A solid key opinion leader (KOL) engagement plan is key if you want to get the best KOLs speaking at your medical events.
Fail to get first-rate KOLs involved and your medical events will fall flat with your HCP audience.
Here’s how to find, recruit, and nurture KOLs with a winning KOL engagement plan to ensure the best ones become your event speakers. Follow this strategy and you’ll make your your events a roaring success with HCPs.
This article is based on our 20+ years’ experience with leading pharma companies.
What is a KOL engagement plan in the pharma industry?
KOL engagement is an important element of any successful pharma event marketing strategy. No matter whether you’re planning in-person, hybrid, or virtual events. It involves building relationships with KOLs and inviting them to speak at your events to provide their expert insights on the latest treatments and product that could make your event (and company) stand out from the crowd.
KOLs are usually physicians, researchers, or other healthcare professionals who are recognized as thought leaders in their field. So, involving them as speakers can have a huge influence when it comes to boosting the number of HCPs who attend your event as well as increasing the number of HCPs who prescribe your medicine after your event.
That’s why it’s key to have a well-thought-out KOL engagement plan to get them on board at your medical events. In other words, you need to plan a clear strategy to identify, attract, engage, and build lasting relationships KOLs before, during, and after your event.
But before we delve into how to build a successful KOL engagement strategy, how does it benefit your events?
5 benefits of implementing a KOL engagement plan as part of your event strategy
Creating long-lasting mutually beneficial relationships with KOLs is what all medical affairs, in particular MSLs (medical science liaisons), strive for. And getting KOLs to speak at your events is a great way to reach this goal.
Here are 5 advantages that implementing a strong KOL engagement plan as part of your event strategy can bring:
#1 Reach a wider audience of HCPs
Imagine you’re an HCP. You get invited to hundreds of medical events every year but you only have a certain amount of time (and energy!) Are you more likely to attend an event with speakers you’ve hardly heard of or KOLs you look to for educational insights in your field?
“Indegene’s 2021-22 report shows that HCPs prefer educational content that can improve their practice. And, in their most recent online national survey of 2000 HCPs, the FDA indicated that their colleagues and key experts were the most influential on their decisions about prescription drugs.” – PharmaExec.com
Event marketers in the pharma industry are constantly battling for higher attendance. Getting HCPs to choose one symposium over another means putting together a program that’s both compelling in its focus and promises a memorable experience. That means amplifying appeal and credibility by getting KOLs to speak at your events is key to drawing in the crowds.
Hence building a powerful KOL engagement plan. Plus, KOLs have large networks of colleagues and influence within the healthcare community. So, asking them to communicate about your upcoming event is a great way to boost your promotion activities.
For other ideas on how to promote your event, check out our blog post with the best 41 event promotion ideas to boost attendance.
#2 Boost HCP engagement
Why do HCPs attend your events? They want to learn something new.
70% of HCPs think it’s crucial for pharma companies to deliver science-based educational resources (PharmaExec.com). And having external KOLs rather than someone from your company speaking at your medical events is a great way to do this. After all, they’ll go away with the feeling that they’ve learned something new from an expert, not somebody who is trying to sell them something.
Come up with a great KOL engagement plan that not only encourages KOLs to come and speak at your events but also gets HCPs interacting with them, whether it’s in-person, hybrid, or virtual. That way, your HCPs are more likely to stay engaged and, as a result, they’ll remember what they’ve learned.
Leave a lasting impression on your HCP attendees and give them a reason to come back for more.
To learn more about the recent trends in HCP engagement, check out our article HCP engagement: emerging trends, success metrics, and omnichannel strategies.
#3 Beat the competition
Through a well-structured KOL engagement plan, pharma companies can benefit from their expertise within the healthcare industry and use it as input for their event content and marketing plan.
KOLs know what is needed for an effective pharma marketing strategy. Make the most of their feedback to adapt your messaging, content, and product to your target audience. They may even help you break into new markets.
Plus, KOLs often provide educational materials and insights into best practices for patient care that you can make available to all HCPs during your events on your in-person event app or virtual event platform. This helps increase the overall quality of your event.
To find out about other marketing strategies in the medical industry, read our article E-marketing & omnichannel strategies for pharma.
#4 Build trust and credibility
It is mandatory for all pharma companies to provide content that is not false, misleading, or biased and that is in line with the prescribing information that local regulatory authorities have approved.
KOLs are fully aware of the importance of compliance and adhering to rules and regulations in the pharma industry. So, by building relationships with KOLs and implementing a KOL engagement strategy to ensure they speak at your events, you’ll help establish your company as a trusted entity in the HCP community.
In turn, this will boost event attendance, brand awareness, and marketplace adoption.
#5 Achieve market access
The pharma landscape is constantly evolving. By establishing relationships with KOLs through event speaking engagements, you can easily discover the latest professional opinions and expertise. This helps you understand the medical product life cycle and ultimately get on the market.
