In this episode of Connecting the Dots, our Marketing Copywriter, Sean Armie, sits down with Dan Winters, Marketing Director of a major biopharmaceutical company, for the first of a two-part series on how to craft engaging advisory boards.
Sean Armie: Hello, and welcome to Connecting the Dots with Avant Healthcare. I’ve got a great one for you today. Today our guest is Dan Winters, who is a marketing director for a major biopharmaceutical company. Dan is going to talk to us today in our two-part series here on ad boards, first live ad boards and then virtual ad boards. Dan is the man when it comes to live and virtual ad boards. He’s going to share some knowledge with us today. First off, Dan, just tell us a little bit about yourself, where you’re from. What gets you out of bed in the morning? You know, what are you most passionate about?
Dan Winters: Yeah, sure. Thanks, Sean. Thanks for having me on this too. This is exciting for me as well. I’m from Chicago. Grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, went to school at University of Iowa, so pretty much a Midwestern guy. What gets me out of bed in the morning? It’s summertime right now in Chicago. I’d love to say a great Cubs game, a golf game, or maybe cooking a beef stew. I don’t think that’s exactly what you’re looking for on that question, but in my personal life, those are the things that get me out of bed.
Professionally, though, I’ve always had this drive for understanding, this just natural inquisitive nature. I like understanding what makes people tick, why they make the decisions they make. I also love big, hairy strategic problems, the bigger the better, and then dissecting them and getting to the root of, again, how you make big business things happen and what makes people tick. Those are the things that really get me out of bed every morning to go to work.
Sean Armie: Awesome. Awesome. Well, hopefully today we’ll be able to dive into a little bit of that. Under the topic at hand, advisory boards, tell our audience about advisory boards. In your experience, what do pharmaceutical companies get out of them, and why are they so important?
Dan Winters: Yeah, I think advisory boards are really important. I think it’s a form of biased market research, right? We have qualitative research, we have quantitative research, and advisory boards are obviously more of a qualitative form of research. I say biased because in many forms of market research, the people being questioned, the people being studied, don’t know what company or what product’s being represented. In an advisory board, they do. They know that your company is representing this and that product is behind it. I think as long as you take those two factors into account, advisory boards are really important.
They’re really important for engaging one of our biggest customer groups, right, HCPs, who ultimately write that prescription, and getting their insights into whatever business challenge you have. Whether it’s why they prescribe your product over a competitor’s product, what challenges they have with diagnosing patients, how their interactions with patients goes. There’s a myriad of questions that we as pharmaceutical marketers want to know about this big customer group, and advisory boards is a great way, when used appropriately, to get at some of those insights into that customer’s behavior.
Sean Armie: All right. I know that your advisory board is really only as good as the advisors you have participating in it. How important is the advisory board panel, and how do you go about selecting members of the panel?
Dan Winters: Yeah. The panel is very important to the way an advisory board is executed and the insights that you get. For us, what’s really important is that you have almost a homogenous group of advisors. What I mean by that is the company I’m at now, we tier our advisors. We have a Tier 1 set of thought leaders, and those are your academic thought leaders. They’re typically research-based scientists. They may still see patients, but they’re on the podiums at national and international conferences, really leading the thought on the science behind that field.
Then we have the Tier 2 advisors, and those are probably more regional thought leaders. Typically they have their own practice. They see patients. They may be on the podium at some of the smaller regional conferences, typically not at those national, international, but they definitely have influence amongst other prescribers in their geographic area, and in some cases maybe even slightly a national perspective, but definitely seeing patients. Then we have a third group that we call rising stars. Those are the new-out-of-fellowship physicians, up-and-comers, maybe the future Tier 1 or Tier 2 thought leaders.
The reason that’s important is, when I have an objective or I have an advisory board that I have to get to a certain insight … maybe it’s new data that my company is releasing or a competitive company’s releasing … and I want to understand how the community may interpret that data and how important that data is, relevant to other data, I’m going to take those Tier 1, those academic researchers, because they’re going to be the best at interpreting the data and they know the rest of the data in that field. It’s important that all of my advisors are a Tier 1.
