Recruiting Patients With Billboard Ads – Do They Work?

Dawn Burke
July 10th, 2018

Ask anyone in clinical research and they’ll likely say that one of their biggest challenges is recruiting and enrolling patients. In a world where there are so many outlets to promote studies, it may be tempting to utilize as much as possible to reach a target demographic. While many sites turn to more traditional outlets such as TV, radio and print, others utilize online and social media. Yet others may find less common sources to promote their studies. Are they all a good match for the recruiting needs of the site or the study?

As part a Forte webinar, Jennifer Whitlock, principal at Mercer, answered an attendee question regarding one of these less common media outlets – billboards. Below, Jennifer shares her experience with billboard advertising for patient recruitment, and offers a few other ideas that sites may want to consider:

“We ran a billboard campaign for a local clinical site that conducted a variety of GI studies. While the message was specific to the IBS study, it could have generated patients for other or future studies. However, the effort was not that successful for a variety of reasons:

  1. The site did not get its preferred choice of billboard location, so the remaining available billboard was not in the best location. While the billboard itself was very zip-code specific, the location was not as well-travelled as they had hoped.
  2. The study itself had a short duration, so advertising was limited to one month. It might have had more success with a longer flight, but that wasn’t an option.
  3. The study itself may have been too specific. IBS is not really a condition that affects a broad population base, as opposed to say cat allergies or weight problems.
  4. There was question of if the drivers would actually read and respond. The opportunity to read and plan to act/call is so fleeting, which is one reason why a longer campaign is necessary.

Be wary of this medium unless you have a study that would benefit from broad reach, you can absolutely get your location of choice, and it can be advertised for more than one month. If a study doesn’t fit this profile, billboard advertising can be a costly choice. There are, however, other more targeted and cost-effective options.

A note about other media similar to billboards:

Cinema Advertising – Cinema advertising is a broad-based, zip code-centric medium that can reach the population near the site location. It can be run in one-week flights, be run in one or more cineplexes, and can even time the advertising to the release of certain movies that may have more appeal to the target. An example would be to advertise with family movies to reach moms of pediatric allergy patients. We have planned studies for some sites with a weekly cost between $2,000-$2,500 which is very affordable in comparison to billboard advertising.

Mall Advertising – Mall advertising is also a medium that we have encountered for a few clients, but never pursued. Most of the hesitation in pursuing this is similar to billboard advertising – too broad in scope, too costly for extended flights, and too much uncertainty that shoppers will read and take action.”

Ultimately, how a study is promoted will depend on the study and the target demographic. What’s right for one study may not be for the next. And, while it can certainly be beneficial to stick with traditional media sources, it may sometimes be worthwhile to think outside the box and consider alternative outlets as well.

To learn more about the various advertising mediums for patient recruitment, download your copy of our free worksheet ”Patient Recruitment Advertising Mediums: Strengths and Weaknesses.”

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