Plus, KOLs have an in-depth understanding of treatment development and how treatments benefit patients. So, if you put together an effective KOL engagement strategy that involves them speaking at your events, they will help to provide top-quality medical content and clearly explain your treatment value to HCPs.
10 steps to building an effective KOL engagement plan alongside your event strategy
As we’ve already established, getting KOLs on board to speak at your events is fundamental for a successful pharma event. And developing an effective KOL engagement plan is key to getting the best of the best to participate.
An effective KOL engagement strategy provides multiple benefits to any pharma event. Not only does it help in generating more interest from potential attendees, but it can also provide valuable insights into how the event was received by those attending and what aspects may need to be improved for future events.
A KOL engagement plan should complement your event strategy by including specific goals, objectives, timelines, and budgeting. It should identify who will be responsible for overseeing these activities. Additionally, a good strategy should include ways to measure event success such as tracking attendance rates, post-event surveys, and reviews from attendees.
Let’s take a look at the 10 steps you should follow to create a winning KOL engagement plan that will motivate KOLs to speak at your events:
#1 Define your objectives
What do you hope to achieve by engaging KOLs to speak at your event? Do you want them to provide expert insights? Act as brand ambassadors? Help promote your products? Define your goals upfront so you can tailor your KOL engagement plan accordingly.
#2 Determine who’s in charge of what
Inefficient coordination leads to ineffective KOL engagement. And could even result in you missing out on the KOL you want to have speak at your event.
Assign the right people to the different parts of the KOL engagement plan process, whether they’re MSLs, medical affairs, medical information, customer experience, medical marketing, event organizers, etc. And use a single data hub for effective cross-functional collaboration.
Top tip: KOLs appreciate liaising with MSLs more than with sales reps, so take this into account when planning out the steps of your KOL engagement strategy.
#3 Scout out the right KOLs
Not all experts are created equal, and not all KOLs will be a good fit for your event or your audience. Do your research and target the right individuals based on their expertise, reach and influence. Use a KOL profiling procedure to engage those who would bring the most value to your event and use it to build an effective KOL engagement plan.
Just make sure you don’t use a specific KOL at many different events. You need to bring some variety and you don’t want to burn them out.
Top tip: Use the in-depth event metrics you collect by using a compliant event platform like SpotMe and a life science CRM like Veeva to identify HCPs that could become KOL speakers at your future events.
#4 Reach out early
The sooner you start reaching out to potential KOL speakers, the more likely you are to snag them. Give them plenty of advance notice and make sure to outline what you expect from them in terms of participation.
Ask them questions to establish what they need and what they want to get out of this collaboration/partnership. Assess what you can offer them and bring what they are looking for to the table. This will help you tailor your KOL engagement plan to your specific KOL needs.
#5 Offer incentives that make it worthwhile for them
Nobody likes speaking at events for free, and KOLs are no exception. Your KOL partnership should be mutually beneficial. Offer them incentives to participate in your event.
Given that KOLs’ main drive is growth, medical development, and gaining peer recognition, some examples of incentives include:
- Travel expenses
- A speaking fee
- Complimentary registration
- Education, training, or resume-building opportunity
- Opportunity to be involved in research or clinical trials
- Access to innovative lab technology
- Opportunity to review unpublished research
Top tip: Strengthen your KOL engagement plan by building lasting relationships based on mutual benefits for both you and your KOL.
#6 Act on KOL feedback to inform your events
Ask KOLs for feedback from the very beginning and listen to any suggestions they have. In this way, you’ll show them you value their opinion from the very beginning. They can help improve the quality of your events but perhaps also your products and services. And this also boosts your status as a collaborator or partner.
Top tip: Don’t react badly to negative feedback. Thank your KOLs and use it as constructive criticism to help you improve.
#7 Provide a great event experience for your KOLs
No matter what kind of event you’re planning – in-person, hybrid, or virtual – you’ll probably use some sort of event technology to keep HCP engagement high. This software can also help you give your KOL speakers an unforgettable experience! If you can promise them this, they’ll be more likely to speak at your events.
Make sure you choose an event platform and app that fully adhere to compliance standards and that are user-friendly. That way, KOLs will be able to make the most of interactions with HCPs and networking. If you offer this possibility to KOLs, it will improve the quality of your KOL engagement plan.
Some of the most important event tech features to have are:
It’s a good idea to have KOLs’ bios, LinkedIn profiles, and photos readily available for HCPs on your event platform and app.
You will motivate KOLs to speak at your events if you help to boost their personal brand and get that all-important peer recognition they want.
Allow KOLs and HCPs to interact on the feed of your event platform and app before, during, and after the event. Appoint a moderator to ensure any content shared is fully compliant with regulations.
This will encourage KOLs to speak at your events, as it’s another way for them to get peer recognition.
