A study of the return on investment (ROI) in various pharmaceutical promotional strategies may result in a shift of money away from expensive detailing and direct-to-consumer advertising and toward meetings and journal advertising — if pharmaceutical companies take its results to heart.

The study, “ROI Analysis of Pharmaceutical Promotion”, found that the ROI (calculated as the increase in revenue per dollar spent) for physician meetings and events (PME) was $3.56, with a margin of error of plus or minus $1.92. “Meetings appear to be underutilized,” says Scott Neslin, PhD, Albert Wesley Fry Professor of Marketing at the Amos Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H., who conducted the study under a grant from the Association of Medical Publications. “I wouldn't recommend moving all your money out of detailing and into meetings, but at the margin, there's probably something to be gained from adding to meeting and journal activity.” Although spending in PME grew 23.6 percent per year in the study time period, 1995-1999, physicians appear not to be saturated with meetings, says Neslin.

But what types of meetings yield the most ROI? Industry watchers warn it's hard to separate out the effect of CME from these numbers — which would have made the study more useful for CME providers and commercial supporters. The study used data from Scott-Levin's Physician Meeting and Event Audit (PMEA), but didn't differentiate the effects of CME from other types of meetings. Meetings included in the PMEA range from large symposia to a meeting of 20 doctors with a pharma speaker.

That hefty margin of error ($ 1.92) in the calculation of PME's ROI is a problem, too. It means the ROI for meetings could be as low as $1.64 — still ahead of direct-to-consumer, but slightly behind detailing — or as high as $5.48, putting it ahead of medical journal advertising. According to Neslin, the margin of error was so high for meetings because “PME was so highly correlated with other variables. When you increase PME, you increase detailing and journal advertising at the same time, and sometimes it becomes difficult to read out the effectiveness of any one factor. It seemed to affect PME the most, in this study.” Finer-grained analysis of the PME figures — by brand size and launch date — was impossible, Neslin said. “When I tried to break it down by the other variables, I couldn't get sensible results.”

For a copy of the study, visit www.amponline.org.

follow the money

Meetings Pay Off
Detailing $1.72 ±$0.19
Consumer Ads $0.19 ±$0.52
Journal Ads $5.00 ±$0.88
Physician Events $3.56 ±$1.92