WHAT'S MISSING FROM conventional pharma product launches is speed. So say Keith Schmidt, vice president, Advanced Therapeutic Communications, part of Thomson Healthcare, Knoxville, Tenn., and Tom Maguire, CMP, director, EventCom Technologies by Marriott, based in Rosemont, Ill. The two global companies have partnered to create LaunchStar, whose big selling point is its ability to get a compelling message about your product out to thousands of physicians in one night.

Consider a conventional pharma product launch, they say, where salespeople get educated about a drug and then go out and meet with targeted physicians. “You spend three to six months on the physicians who are most important to you and then there's a cascade effect,” says Schmidt. “So there's a time element until you work through all the prescribing physicians.”

It's effective. However, he continues, “any pharma company wants to spend money where they get the quickest return. The quicker you can educate physicians and the quicker they can prescribe your product, the quicker the cash register rings.”

LaunchStar is a one-stop shop for inviting thousands of physicians nationwide to a dinner presentation at a local hotel. The launch presentation — including a panel with a recognized expert on the subject at hand — is conducted live at one of the properties and simulcast to all the other properties. Everyone hears the same message at the same time. Questions are fielded from any location, and responses are delivered to the entire audience. Schmidt's company recruits the attendees and proves your ROI in the months following the program; Maguire's company books the hotels and handles the technology and production. Decide to do it today and they say you'll be launched in as little as four weeks.

How It All Works

Schmidt gets a physician list from the client company. “Your top 10,000 would be those physicians who prescribe the most. Below that are a big bunch who are less productive, but you've got to get to them,” he explains. Schmidt takes the list and uses mapping software to identify clusters of healthcare professionals who could come together to learn about the new drug. For example, you could choose 100 cities and invite all on the list within a 50-mile radius of each city.

Registration is Web-based and can be done by individual physicians or by sales reps. During the run-up to the program the client company can see how many have registered and who they are.

Then the list of cities is handed off to Maguire at EventCom, who books the hotels and coordinates all of the production, including getting the speakers to the broadcast location. “We're able to build a budget for the client with all the details spec'ed out,” Maguire says. EventCom is part of Marriott, but the properties booked are not only Marriotts — in fact, the venues don't necessarily have to be hotels.

Another plus for the pharma companies: “The regulatory folks in the companies are supportive because they've got control,” Schmidt points out. “As the program is put together, they are right there in the studio ensuring their messages are within FDA regulatory guidelines.”

Tracking Results

Following the presentation, the entire program is archived at a Web site, including answers to questions that weren't covered due to time constraints.

Then the big question for the pharma company: Did it work?

“We find a group of physicians who attended and match that to our prescription database and track it for three months,” Schmidt says. “Then we go back to their geographic location and find another physician who didn't attend and do a matched pair and track that physician's prescribing too. We have found minimally a 60 percent difference between those attending and those not attending. And sometimes we find a difference of 200 percent. Apply a formula to that difference and you can figure out how long it takes to make back your program budget.”

In addition, Maguire points out, physicians are surveyed about the program. “One of the things we're concerned about is, ‘Are we credible?’” says Schmidt. Six weeks after the program, physicians are asked what message they heard, whether it was believable and important, and whether they anticipate increasing their prescriptions for the drug. “We're very confident that these programs change behavior,” Schmidt says, “and in theory that's what marketing is supposed to do.”

LaunchStar has completed eight programs so far, reaching some 50,000 docs. To learn more about it, go to www.launchstar.biz.