If your company is planning any kind of public speaking event, it’s highly likely that you’ll end up working with a Key Opinion Leader (KOL). These industry frontrunners are a valuable resource for organizations, conducting intensive research, providing insightful advice, and giving stirring talks that can inspire change.
Here at LifeLearn, Lara Parks is the go-to expert on KOL management. She is the driving energy behind our work with KOLs and I sat down with her to get her insights into how organizations and KOLs can collaborate most effectively.
What is your role at LifeLearn and how does it relate to KOL management?
My role at LifeLearn is to manage KOL relationships for our clients. I work with KOLs on anything from coordinating educational resources, to organizing client events like symposia, roundtables, advisor councils, sponsorships and retreats. I align and link companies with KOLs, and assist KOLs with the coordination of materials.
LifeLearn will often initially contact KOLs on behalf of brands. We reach out to and engage with thought leaders from a variety of specialties. We’ve worked with KOLs with expertise in dermatology, gastroenterology, cardiology, dentistry, or basically any area that impacts the veterinary world. We connect with these KOLs to engage them with brands, companies, or even clients themselves.
To describe my role, I would say I am truly a concierge between a client/brand/product and a KOL.
What would you say is the most important aspect of managing KOLs?
The most important aspect of managing KOLs is ensuring that they are receiving accurate information and that the company is seeking and receiving their honest feedback and outlook on it. KOLs primarily deal with the scientific element of any product, so that’s the information they want to know– the science behind x product. They want to understand all the elements that make this product a success.
So, you have to communicate very effectively to ensure that you are providing information that is as accurate as possible. This is imperative because it can impact the KOL’s role in engaging with the product or company. Truly, the most important thing is to be as upfront and forthcoming with product information and details as possible, so that the KOL can learn more and decide how they want to align themselves with a product.
What are some of the best ways to keep a KOL happy?
The key to keeping KOLs happy is always being positive. It’s about offering an alternate solution to whatever situation may arise, rather than creating a roadblock. In my experience, it’s important to value the relationship built between the KOL and the brand or organization, and to value both the KOL and the organization as equals, rather than holding one above the other. Success arises from a marriage between the two, so it’s crucial to avoid positioning them against each other.
KOLs are absolutely brilliant individuals, and that’s the reason we recruit them and utilize them – for their expertise in specific areas. Because KOLs are so knowledgeable in their scientific areas and because they’re so engulfed in their research and their specialty, they often appreciate support in other areas, such as organization, information gathering, or detail inclusion. Often, the best way to keep a KOL happy is to keep them up to date and make sure that we’re always offering support and assistance for anything they need, whether it’s product-related or not.
What are some things to look for in a great KOL?
I think a great KOL is someone who doesn’t say “yes” right away, but rather seeks out all the information, engages with it, and provides thoughtful insight on why they would want to be a KOL for the company. That is a quality of a great KOL because they want to align themselves with something they believe in and can engage with and relate to, and it’s this engagement that makes their testimonial so valuable. I really appreciate a KOL that is engaged from the get-go and is hungry to learn more.
Another great quality of a KOL is someone who challenges the company’s information. This is incredibly valuable because it’s through those challenges that the company gets a second look and a new perspective on products. It’s that thoughtful insight that can make a KOL’s impact far greater than what was initially expected.
Really, the core of what you want to get from a KOL is innovation. Many KOLs are very innovative and they engage with information and products at a unique and high level. They also come in all different varieties. A KOL doesn’t have to have 5 doctorates behind their name. A KOL could be a technician or a practice manager or a communication specialist. KOLs in the veterinary industry can come from many different avenues, but they are all people who are forward thinking and make a difference in the industry.
What are some things to avoid when choosing a KOL?
You want a KOL who is mindful and conscious of the bigger picture. They need to see the greater impact, rather than narrowly focus on how it directly impacts them.
If you’re hosting an event like a round table, where multiple KOLs are in attendance, the worst thing you can do is have very likeminded individuals at the table. The greatest KOL synergy you can get is from creating diversity within a group of KOLs. You want to stir things up and engage with a diverse group of KOLs, in order to receive a wide range of perspectives and responses. That’s why we try to access KOLs from different parts of the industry, e.g., someone from a university level, from a practice level, from a research level, etc. You’re trying to gain different perspectives rather than hearing the same thing from a group of likeminded individuals.
Is there anything else that you feel clients should know about working with KOLs?
I think it’s really important to be strategic in seeking out KOLs. You should be vetting them and getting a sense of who they are prior to creating a relationship, because often KOL relationships are long lasting, especially with effective KOLs. It’s imperative to vet the KOL and determine if a strategic alignment makes sense.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make with a KOL is to try and put words in their mouth. That’s a critical mistake. These individuals are thought leaders for a reason, and they don’t want or need to be given words to say. That can be a really hard thing for people and companies to understand and respect, especially when providing new information to the KOL. There can be a desire from brands or companies to put words in the representative’s mouth, even if not intentional. However, I believe that the words a KOL chooses to say on their own often have a greater impact than any words you could give them. Sometimes, it’s less about what the KOL is saying, and more about their engagement with your brand. The temptation is there to have the KOL say that they love your brand or product, but in actuality, just their engagement with your brand can be worth so much more than a scripted endorsement.
One thing that makes a KOL really impactful is the ability to rethink everyday thinking. KOLs tend to have a unique thought process that opens the door to new ideas that the company would not have discovered without them. KOLs tend to rethink thinking. They can identify the typical way of thinking, but they also have the flexibility to look at thinking from a new perspective. And because of this unique perspective, they often empower other people to think for themselves and form new ideas.
To conclude, I’d like to leave you with a quote that sums up the spirit of what KOLs can offer a company:
Progress is marked not so much by the problems we are able to solve as
by the questions we are enabled to ask.”
-Sir Arthur Eddington