5 Pieces of a Successful Clinical Trial Recruitment Communications Program

Joni Ramirez

Photo of two hands manipulating two blue puzzle pieces with the words Clinical Trial written on them

More and more, companies are reaching out to Merryman Communications to accelerate clinical trial recruitment. They are looking for targeted, integrated approaches to quickly reach potential participants.

One of our many successful, award-winning clinical trial recruitment campaigns was for Active Implants and the world’s first artificial meniscus. Our integrated campaign contributed to more than 80% of the total patients screened, and our client consistently credited our campaign as highly effective in driving calls to the clinical trial sites, calls and clicks to the toll-free number and websites, and ultimately enrollment.

So, when is the right time to think about marketing communications support for clinical trial recruitment? And what should these programs include? Many companies seek help when enrollment numbers are not meeting targets; however, incorporating these five communications elements from the get-go can drive results much more quickly. If you think of it like a puzzle, it comes together a lot faster if you organize the pieces first.

“One of the biggest challenges our clinical study clients face is developing patient-friendly messaging, which serves as the foundation for a successful recruitment campaign.”

1.  Define Campaign Messaging that Patients Will Understand

A client in the midst of a clinical study for a new surgical approach for colon cancer was surprised that patients would opt for the more-invasive standard of care procedure when the company’s device had the potential to significantly improve quality of life and reduce subsequent surgeries. Our review of their recruitment materials revealed highly clinical terminology not easily understood by the average patient – or even our agency team!

One of the biggest challenges our clinical study clients face is developing patient-friendly messaging, which serves as the foundation for a successful recruitment campaign. This consistent language is used throughout other campaign elements and should include easy-to-understand information about the disease or condition being studied, the investigational treatment and its potential benefits, the clinical trial, eligibility requirements, participant commitment and a strong call to action. In an ideal world, we recommend testing the messaging with your target audiences.

2.  Build a Website Information Hub

Another big challenge clients face is how to capture interest and funnel patients to the appropriate clinical trial site. Many clients use a website to serve as the centralized hub where patients, caregivers, etc. can go for additional information and learn how to enroll in the clinical study. Regardless of whether it’s a standalone study-specific site or a section of the company’s corporate website, it should have a mechanism to capture potential participant interest through an opt-in form or a map of study sites with contact information. It should also be optimized for Google search with keywords integrated into site content that consumers use most often to look for information on the subject.

A client was rolling out a knee implant commercially and in two post-market clinical studies. We needed to help patients find surgeons nearby and clearly differentiate between commercial and clinical trial options. Within their corporate website, we created three separate pages – one for each of the studies and one for commercial users. All three have searchable maps with detailed contact information – including phone and email – so that patients can reach out to the site directly.

3.  Create Collateral Materials

We’ve developed clinical study brochures for countless conditions – knee injuries, cervical disc disease, and heart failure, to name a few. While a brochure may seem like an “old school” communications tool, we’ve found it to be one of the most essential communications elements. Not only does it serve as a discussion guide for the clinical team to review with a prospective patient/caregiver, but it also provides information for them to digest at home with their families. Our experience has taught us that the acquisition cost of a patient who already has a connection to a site is much lower than those who come through advertising. We also recommend including a QR code on the brochure with a link to the website to obtain additional information. If desired, the brochure can be simplified into a poster for lobbies and exam rooms.

“In some ways, like putting together a puzzle, clinical trial recruitment campaigns may seem a little slow going in the beginning while you organize the pieces.”

4.  Develop a PR Toolkit for Local Markets

As we do in our communications programs for clients rolling out newly FDA approved devices, we develop comprehensive public relations toolkits for clinical trial sites to use at the local level. The toolkits, which include template press releases, fact sheets, newsletter articles, a physician byline, social media posts, images and more, help clinical trial sites promote the clinical study in their local markets and ensure consistent messaging across sites.

5.  Conduct Local Market Integrated Campaigns

One of the best ways we’ve found to spur patient self-referrals to clinical trial sites is through local market campaigns, especially those that include television stories. The stories feature a patient talking about why they participated in the trial and a physician describing the treatment being studied. These can be secured through earned media pitching and/or paid television integrations. Merryman Communications works with each clinical trial site to facilitate local media pitching, whether it’s providing the toolkit for them to leverage with their local media or us doing the pitching and story coordination on their behalf.

For Active Implants, we conducted multiple local integrated marketing campaigns that included a paid TV integration, local media outreach, a press release optimized for search, as well as paid social media. The impact of these campaigns on clinical trial recruitment was unprecedented. The site in Indianapolis, for example, saw huge spikes in patient referrals – moving from an average of six referrals in each of the three months prior to the campaign to 51 the first month of the campaign! In addition, direct website traffic, in which users type in the exact URL (likely from seeing it on TV), spiked after airing of the TV segment. We received 26 eligibility form submissions from potential clinical trial participants out of 110 website visits, equating to a high conversion rate of 24%.

Putting the Pieces Together

As demonstrated by the Active Implants program, measurement is a key component of our clinical trial recruitment campaigns – they are metrics-driven, monitored and tailored in real-time to obtain optimal results. We counsel new clients that results take time because putting the program together takes time. Materials development and client reviews, IRB approvals, identifying the communications contacts at the clinical trial sites, etc. usually take a few months to put in place. Once the program has started, it needs time to gain traction across the clinical trial sites.

In some ways, like putting together a puzzle, clinical trial recruitment campaigns may seem a little slow going in the beginning while you organize the pieces. Then, before you know it, you’ll be on a roll, and it will be a race to enroll the last patient.

You can learn more about our clinical trial recruitment campaign for Active Implants in the client work section of our website.