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Distracted boyfriend: the secret of a successful long-distance relationship

What does the distracted boyfriend meme have in common with virtual meetings? We’ve all been tempted to open that second browser window during a meeting, or secretly check our phones during a status call. Associate Account Director Harriet Cornelius explores how to keep remote meetings fresh and interesting.

Harriet Coady

Author: Harriet Coady

Account Director

Date posted: 23/12/2021

Do you know the ‘distracted boyfriend’ meme?

In our version, the ‘boyfriend’ is the audience, turning their head towards something other than the meeting they’re in, i.e. the ‘girlfriend’ walking beside him. In the meme, the girlfriend notices her boyfriend getting distracted. But in a virtual meeting, it’s harder to catch someone browsing away when they should be listening.

‘Multi-tasking’ during face-to-face meetings and events, by hiding your phone under the table, is a risk not many are willing to take. But in a virtual setting, you could simply fix your expression towards the screen, and nobody will notice. How do I know? Because we’ve all done it.

So, let’s see what we can do to keep our boyfriends’ heads from turning.

Leading by example

We’ve all been taught ‘content is king’ – all you need for good comms is creative, engaging, relevant assets. However, high-quality content is not enough. To make online meetings and events engaging, you need:

  • The right channel
  • The right use of that channel
  • An engagement method specific to it

Take a customer call, for example. The rep is ‘the girlfriend’, the HCP is ‘the boyfriend’ and competitor content, emails, social media and WhatsApp are the ‘distractions’.

Compared to the 5–10 minute in-person chats of the past, online rep meetings can stretch for 30 minutes or more. More dedicated time may sound like a salesperson’s dream, but reps have reported these meetings to be ineffective, despite the great content. The HCP is less engaged and difficult to ‘read’, and the rep can’t be as adaptive as they would be face-to-face.

Making the right call on the right channel

Channels suitable to the needs of pharma industry are limited. That means we must make the most of what we have – starting with what we know works well.

For example, if after a meeting a rep triggers a well-structured, relevant email with the right tone of voice, it could achieve a 35–60% open rate, and 6 times the industry average click-throughs.

A conversation is worth a hundred easily forgotten facts. Encouraging a two-way dialogue is also the role of the channel – using high-value questions and surveys, and valuable insights to hold focus. Another option is a chatbot encouraging the HCP to input and answer, so the rep can dynamically tailor the content according to the insights they provide.

These channels can also help us look forward, with in-call tools to analyse engagement and accurately segment HCPs – making each corresponding call even more relevant than the last.

Always keep them wanting more

Leading a call with no input from your audience is almost like hosting a radio show. Yet, many radio shows remain relevant and well-loved, even if listeners can easily get distracted. So, what tricks can we learn from this?

  • Direct address

Talk to the audience as if you are addressing a specific person. This changes the way you speak, making your tone more personal.

  • Use a ‘hook’

You will never get the answer to a radio brainteaser before the next song has played – and there’s a reason for that. Before introducing an activity, such as a survey, use a ‘hook’. This could be a promise of specific data, the answer to a direct query, or a hint that they will be asked their opinion later. In-call hooks could become as integral to the sales call as a good opening line – something that encourages them to listen and remain engaged.

The secret to a successful relationship

It isn’t easy to keep people engaged in the virtual world – especially when we know how easy it is to be distracted ourselves. While jumping on the next new and shiny platform may seem like the best way forward, we should not need constant new channels to hold interest.

By nurturing the channels we already have, and learning from other media doing remote comms well, we can ensure attention remains on us.

The secret to a successful relationship? Keep working with what you already have.


Harriet Cornelius is an Account Director at the Purple Agency within the health division. She has over 9 years' experience working in marketing and communications agencies, 5 of which have been spent at Purple. During this time, she has worked with many pharma clients, across a broad range of therapy areas at global and local level, bringing a wealth of knowledge and skills to the team.