Audio Success in Pharma


A panel at the recent Talk Health event in Philadelphia focused on what success looks like in audio from publisher, vendor, and HCP perspectives.

Left to right: Robert Dougherty, Miranda Schmalfuhs, Dr. Dillard Elmore, and Evan Johnson

Left to right: Robert Dougherty, Miranda Schmalfuhs, Dr. Dillard Elmore, and Evan Johnson

I recently had the pleasure of speaking on a panel at the Talk Health event held at Le Méridien in Philadelphia, PA, on Sept. 11. The panel, moderated by Evan Johnson, chief of staff at Watzan, focused on what success looks like in audio from publisher, vendor, and HCP perspectives. Speaking on the panel with me was Dr. Dillard Elmore, a practicing physician, and Robert Dougherty, president of Dougherty Media.

As members of the panel, we all use audio in professional and personal capacities. Outside of producing the Pharmaceutical Executive podcast and Applied Clinical Trials podcast, my leisure listening includes a few different podcasts hosted by some of my favorite comedians. Dougherty also uses audio often. “It's a lot easier for me to when I'm on the road to listen as opposed to read through certain things. But we as a company have found it's a different form of media consumption in a way to get your thought leaders' information out quickly in a different format.” They do so typically in one-to-three-minute audio segments, which Doherty describes as "definitely very engaging" and seeing "much more engagement" than the newsletters his company is currently producing.

Dr. Elmore shared that for him, the beauty of audio is that it's not selfish. “If you watch TV, you have to focus all of these senses. If you're studying through a textbook, you need all of your senses again. Whereas with audio, some of my fondest memories are spending time with family and friends, but listening to music. If I'm listening to an audiobook or medical podcasts, I can be mowing the lawn, do all my laundry, I can be cooking…You can have a conversation and still do other things.”

Getting started

One of the biggest hurdles for getting started with audio is capturing quality audio. Some subjects won’t have headphones to plug into their laptops, let alone a professional microphone. Some basic practices to ensure usable audio would be to ideally have at least headphones with a microphone, but if not, to be in a quiet room that doesn’t provide an echo or have thin walls.

Beyond the quality of audio, making sure the subject is comfortable being interviewed is a key component to success. Typically for our podcast, we will have a pre-call with the guest where we speak about the topic and discuss the questions and direction the episode will take. Scheduling can also be a concern because the higher up in the c-suite the KOL is, the busier their schedule is and the harder it is it access them. A big concern is not wanting to be misquoted or misrepresented. Having the questions ahead of time allows for the guest to be fully prepared when it comes time to record the episodes—and in turn, can help cut down on the editing process. Another tip here: encourage using bullet points versus drafting full responses to keep answers conversational and engaging.

The editing process for audio depends on the guest(s), and typically takes from one-to-three minutes per minute of audio. Certainly, a subject or host could go minutes without saying any filler words or making an error that requires edits. More tedious episodes with a less experienced subject could take up to a few hours. It’s beneficial to create a standard procedure for editing to ensure you keep to a set schedule of posting content. For example, the Pharmaceutical Executive podcast has been posting biweekly, on Thursday mornings, at 9am EST, since its inception in 2018. Our listeners know exactly when and where they can find out content, and trust it will be there when they look to listen to it.

Between the preparation for the episode and the availability of the KOL, the process could take a couple of months or happen in two weeks; every episode will be different.

Audio in emails

Dougherty said getting audio into e-newsletters and emails wasn't "too bad" for his company and that the process is "pretty efficient." They interview physicians for a short time segment and after being combined with static banner advertisements, the e-newsletter goes out. Recipients then click to listen to the audio clip and end up on a dedicated landing page that also has those same static advertisements.

“They did really well, we saw a high engagement rate of 18-27% and 3-5% click through rates," said Dougherty. "They also act almost like a resource library…great KOLs people could go back to.” He explained that in some instances audio content that initially had 60 downloads/plays, would later reach 200+ plus while in the archive. Dougherty added that while his company's delivery rates for emails have always been strong, adding audio to its emails improved both the open and engagement rates significantly.

“It’s a different type of media. We’re using thought leaders to get information out about the message/brand that you really couldn’t put in a banner advertisement.”

Engaging HCPs in audio

Dr. Elmore’s audio use begins soon after he wakes up. “I do the audio Bible for about 15 minutes, and while getting ready, I go through a swath of podcasts.” He shared that the typical podcast he’s looking for is less than 30 minutes, citing that even shorter listening times would be great. “I want to get to the point. I don't want my time to be monopolized by one thing. I would like to get a nice broad objective view of what's happening. Then when I'm having a conversation with, say, a neurosurgeon about my patient, I feel that I know [what they’re talking about] and there’s the ability to go deeper.” Other important qualities to grab this doctor’s attention: an engaging host presenting interesting content. “They could just make something that's basic, seem intriguing, and make you want to go down that rabbit hole. That's beautiful.”

In total, Dr. Elmore spends about two and a half hours each day, including his commute, consuming audio content. Admittedly, not all of Elmore’s audio is business; his leisure listening is reserved for sci-fi audiobooks during his commute. He added that his use of audio, which he says has been "like a renaissance," has become such a large part of his life—it has decreased the amount of television that he watches.

AI in audio

“I just see [audio] being used more often across the board. I see a lot of pharma websites where you have the option to listen to a press release now,” explained Dougherty. Currently, a natural human voice or one of a recognized thought leader are still the best options, because you have all of the control. “Sophisticated areas of translation may be a little more difficult for artificial intelligence (AI) such as some of the generic terms and brand names…It’ll be interesting to see what AI does for that—I think it'll be commonplace in the very near future, if it isn’t already.”

With AI programs getting better every day, some now even with your choice of accent, the wave of audio is going to be tough to beat.

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