City, Jack Morton specializes in interactive marketing experiences, a formula that combines live meetings and events, video, digital media, and training exercises. In addition to projects in the medical field, the company has orchestrated major-scale events for clients such as General Motors, The Home Depot, McDonald’s, and Avon.

Team members Terry Tolley and Christine Creter focus on the special needs of Jack Morton’s pharmaceutical accounts. Tolley, vice president and senior account manager, joined the firm in 1992. Creter is a strategist in pharmaceutical learning who has been on board since 2000. We sat down with them in their New York office and asked them about the special challenges of motivating a pharmaceutical sales force.

MM: Are pharmaceutical firms doing anything differently to train their sales staffs?

Tolley: Many are looking for new ways of training that will take their people out of the field for less time, an alternative to bringing everyone to the home office. One example is CD-ROM–based training, either self-administered or in groups. It can be tracked so you are sure they are successfully completing the program, and it’s a cost-effective way to go. Also, we are seeing more responsibility placed at the district manager level. So there is a different skew on how we train. There’s more of an emphasis on train the trainer—meaning the district manager.

Creter: More specific objectives are being built in. Companies are holding DMs more accountable for sales and training effectively. And there is a more integrated approach, instead of a one-time learning event. We want to make sure reps have the tools and resources to be effective in the field, so we will follow up the meeting with a CD-ROM or another form of communication that reinforces what they learned at the live event. And we are creating more programs that can be used across global platforms, allowing for edits by country, but developing the core of the program once, thus amortizing the client’s investment, both in time and money, more fully.

Tolley: In one case, for a global blockbuster product, we did a broadcast for 3,000 reps in one location. They broke into about 50 small groups. We then transmitted the broadcast to the meeting rooms in the hotel. After each broadcast segment, the groups broke into individual activities.

MM: Why did you divide the program into segments?

Tolley: It’s too distracting to have 3,000 people in one room. We needed to break it up with activities. In this case, the marketing team delivered the messages, ads, marketing research, and market positioning. Small groups then did role playing, or simulations, to verbalize that message. You can’t have that personal involvement in large group sessions.

Another approach we’ve used frequently is a "meeting in a box." We prepare everything: CD-ROMs, videos with executive messages and endorsements, leader and participant guides, even room décor and attendee giveaways. These are popular because we can control the consistency of the message and experience in multiple, disparate locations. And they’re not always in a box. We’ve done meetings in gym bags, lockers, suitcases...just to keep it creative and fun for the reps. We design something that’s creative so they have no choice but to be involved. They must be active participants.

Creter: Reps can sit and listen all they want, but their job is to apply that knowledge. As an example, within a simulated environment, we bring in actual physicians or internal people playing the role of the physicians. We set up little offices and rotate reps through them—usually at the end of a training meeting. It gives them a chance to apply everything they’ve learned in the meeting. In addition, their district managers can evaluate and guide them before they get in front of a customer.

One of the things we teach reps is that often they won’t be just sitting and talking to a physician. They might have to walk down the hall or catch the doctor between appointments. In the field they remember the simulation. If it’s a new product, a physician may want to hear more. But a rep might catch a doctor at the Coke machine and have 30 seconds to deliver a message. We train them so they can be confident in that situation.

We had one workshop that featured a fortuneteller with a crystal ball [to get the message across]. It was something different, so that when the reps are back in the field, the training serves as a trigger so they will remember the message better. They’re engaged so they’re able to retain more.

MM: How do you know whether the training goals are achieved?

Tolley: We generally recommend some sort of on-site certification process at the program’s end. This helps to identify further areas needing attention. We also recommend post-meeting evaluations, which allow us to gauge whether the meeting achieved its objectives.

MM: What about getting the physician to pay attention to the message?

Tolley: If you have something that can help doctors help their patients, you can get their attention. Reps are learning when not to sell, how to build a relationship. It’s a consultative sell.

MM: Have you seen many changes in meetings as a result of 9/11?

Tolley: I don’t know if the changes are related to 9/11, but some clients are seeking alternative meeting formats. We’re seeing more satellite broadcasts, webcasts, and regional meetings.

MM: Ethical issues have drawn a lot of attention recently. Have you been asked to incorporate compliance issues into your training meetings?

Creter: Different companies treat it differently. One company has focused a lot on off-label use. They have to educate reps on how to address that, such as having a medical resource follow-up or doing leave-behinds. Under FDA guidelines, drug companies are not allowed to disseminate promotional materials that focus on off-label use; however, due to a court ruling of several years ago, they are allowed to distribute articles about off-label use that are printed in bona fide medical journals and textbooks. They may not talk about the article, but simply leave it with the doctor to read on his/her own. Each company has specific guidelines on how to address these situations.

Tolley: Ethical training has become a lot more important, but we’re still in a phase where people are just talking, not doing. We’ve done a lot of ethics training in other industries and it’s been enormously successful. You drill it home for folks, and it becomes memorable that way. It’s a matter of time in the pharmaceutical industry. They recognize the importance of the new PhRMA code, but we have not yet been called on to help disseminate that information to the field. [For more information on the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America’s Code on Interactions with Health Care Professionals, see "Cracking the Code," July/August MM.]

MM: Have you seen any other changes due to the new PhRMA code?

Creter: We have taken some internal precautions and have seen some impact on meetings as a result of the code. When including physicians in the meeting, fair and appropriate compensation/honoraria is given and thoroughly documented. No extravagant gifts or special accommodations are provided, and we are more careful about the number of doctors we recommend inviting to meetings.