How to successfully measure success


Phil Lucas | MPH
10 minute read

The pressure continues to mount for medical communications agencies to demonstrate the effectiveness of their activities, and so too does the temptation to stick with traditional measures of success, and the ones that make us look good. However, is that really effective?

Mind the gap

It can be extremely ineffective and costly to never see the true value and impact of a medical communications project. It can also be incredibly frustrating to create an impact but the metrics not reflect it. Moreover, only measuring what makes us look good can hamper the ability to improve strategies, decrease efficiency, profitability, and ultimately diminish the value of med comms overall.


Bridging the gap between our measures of success and the reality of our project’s impact, is essential.


In a fast-moving and evolving digital medical communications era, it is essential our measures of success continue to evolve with us. Here are 3 key points we think will help us all successfully measure success.

Top 3 key points

1. Metrics need to be integral to the design of a project

It sounds obvious, but you have to start at the start. So often it is the case that a project is delivered first and we think about measuring success after.

A question we always ask a client is...

‘What does success look like?’

This can really open up discussions. Success can mean we get 10 articles published in high impact factor journals, or it could be to influence prescribing habits or language change (or all of these!). Without detailed discussions at the start we can never fully understand what to measure. Remember too that change takes time, so it may be more useful to gain information, such as language change, at various time points and not just one.

Set and define your goals, then really pin down how you will measure success, and don't put the cart before the horse.

2. Think beyond the traditional


In the world of publications, impact factors are sometimes hailed as the be all and end all. On one hand, a publication in a high impact factor journal may hold some clout in the science community and get the message out to a lot of people, however, there are other considerations to take on board, such as:

  • What are the chances of getting published in the journal? – rejection can cause delays and considerable time to prepare a manuscript for another journal, all of which can impact timelines significantly.
  • Turnaround time – is there an urgent need to get the information out there quickly, do we need a tight turnaround time? Different journals work on different timescales and it is therefore important to keep this in mind. Is there value in aiming for publication in a high impact factor journal and waiting possibly 12-16 weeks for review?
  • Does the work need a more specialised journal? – one which may have a lower impact factor, but the work will reach the target audience via the most direct route.

There is value in impact factors but not at the expense of other considerations. However, there are other platforms that we, as modern digital med comms agencies should be looking at....and that is social media and networking sites (of course!).

The value of social media and networking sites

We can derive a lot of invaluable qualitative information on how a publication was received e.g., was there a positive reaction in general? Are people tweeting about it? Sharing it on LinkedIn? ResearchGate? From this information, we can gather how the publication was received in general, what aspects of the study were discussed most, or we may even notice gaps in knowledge emerging from such discussions, aiding decisions on future publications or campaigns.

social media success

Conference posters

This may also be the case for traditional conference posters. Often, we look at footfall at the conference to assess the success or impact of a poster. However, with authors sharing their posters online (LinkedIn, ResearchGate) and the conference organisers also making it available to download, we now have another layer by which to investigate the impact. These metrics really help to see the fruits of our labours in these cases. Read more about creating scientific posters.


Companies like Amazon have great insight into each customer, they build up a purchase/behaviour profile to provide tailored recommendations. This technique can be used via e-Detailing – we just need to delve a little deeper and analyse the data. Obtaining details on what a particular HCP was looking at and for how long they looked at it provides us with an idea of engagement, what messages resonated with that particular HCP, and what information they need and want. In turn, we can specifically tailor messages and information to different groups based on these results. Think google analytics and targeted marketing – it happens every day to all of us on all of our social media platforms and emails. At first, it can seem a little ‘dark artsy’ but used in the right way within the pharma industry, it could be incredibly effective for everyone.

3. Use the results

After all the hard work of gathering the information and interpreting the meaning of it all, the results need to be communicated and discussed with the correct people i.e. your clients and their top decision makers. Plus, we need to have internal discussions about the next steps forward, what worked well and how to keep progressing so we can offer the best service and results to our clients.


Final thought

At times it may be a challenge to persuade clients of the merits of taking the time to obtain meaningful metrics. We have to help clients move forward and progress with us in this area and case studies are often the best way to do this. The ability to demonstrate quantitative and qualitative data together, highlighting what may have been missed had we stuck with the traditional measures of success is invaluable to clients.

Going forward we need to incorporate all of this information into our measures of success. It is understandable, due to time constraints and pressure in our industry, implementing change takes time. However, it will be worth it. We all have to demonstrate our value. Measuring what is truly reflective of our vision of success, is the most effective way of doing so.

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