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11 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Medical Writer for Your Ad Board

What you need to ask potential independent medical writing partners to ensure you get the medical writing support you need for an advisory board meeting.

If a client asks for medical writing support for an advisory board, you need to know that the writer you bring on is just as dedicated as you are to providing an excellent experience to your clients and their advisors. But finding the right writer can be daunting: There are writers with specific subject-matter expertise, writers who specialize in certain types of writing, and writers with varying degrees of experience.

Here are key questions to ask potential independent medical writing partners, so the next time a client asks for medical writing support, you can say “no problem,” with confidence.

The Right Experience
Some writers are excellent at writing sales materials, while others are great at writing for continuing medical education activities. But advisory boards, which are almost never recorded and feature tight deadlines and fast-moving discussion (over the course of several hours), call for a writer with specific expertise.

• Ask writers if they have covered advisory boards or investigator meetings. Often, when I ask clients what kind of summary they need, they ask me to do the “usual.” An experienced writer can keep asking questions and help the client figure out exactly what the summary needs to look like.

• Ask writers if they are comfortable covering an unrecorded meeting. If there is any hesitation, it’s best to find someone else.

• Ask if the writer is OK with short deadlines. Clients want to act on the information they get from meetings right now—not in three weeks. A quick turnaround time is a great way to shine for the client, but not all writers work best on that type of timetable.

A Client-Facing Professional
A medical writer is representing your company on site and should be able to support your relationship with your client. Medical writers can be an introverted bunch. Great writers don’t have to be flaming extroverts, but they do need to be able to confidently interact with clients in a professional manner.

• Ask writers if they are comfortable interacting with advisors and the client on site. Inexperience or hesitation is a red flag. A personable writer who interacts with advisors can bolster participation—clients always notice this.

• Ask writers if they are comfortable touching base with the client on site to learn more about what the executive summary needs to look like. If a writer isn’t adaptable, it’s best to move on.

• Ask if the writer is able to conduct a slide review the day before the meeting. This isn’t always necessary, but a writer should be able to perform this function.

Flexibility Is Non-negotiable
One of my favorite things about working for meeting professionals is that I am afforded far more flexibility when it comes to the client’s needs. If they need an extra memo for the sales team, I can say “yes.” If an advisor comes to me in a meeting and needs help with travel arrangements, I make sure that it comes to the attention of the planner. No matter what, a medical writer should behave like a partner. If you feel challenged rather than supported by a writer, know that it shouldn’t be that way.

• Ask writers if they are willing to come early to make sure that the room is in order. This is a great way to weed out people who have “not my job” syndrome. If a writer tries to negotiate an extra fee for this or balks at the idea of helping for 30 minutes, move on. Disasters are rare, but do happen. I have had to step in when a moderator was late, help move a meeting to another room because of a noisy party next door, and help find food for three “surprise” vegans. You want a helper, not a writing diva! 

• Ask if the writer will arrange to have a flat fee that covers “standard deliverables,” whether it is a slide deck, summary, article, or whatever else the client needs. Fees should only be renegotiated if the scope changes dramatically (it almost never does), or if something dramatic happens in a meeting and the client then wants a press release and a summary and a half dozen other deliverables. (This has happened to me…once!)

Areas of Expertise
Many times, a client will ask for a writer with expertise in a certain subject-matter area. This can get tricky. While experience with unrecorded meetings is critical, there’s a little more wiggle room with subject-matter expertise. Most medical writers have advanced degrees and are able to get up to speed in most areas relatively quickly. Experienced writers will do homework ahead of the meeting to be sure they are ready. The meeting slide deck is an excellent guide, and providing it ahead of time (even if it is a draft) can help the writer be prepared.

• Ask medical writers if they have experience in a certain therapeutic area.

• If the writer doesn’t have experience writing about a particular disease, ask if he or she has written about anything related. For example, a writer with tons of bladder cancer experience will probably be able to cover lung cancer just fine. Similarly, a writer who has never written about rare infectious disease X, but has a PhD in microbiology will also be just fine. An ethical writer will take the time to explain how their expertise is related to the subject of the meeting or let you know if they aren’t able to cover an area.

• Ask writers if they have a conflict of interest. Medical writers, especially those with subject expertise, may write about competing drugs. For example, a writer might write a sales slide deck for Diabetes Drug A and a manuscript for Diabetes Drug B. Advisory boards are a little different. They are confidential and strategic in nature, so it is important to confirm that the writer doesn’t have a conflict of interest.

These questions should make it easier to find a medical writer to help your clients get the most from their meetings. Medical writers can be great allies on site, and they should also add value to your client’s meeting.

Ginny Vachon, PhD, is president and medical writer with Principal Medvantage, LLC.

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