Often, a secondary thought in clinical trial planning is the promotion of said trial, which is to be ignored at one’s own peril. To do this has far-reaching, and not always readily observable, implications. First and most immediately, a large majority of potential subjects will remain unaware of your current trial, which slows down the recruitment process and overall trial progress. Furthermore, it also places the burden on sites to drive the recruitment process, which may cause them to spread their resources too thinly. Finally, subjects who participate in a trial are more likely to be aware of and actively look for other studies to participate in, thus building a sizeable pool of available and willing subjects.
With a new wave of digital marketing possibilities brought on by social media platforms, reaching the wider population is easier than ever. The wealth of information inherent to online marketing allows for audience segmentation and targeting. This in turn can lead to an optimized and successful campaign, given the right direction and strategy. Furthermore, the whole process can be automated and customised using freely available digital marketing solutions. As such, it becomes essential to plan and prepare recruitment content for distribution for maximum exposure. While pre-study generic promotion of a future trial can also be very useful, here in this two-part series we will focus on how to prepare supercharged content for advertising a specific study. On today’s agenda, we discuss ethics submission, and design philosophies regarding titles, descriptions, and images.
Content Prepared for Ethics Approval
The ethics committee can be the single biggest bottleneck in any clinical trial, but it doesn’t have to be. Any material that you generate must be approved by a committee before distribution can take place. No different from planning any other part of a trial, it is important to prepare your finalised material for submission well in advance of the trial. Remember that the ads approved by ethics must be used as-is or not at all, so take the time to finalise your designs before submission. Ethics approval can take weeks or months depending on who you submit to, what time of the year you are submitting, and the volume of the material you need approved.
Therefore, in order to have your content ready before the study goes live, early finalisation and submission is both ideal and crucial. Throughout this blog, the tips we provide are designed not only to increase participation rates, but will also allow for a smoother ethics submission. However, as each ethics committee can vary, be sure to check their guidelines (which are often published online), and use them to plan out what you should and shouldn’t do. For more information, I’ve recorded a short video describing how the ethics review process for social media advertising can be streamlined.
A Clear, Engaging Advert Title
While creating an advertisement title is relatively easy, a title that headlines a successful advertising campaign needs to be considered very carefully. This is the focus of your advertisement and are the first words any potential subjects are going to read. Therefore, a good title should be designed in such a way that will evoke your audience’s interest, spurring them to read further rather than look elsewhere. Do not use codes for products or protocol titles, as these rarely have any real meaning attached to them. Instead, focus on creating a title in plain English, that is attention capturing, clear, and concisely summarises your trial: Here are some considerations when writing an advertisement title or headline:
- SEO/Search friendly – A clear title with relevant keywords will make your search engine ranking skyrocket. Consider how your target population are going to find your advertisement (i.e. through active searching, geotargeting, social media sharing and so on)
- Understandable – A lack of immediate understanding will almost always translate to dis-engagement with your advert. People with no specialised knowledge must be able to read and comprehend your title, otherwise you will be ignored.
- Conversion friendly – Now that you’ve got your target’s attention, will this title make them want to click or read more? Perhaps emphasising a novelty aspect or an appeal for a specific type of subject will make your trial sound interesting.
With these points in mind, let us take a brief look at the role of abbreviated protocol titles or acronyms in describing a study. These can be useful for promotional purposes, but they often don’t accurately describe the project, and at worst can make the promotional material appear cheap or gimmicky. This article we came across gives some examples of ill-fitting acronyms for clinical trials. If you do use an acronym, avoid something that is without meaning or detracts from what you are trying to achieve with the project. Putting thought into how this will be received by the public can make a big difference in the impression and message you are sending. Remember that we work in a conservative industry – and conservative for all the right reasons.
“If you browse the database of clinical trials maintained by the US government, there’s plenty of other amusing acronyms to be had.”
An Informative but Concise Trial Description
A good trial description has to traverse a fine line, one that you may be well aware of. A description with too much information will disengage a reader, and they might move on. Too little information, however, means you run the risk being unable to convey your message, and at worst can make an ad undecipherable. Be aware, however, that the description is not the only way to convey a message. All aspects of your ad should work together to send a message, so keep that in mind as you read this blog. Something that might be too wordy could work well as an image, for example.
We often see researchers copy and paste the synopsis information straight from the clinical trial registry which is usually, as you can imagine, overly technical and more difficult to understand than a purpose-built description for promotion. Remember this content is for public consumption, it should not be full of technical terminology cut and pasted from the protocol. Be aware that distilling and simplifying this content is not an easy task, and may come out only over several iterations of your ad. Ask yourself what is the minimum needed to attract someone who may be interested in participating. You do not need to replicate, for example, the informed consent document, as that comes later. It is enough (and desirable) to briefly educate your audience, with the result of a reader wanting to get in touch.
In summary, be clear and concise with your trial descriptions. Make a checklist of all essential information and benefits associated with your study. These can include:
- A brief 1-2 sentence description of the trial length, visit duration and procedure
- Any prerequisites for study participation and common exclusion criteria (e.g. pregnancy)
- Personal benefits to study participation
- Any kind of incentives or travel reimbursements
Establishing a personal connection by providing information directly relevant to your desired participants is important. Making them stand out and feel that they are specifically needed and will be directly rewarded is a great driver of participation. A coercive or otherwise deceitful advert will not only have the opposite effect, but almost certainly result in ethics rejecting your advert.
Eye-catching Visual Presentation
Many times over, we see clinical trial posters and even online advertising of clinical trials with no imagery. Yes, we are in a conservative industry and historically images have been considered over the top, but the reality is that images are attention-grabbing, can convey messages easily, and generate a lasting impression. Thus, they are extremely helpful in connecting the researcher to the relevant participant type and cannot be ignored. General advertising campaigns (especially a digital one) without a visual component are extremely rare – and for good reason.
However, the images that you use do not need to be works of art. Often, simplicity trumps complexity, especially when images are used for information or branding. A photo of something relevant to the trial or a generic image illustrating what type of subject you are looking for, in addition to the sponsor logo, is welcome and can break up otherwise unfriendly lines of text. Mirroring the title and description, keep images easily understandable. If you have multiple types of ads, ensure pictures are both consistent and formatted appropriately (resolution, text wrapping, colour vs. monochrome, borders) for the media you are using. Furthermore, image selection can be driven using social media. That is, metrics exist that lets you determine which images most effectively drive the conversion of clicks.
On the template tool at AustralianClinicalTrials.com, for example, it is possible to upload optional images and have them automatically standardised for easy ethics submission. However, this is only one of several approval steps to consider when designing your images. Image approval standards for Facebook, Google, and all other major social media sites must be followed before your image/advertisement is allowed to go live. You must be familiar with the social media platform’s rules and stylistic guidelines, which may not always be clear until you have an advert approved. This is important, as if an image is approved by ethics but not, say, by Google, a redesign will see you sending your ad back through ethics again, delaying the process further. Thus, in addition to being familiar with their rules, consider designing and approving a few variations of ads – this way you have something else up your sleeve if your initial ad is rejected.
This concludes part 1 of creating a successful clinical trial advertising campaign (click here to read part 2). If you found this interesting or if you have anything else to add, please leave me a comment below. I’m interested to hear how you go about designing a new advert for your clinical trials!