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MSLA 2021 Conference Report



The MSLA 10th Anniversary (Virtual) Conference Report Past, Present, Future: MSL Evolution

As we have reached our incredible 10th Anniversary year since launch, the MSLA committee were determined to hold the Annual Conference this year, having cancelled it last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When it became apparent that we would still be unable to meet in person the decision was made to deliver a virtual conference and, with the support of our speakers, our organisations, other advocates, and of course you, our members, what a great conference it turned out to be.


The conference took place on March 18th and was attended by 105 delegates. This great turnout reflects the growing awareness and strength of the MSLA and the perceived value of our Annual Conference. Delegates came from the NHS, academia, consultancies, and from 32 different Pharma/biotech companies. To help us to improve the MSLA meetings going forward, we asked delegates to complete feedback forms and, despite it being a virtual survey instead of the usual version completed in the meeting, pleasingly around half did so (n=46).


For 54% of delegates it was the first time attending an MSLA conference, 33% had attended between two and four, and 13% had attended five or more, evidencing the value of the conference year after year. For those first time delegates, we hope you return for the next in-person meeting as it is a much different experience, and we know from the feedback that attendees really missed the networking aspect of the meeting. We have however taken on board the idea that a hybrid format may be of interest in future. If you have thoughts on this, or ideas for content, speakers or themes, please contact us as we are always open to fresh ideas, contacts, and innovation.

We opened the Conference with MSLA Chair, Mark MacDonald, delivering the MSLA State of the Nation survey results, completed immediately preceding the conference by MSLs and MSL Managers from across the UK and Ireland. Mark compared these data with the previous survey findings and the fascinating results evidence the rapidly changing Medical Affairs and MSL landscape. They are published in depth elsewhere in this edition. All audience feedback ratings relating to the quality and relevance of the presentation to the MSL role were between 3 (good) to 5 (excellent).


Mark was followed by an exceptional, highly interactive and thought-provoking MSL Compliance Workshop led by Steve Gray. Compliance is always the most requested subject for ‘hot topics’ and Steve covered a broad range of MSL activities and how the Code of Practice applies to scenarios such as speaker briefings and speaker tours, promotional vs non-promotional activities, and the importance of intention and documentation. Steve is very familiar with the demands of the MSL role and the challenges we face in working within a commercial environment whilst maintaining medical integrity. To use real world situations, relevant PMCPA cases were discussed and controversial issues were aired, and by the end of the session it was clear that some of our organisations would be reconsidering whether they might require MSLs to take the Representatives’ exam, just to err on the side of caution. Testament to the quality of Steve’s session, 96% of delegates rated this session either 4 (very good) or 5 (excellent) out of 5 in terms of both quality and relevance and usefulness to the MSL role. The comments on this session said it all, for example: The best!, Excellent! and Loads of relevant information and put across in an in very engaging and thought-provoking way.


Dr Narinder Gosall’s Critical Appraisal Workshop: Key Skills for the Credible MSL focused on key topics which allowed the MSL role to build trust and engagement via their clinical knowledge. Critically appraising a paper which has a focus on patient centred approach and evidence based approached. Understanding the bias and what this means in a paper and how to read and understand the analysis.


The free text feedback was mixed, with some delegates finding the content more advanced than needed, eg too complex, hard to follow’, and ‘assumed a basic understanding of all stats’. Others found it an excellent session and reported that they really learned a lot.


The feedback showed 63% of delegates rating the session either 4 (very good) or 5 (excellent) in terms of quality and 69% in terms of relevance and usefulness to the MSL role. Notably there was a relatively even 3-way split between the 1-3 ratings (31%), the 4 rating (36%) and the 5 rating (33%) in terms of content, which we believe is reflective of the diversity of the audience’s starting points. The feedback that it may have been better to split into 2 breakout rooms or to touch on a few stats in greater detail is something we will actively consider for future critical appraisal activities.


The final guest speaker of the day was Helen Kane of Pivot MSL who delivered a session titled MSL Excellence: Past, Present & Future. Helen is a past MSLA Chair and shares the vision and many of the values of the MSLA. She brings a wealth of international experience and subsequent unique perspective. Her passion for the future of the MSL role and her views on how it will evolve generated some great feedback, particularly on the need for establishing professional standards of excellence if we are to play an increasingly more strategic and critical role in our organisations. There has never been such an important time for MSLs to stand up for our function and show value both internally and externally, and Helen’s talk gave some great ideas on how we can do this.

In the feedback 88% of delegates rated Helen’s presentation as either 3 (good), 4 (very good) or 5 (excellent) for both quality of the session and for its relevance and usefulness to the MSL role.


We asked delegates the following question: Relative to other similar events you have been to, how would you rate the overall quality of this event? We were delighted that, given the trials and tribulations of arranging a virtual event for the first time, the event was rated as good by 24%, 35% gave a very good rating, and 37% rated the conference as excellent. To establish the Net Promoter Score (NPS) we asked: On a scale of 0-10, how likely is it that you would recommend the MSLA Annual Conference to a friend or colleague? This is a classical NPS question, used worldwide to gauge loyalty. The 2021 MSLA Annual Conference has a NPS of 57, which is generally considered a great score comparing, for example, to an average of 38 for healthcare and 44 for retail. Although we are very proud of this and incredibly grateful for your ongoing support of the MSLA, we set ourselves a very high bar for customer satisfaction, and as it is lower than our peak our goal remains to improve by delivering even greater value to our membership.

Many of the comments on what should be included in future workshops, webinars and the next conference could be summed up as more of the same, only better! We received feedback to help to demonstrate the value of the MSL role and build our profile more broadly, perhaps a poster session showcasing the best practice of teams in the industry, something we will be exploring further for next time.


We also received many suggestions on activities we could cover to support the development of aspiring MSLs, MSL Managers and MSLs at all levels. These included knowledge-based and practical skills, particularly around data generation activity, softer skills around HCP engagement, and tips on how to stay motivated and engaged, particularly relevant at this time. For the aspiring MSLs and aspiring MSL Managers we were asked for support developing and transitioning into these roles, and what hiring managers look for in a candidate. We will review all of your suggestions at the next forward planning meeting, so watch this space for future developments!

A final word about the MSLA Journal, now in its third year, having launched at the 2018 Annual Conference. We publish two issues per year but accept content at any time, in preparation for the next edition. Whilst we have the capacity to commission content, articles from our membership will remain our priority for publication, so please keep them coming in. You can cite your articles of course, and for the creative among you, we are always interested in artwork for the front cover, so please send that in too. As with the Association, the journal can only be a success if you support it, so let’s make it the voice of MSLs in the UK and Ireland.


The MSLA have some exciting and ambitious plans for 2021 and beyond, including the webcasts, the new website with improved registrations and associated member resources, the MSLA Journal, and an up-to-date social media presence. As society returns to the new normal we also hope for a return to in-person events as we know from your feedback that you really appreciate the networking that is so much easier when not in a virtual setting.


Look out for future communications from the MSLA on these and other exciting developments. Thanks to you all for your continued support as the MSLA strive to provide a common platform in the UK and Ireland to drive compliance, value, credibility and sustainability of the MSL role.

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