Give KOLs the chance to answer the audience’s questions after their session either through the event app if the event is in person or through the event platform if it’s virtual or hybrid. Assign a moderator who checks the questions before they go live to make sure they adhere to rules and regulations.
If you offer KOLs this opportunity, they are more likely to speak at your event.
Running polls is a great way to keep HCPs engaged and also gives useful insights to both KOLs and you. Just ensure not to ask any questions that could create compliance issues.
Encourage KOLs to speak at your events by explaining that they may learn new things from their industry by using interactive polls.
If you’re running a hybrid or virtual event with part or all of your audience joining remotely, give KOLs and HCPs the chance to talk to each other face to face just like they would if they were all in person.
Set up small breakout sessions with one KOL and two or three HCPs in the form of advisory boards. Of course, make sure they sign a confidentiality agreement beforehand to prevent any problems with disclosure.
You could even set up 1:1 meet the expert sessions where your KOL can speak face to face with a specific attending HCP on a particular topic.
KOLs will be more than happy to speak at your events if they have the chance to speak to other HCPs and expand their network.
Networking and participant matching
Using a mobile event app, KOLs and HCPs can easily connect with each other and exchange business cards at your in-person event by using a QR code.
If you’re hosting a hybrid or virtual event, you can create new networking opportunities for KOLs and HCPs by connecting like-minded participants based on their interests, field, or skills.
Again, enable KOLs to build their network and you’ll encourage them to speak at your events.
Turn your live event into on-demand content in just a few clicks. HCPs that couldn’t attend will be able to sign up for your private content hub linked to your event platform. They can then watch your event back whenever they like.
Ensure to explain to your KOLs during your KOL engagement strategy that their speech will be on your gated content hub for HCPs to see, helping boost their peer recognition in the industry.
Top tip: Host a hybrid or virtual event to give KOLs the chance to speak at your events from anywhere. This could be a big selling point for your KOL engagement plan, as you are giving KOLs the flexibility they want and need. It also opens up the possibility for you to collaborate with KOLs from all over the world.
To find out how to keep HCPs and KOLs engaged with an event platform and app while complying with medical laws and regulations, read our article Event compliance: busting 5 myths in the pharma industry.
#8 Onboard KOLs effectively
During an event, technology is only as useful as the number of people who use it. Who better than the speaking KOL to promote the use of the event app or platform? As part of your KOL engagement plan, make sure you show your KOLs know how to use the platform and app before they speak.
You should onboard them to the platform and specific tools as early as possible. Ideally, they’ll learn how everything works before or as they are designing their presentation so that they can build in interactive engagement activities at multiple points. At a minimum, event organizers should dedicate appropriate time for training & briefings during session slide reviews.
Beyond the basic know-how, event organizers also should strive to instill in KOLs an understanding of why the event platform matters and how interactivity will enhance the event. The more KOLs can become advocates for engagement tools, the more successful their event will be.
#9 Describe how you will measure success
Like your pharma company, KOLs are driven by data. So, a key part of your KOL engagement plan is telling them how you will measure their success based on the objectives you defined at the start.
Here are some KOL engagement KPIs to measure at your events:
Number of registrations
How many people registered to your event?
Number of sessions signups
How many people signed up for sessions with specific KOLs?
Number of interactions on the feed
How many people published, commented and liked content on the feed? And how many interacted with the KOLs on the feed?
How many people actually turned up? How many people attended the KOL sessions?
How many of the people engaged with content from the KOLs in some way?
Number of Q&A & poll responses
How many people asked questions and responded to the polls?
Number of claps during the live sessions
How many people clapped during the live sessions with the KOLs?
Number of event replays on the content hub
How many people watched the on-demand event on the gated content hub?
NPS (net promoter score) from feedback survey
What score did attendees give the event/KOL sessions?
#10 Follow up post-event
Don’t forget to thank KOLs for speaking at your event once it’s over. Show your appreciation with a thank-you note or even a small gift basket. You’ll want to stay on good terms with your KOLs. That way you can keep this strong partnership and potentially make the most of it in future. Especially after you put so much effort into your KOL engagement plan!
The best event technology to support your KOL engagement plan
Creating a KOL engagement plan that will get the best KOLs coming to speak at your events is no easy feat. But, by introducing event technology to your medical events, it’s a win-win situation.
You’ll not only enhance your KOL engagement plan and motivate first-class KOLs to speak at your events, but you’ll also facilitate HCP and KOL interaction. Key elements to keep event engagement at its highest.
If you’re looking for a fully compliant event platform and app that 50% of the top life science and pharma companies use to support their KOL engagement plan and host their in-person, hybrid, or virtual events, request a free demo with SpotMe today.
Or if you’re shopping around, check out the best 9 platforms for HCP events and download our life science event platform RFP template to help you choose the best option for you.