COVID-19 Study Recruitment – how to find the right study candidates

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread through communities across the world, Clariness was faced with the unique opportunity to use our expertise to help pharmaceutical companies find a solution for people suffering from COVID-19. Before we started our campaign to recruit this population, we needed to understand who we were looking for.

The digital survey we conducted gave us insights into what was important to potential study participants, if they were willing to participate, and understand what their digital profile may look like. After understanding the population, we were able to successfully recruit participants to participate in multiple COVID-19 trials.

In this post we will be reviewing the following key points in recruiting for COVID-19:

COVID-19 key recruitment points

Who are we looking for?

» Defining the study population

Basing on our research and learnings we gathered from the survey, we combined the characteristics of the study population. We examined selected attributes: demographics, location, job descriptions, as well as a need and interest in participation among potential study candidates to identify sub-populations of the COVID-19 study.

We defined marketing personas, which are fictional representation of ideal study candidates who fit the inclusion criteria of the study and are potentially interested in taking part.
Based on our findings, we have created marketing concepts for each marketing persona. Marketing concepts were later used as a guideline for us to prepare participant facing materials as well as targeting strategies for each defined sub-population.

Marketing concepts:
  • Diagnosed COVID-19 Participants / COVID-19 Test
  • COVID-19 Risk Factors / COVID-19 Symptoms
  • COVID-19 Exposure / Shared Housing / Multigeneration Households
  • Healthcare Professionals / First Respondents / Professions at Risk


Diagnosed COVID-19 Participants Healthcare Professionals COVID-19 Risk Factors COVID-19 Symptoms

How do we find the right candidates?

» Attracting participants

Each of the advertising concept was specifically adjusted for an individual sub-population using customized advertisement, landing pages, and targeting methods.

  • Diagnosed COVID-19 Participants / COVID-19 Test:

We have used highly sophisticated hyperlocal targeting techniques, which allowed us to concentrate our advertising activities on mobile users within 25-50 yards around physical addresses of COVID-19 testing centers, doctors/healthcare providers, hospitals, and pharmacies. Our team constantly monitored outbreaks and “hotspots” to turn advertisements on and off for specific locations as cases increased and decreased across the country.

  • COVID-19 Risk Factors / COVID-19 Symptoms:

We reached out to participants that were experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and following the concept of risk factors we have aimed our marketing efforts at people that are at risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms due to their age or preexisting conditions that predispose them to COVID-19 infection.

  • Healthcare Professionals / First Respondents / Professions at Risk:

While approaching people that might be at risk from COVID-19 transmission due to their occupation, we have created two concepts focusing in devoted campaigns on healthcare professionals and first responders as well as workers in essential job sectors that do not accommodate remote work. We have concentrated our advertising activities on selected professions that imply the high risk of COVID-19 infection, such as: physicians, nurses, dental hygienists, police officers, firefighters, bus drivers, flight attendants, teachers, hairdressers, beauticians, veterinarians, factory workers and others.

  • COVID-19 Exposure / Shared Housing / Multigeneration Households:

In our COVID-19 exposure concept, we focused our marketing activities on sub-groups that live in crowded conditions, which make it more challenging to follow prevention strategies and increase a risk of infection from a household contact. We have approached young people, especially college students that tent to share an apartment or house with others, dormitory residents, as well as multigeneration families. To run our advertising activities for all concepts, we followed a multichannel strategy, with a strong focus on social media.

  • Adjusting to COVID-19 infection trends:

COVID-19 is a moving target. As governments shut down businesses, ask people to stay home and the weather changes, the incidence of infections fluctuates. This presents a unique challenge for choosing where to advertise. Once sites are selected, we do not usually have the flexibility to add and remove them as infection trends shift. Digital advertisement provides flexibility to this otherwise rigid structure.

Instead of broadly trying to get referrals to each and every site, our team utilized case reporting in conjunction with site location, population size, and site capacity to strategically spend the marketing budget and target high population and high incidence areas. In doing this we were able to maximize our budget and reduce cost per registration and click resulting in a higher randomization rate.


How do we enhance diversity?

» Reflecting the characteristics of COVID-19 population

In the first months of pandemic, it became clear that COVID-19 infection disproportionately impacts Black and Hispanic communities. Considering this, we included a strategy to enhance diversity which ensured we engaged with the broadest audience while identifying participants who reflect the physical and ethnic characteristics of the communities that are highly impacted by COVID-19.

We created advertising materials and landing pages that were specifically created for the African American and Hispanic population, to assure that all users were represented in our campaign. We also conducted an individual campaign with Spanish materials, to widen the reach and approach Hispanic users that prefer to communicate in Spanish or have limited English comprehension.


How do we multiply the impact?

» Maximizing outreach

To multiply the registrations, we encouraged users that shown interest in our campaign to share the study among their friends and family. We offered users the opportunity to share a link to the screener at each step of the registration process, once when they completed the online screener and again when they completed the phone screener.

By combining the engagement and advertising campaign with a clear message on how to share the study via simple share options such as text, email, and social media, we were able to successfully engage users in organically sharing the study with friends, family, and colleagues. Due to the viral nature of COVID-19 the probability of a participant knowing someone else who has COVID or is at risk is high and people believe they are being altruistic in sharing this potential lifeline during this challenging time. Overall, this tactic contributed 8% of our total randomizations.


How do we gain participant trust?

» Brand Recognition

Internet users are always encouraged to protect their personal data when interacting with unfamiliar websites. To gain participant trust we needed to show users that we are a legitimate organization that is looking to connect participants with clinical studies. This was especially important for COVID-19 as scams emerged trying to take advantage of people’s anxiety about health and safety in the time of COVID-19. Recognizing this challenge, we partnered with the sponsor of the study to provide a link to the screener landing page in announcements, on their study page, and on their COVID-19 info page.

The study/screener landing page and advertisements also reinforced this relationship by bearing the company name and logo. Displaying our collaboration with the sponsor for this trial showed participants that we were working together to connect them with a site nearby. The direct traffic from the sponsor link accounts for 5% of participant who ended up registering for the study.

Without this simple path to screening, potential participants would need to do much more research to be connected to a site. Brand recognition can be a valuable tool when looking to lend trust to partnering companies.


How do sites impact digital recruitment?

» Creating a partnership

Digital advertisements and screening only take the campaign so far. Sites are the most important part of the equation when it comes to successfully recruiting participants. Our Enrollment Management Center team continues to contact participants within 30 minutes of their registration when they are at their peak engagement. The participants are then provided with site contact details as well as being transferred by phone directly to staff at their selected location.

Using these techniques allowed sites the maximum amount of time to get participants screened within the allowed window. Our swift handling of participants while providing quality referrals helped us to develop close working relationships and trust with site staff and opened the door for us to work together to deliver the best experience for participants which is our top priority.


At Clariness we build a comprehensive strategy with a detailed approach considering each aspect of study recruitment (awareness campaign, targeting methods, and geo location advertising) while considering constantly changing external determinants that impact advertising campaigns. The combination of these techniques has allowed our team to contribute meaningfully to the fight against COVID-19 and deliver on our promise to provide quality participants for clinical trials.