Alternatively, if my advisory board’s more on a campaign or messaging that I’m going to release, maybe a peer-to-peer deck or something like that, now I probably want Tier 2s. I want people that are prescribing, that are interacting with sales reps, maybe going or speaking at peer-to-peer programs, because they’re going to be the best-informed to advise me on what messages work, what don’t.
I think the third key in this … well, I guess where I started … was a homogenous group. Where I’ve seen advisory boards sometimes go wrong is if you have a mix of a few academics and then a few non-academics. Now the expertise level is different, and sometimes that can impact how a panel reacts throughout the day. If an academic takes over and starts to be the expert on data, your Tier 2s who don’t know that data as well, they may clam up and start to be quiet.
I’ve even seen it where they’ve deferred. “Well, why don’t you ask Dr. X that question, because he’s the academic here?” You don’t want that, right? You want everybody feeling like they’re peers and equals. I’ve always found that that makes for a better advisory board. The panel is very important.
Sean Armie: Moving beyond the panel, how do you structure the content of the advisory board?
Dan Winters: The content always starts with the objectives, right? What are my business objectives? What does the brand team need to know? I try to limit our brand team to three, no more than four business objectives. At the end of the day, if we accomplish these three to four things, it’s successful. That’s where I try to get the brand team at. Once we’ve established those, now I can work with my agency and my team to build up the content to ladder up to those objectives, build up the questions to get to the ultimate question.
What I mean by that is maybe you have an objective of maybe your market share is going down, and you have a competitive market share that’s going up and you just want to know why, what’s going on here. My objective is to find out why are they prescribing less of my drug and more of my competitor’s drug. I may start off that section of content just generally. “What drives your prescribing decisions? Have there been new trends in the market over the last six to eight months that have affected your prescribing decisions?” Not at all talking about my drug or a specific competitor’s drug.
I always take a funnel approach. I want to get just general prescribing decisions. What’s driving them, what’s motivating you, what’s changed. Then I’ll start introducing my product, and see if those answers they gave me earlier in that section apply to what’s going on here. I think that, start broad and then get down into your specific business challenge, is technically or specifically the way I like to arrange these.
I’d say the other thing that’s important when it comes to content or managing that day, in the morning, I find advisors are leaned in. They’re fresh. They just had their cup of coffee. They want to help. A general session discussion usually works really well to get to those insights. As you start to get into an afternoon of a full-day advisory board, like all adults, we start to get a little tired. You know, you hit that two o’clock postprandial depression. A general session discussion does not work that well. You start to see people zone off.
That’s when I like to start pulling in workshops, getting up, moving around, breaking them up into smaller groups. Anything to get them moving around and doing things to keep them engaged for those final two hours of that advisory board I think is really important when you’re constructing the content of the advisory board.
Sean Armie: Well, how important is the moderator in all of this, and what do they do exactly?
Dan Winters: Yeah. You’ve hit on the three most important things, in my opinion, to an advisory board, right, the panel, the content, and then the moderator. The moderator’s the ringleader. They’re the ones. At the end of the day, it’s their responsibility to achieve and land those objectives. It’s their responsibility to control that panel and get those insights out of the panel. What I mean by that is when you’re sitting in front of a group of experts, eight to twelve, fifteen experts, many of them sometimes have really strong opinions. Some of them are very vocal. The moderator, it’s their job to manage that, right? It’s to manage to make sure that all the panelists are heard, make sure that one person isn’t dominating the entire panel.
I’ve had that happen before, where one person wants to be the loudest voice. You need to get up there and physically stand in certain spots of the room, so that they know that their attention’s on you. Call on certain people. You’re that ringleader, making sure that you achieve your objectives and the panelists are all heard, and you’re getting the right insights. That’s where a lot of the art, I think, of managing an ad board comes in, is the moderator.
Sean Armie: What separates a successful moderator, a really good moderator, from a mediocre one or a bad one?
Dan Winters: I think confidence, leadership. I think setting it up that you know what has to be done today, and you’re going to help the panel get there. Constantly communicating, constantly checking in. Setting up clear ground rules. “This is what we’re going to do today. I’m going to give you breaks. In between those breaks, please pay attention. Close your computers, turn off your cell phones.” Those little signals are actually really important.
