Real patients are all the rage in pharma ads. But how to find them?

Doctor with patient
A new production company has come up with a way to find real patient "stars" for pharma brands' TV and video ad campaigns. (Getty/isayildiz)

While more and more pharma brands are using real patients in marketing campaigns, finding those patients can be challenging. That was the case for Gina Battiste when she oversaw brands at Astellas, Baxter and Searle/Pfizer, and for Michael Rafayko when he was a production creative at agencies including Leo Burnett, Downtown Partners and Digitas.

The two met several years ago working on Myrbetriq, when Battiste oversaw the brand for Astellas and Rafayko helmed its broadcast and video production. They commiserated about the difficulty populating ads with real people, the process for which is generally “daunting, ridiculously inefficient and expensive and yields pretty meager results," Rafayko said.

Fast-forward to 2019, and the two have just launched a new kind of production company called Studio 2253. Named for the government form required for submission to the FDA's Office of Prescription Drug Promotion for regulated commercial material, Studio 2253 houses a patented system called ReelPatients to identify and recruit real patients for pharma and healthcare clients.

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“Our goal is to not only find real patients, but the right patients who could tell their stories. Every patient has a story, of course, but not everyone is capable of telling that story in a compelling way,” Rafayko said. “We also wanted to wrap that in a high-end commercial production company. No one out there does that now.”

Their process can find real patients and healthcare providers “in any disease state and anywhere in the world,” Rafayko said, adding that every patient opts into the HIPAA-compliant global network.

While the two are keeping specific strategies secret, they did offer an example for a recent narcolepsy project. ReelPatients identified more than 800 people in the U.S. with narcolepsy within 30 minutes.

The process doesn’t stop there, of course, Battiste said. They personally reach out to the identified patients to find the most engaging or compelling stories that will best resonate with other patients. The production studio can then capture those people and stories for broadcast, web, patient education or sales videos, all with a high production value.

The new studio is already at work on several projects, including the narcolepsy project and another with a large public relations firm to create patient videos.

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Studio 2253’s target audience is small to mid-sized pharma brands and the small to mid-sized agencies that work with them.

“Small to mid-sized brands have the same marketing needs and marketing desires as bigger ones. It’s important for them to put the patient in the center and be patient-centric, but a lot of them just don't have a million dollars to a million and half dollars every month to feed into an ad agency,” Rafayko said.

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