PRA’s Senior Director of Social Intelligence and Communities, Michael Durwin doesn’t just specialize in social media—he helped pioneer it. In college, Michael started creating websites to help pay his way through school. That skill turned into a lifelong career that’s spanned the strategic and creative field. After years in the marketing world, Michael pivoted to the clinical research industry where he could put his passion to work helping others. Below, he answers some of our burning questions.
Why did you become involved in clinical research?
My interest comes from my agency days and what I felt was a considerable lack of understanding of the customer, or in our case, the patient. To me, marketing, advertising, or whatever an organization is doing with communications should really be addressing the needs of the consumer in order to break through the noise. This includes speaking in their languages, understanding their challenges and mindset, and ultimately, understanding what drives their behavior. Applying this in the clinical research industry is much more satisfying as I feel like we’re using it to help further medical research while saving lives. That feels far more honorable than selling another pair of sneakers (no offense to my former sneaker clients).
What’s the biggest challenge we face today in our industry?
I think the biggest challenge my team faces in this industry is awareness. Not many brands are doing real social intelligence research. While some are using social listening tools, there isn’t a great amount of expertise in social intelligence because—for most brands in most industries—it’s still very new. None of the existing tools are really built for what we do. They’re built for brands like Coke to see who is talking about them and Pepsi, and what is being said. What we do is much more nuanced and specific.
What is the biggest misconception people have about clinical trials?
We’ve done quite a bit of research on how people feel about clinical research. The biggest challenge is that there are so many misconceptions, from lack of insurance coverage to cost, dangers, and placebos. I’d like to see a concerted effort to create more transparency around how clinical trials operate and more education for the general public. Patients that take part in clinical trials are real heroes and the researchers developing new solutions to their illnesses are rock stars.
If you had to describe yourself in three words, which would you choose?
Inquisitive, passionate, and persistent.
If you think back, at what point could you have chosen a different career path and what would it have been?
I originally went to school for psychology and sociology. When I got involved in early web design as a way to pay for school, I changed my major to graphic design. Luckily the combination of psychology, sociology, creative, and strategy have come together in what I do now.
If you were to write a self-help book, what would the topic be?
I don’t believe in self-help. None of us are given a user’s manual for our bodies or our minds. I think it’s important to lean on experts for how-to guides instead.
What advice would you give to the next generation of researchers?
Think outside the box. I know this sounds typical and boring but too few do. I read a book many years ago in which the main character figured out how to start an entirely new industry to solve consumer challenges with a single piece of military technology. He knew what the tech was intended to do, but he was also able to figure out what it was capable of doing. He went from working on missiles to inventing a robot vacuum cleaner. That may not seem like a stretch today, but the book was written in 1957.
Almost every industry is full of people who know how things are intended to be used or are myopic about how things are done. I’m fortunate in having worked across a dozen industries to see how things are done differently in all of them. That’s why when we’re looking at the tools we use, or a piece of data or a process, we’re always asking how it can be applied in other ways, improved, or modified.
The other advice I would give: Don’t assume, investigate. Think like a human, not a spreadsheet.
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