I’ve seen advisory boards where those are glossed over, those first few slides of, “Turn off your cell phones, you’re going to get paid for your time, please don’t bring your spouses to lunch,” those things. I’ve seen people gloss over those, and I’ve seen an impact at it. It feels like the moderators are a little bit more casual. I don’t want a casual panel. I want a panel that’s engaged. They’re leaned in. They know what I’m expecting of them, and they’re leaning in to help me get to my objectives.
I think clear communication, strong leadership, strong presence, physical presence. Stand straight. Stand at the front of the room. Don’t stand behind a podium. Walk around. Engage them. I think all of those are subtle things that just signal to the panel that this person is in control, this person knows what they’re doing, and this is going to be a good day.
Sean Armie: Where do advisory boards go wrong? I know you mentioned earlier that if you have the wrong mix of advisors on your panel, that that sometimes results in the outcomes that you may not want. Other than that, do you have any good examples of where advisory boards go wrong?
Dan Winters: Sure. Yeah. Yeah, I have a couple of examples. A marketing manager on our team a while back was leading a session, and it was a general session in the afternoon. We talked about the fact that in the afternoon, you need to be a little bit more engaging. We didn’t have the best setup to begin with. It was afternoon, general session. The advisors were tired.
This marketing manager stood behind the podium, and she just wasn’t speaking with command. I’ve seen her speak with command multiple times, but this time she was a little bit more quiet. We had one to two advisors that were strong personalities and were dominating. They were answering every single question, and she didn’t take control of the situation. She stayed behind that podium, kept asking general questions that allowed the one or two advisors to answer all of them.
I looked across the room, and the rest of the advisors … it must’ve been like 10, 12 people there … they’d picked up their phones. You could just tell they were tuned out. They no longer had to participate because those two physicians are going to answer every question, and they just disengaged. She saw it too, she just didn’t know how to engage it.
It was just a rough session. I remember I had to stand up in the middle of it and tell the doctors to put their cell phones down. One doctor actually opened his computer and started typing. I was like, “Hey, we have an hour left. You need to engage.” That was a rough one.
I’ll give you one other example. I’ll never do this again. We brought in a Tier 1, one of the top thought leaders in our field, to moderate a Tier 2 advisory board on messaging and campaign and stuff. What we wanted him to do was we wanted him to go through the data, and then have one of us at the company stand up and ask the questions.
The problem is we had all the questions written out on a slide. He would go through the data. He’d advance the slides and then he’d read through the questions. He read through the questions and then answered them for himself. “Well, I know how everybody would answer this,” and he gave an answer, or he read a question and he said, “Well, that’s a stupid question. I don’t know why you guys are answering that.”
When we were done with him going through all these question, the panelists just sat there looking at us. Basically, they weren’t going to answer differently than he did as one of their top thought leaders, and all the questions he said were stupid, they weren’t going to answer. It was an absolute disaster. There again, I think it’s important you have the right panel, you have the right person moderating that, so that stuff like that doesn’t happen.
Sean Armie: Yeah. Well, I have just one last question for this first part of our podcast here. When you see a successful ad board, what are one or two things that is that it does well and that it accomplishes?
Dan Winters: Yeah. When you have a successful advisory board, I think the panelists are engaged. Let me start this way. You pick the right panelists to answer your business questions. They’re engaged, leaned in, and they’re giving you their honest feedback, or at least as honest as they can. You’re getting good participation from all the panelists, and you’re achieving those objectives that you set out to achieve.
You may not like the answers you’re getting, but you’re getting what you believe are honest feedback from that body of physicians or NPs and PAs. Now you can take that back to the brand team and say, “Hey, here were the three things we set out to find out about our market or our product,” or whatever it may be, “and here’s what 10 to 15 advisors told us we should do with that.” That’s a good advisory board.
Sean Armie: Thank you so much, Dan. This is the end of our first part. We’ll see you all back for the second part of the podcast. Thank you so much.
Dan Winters: Yeah. Thank you.