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  • Writer's pictureSAKS MedComms Team

5 Ways A Working Group Makes The Thought Leader Engagement Process Better From The Get-Go


For those of us working in the world of Med Comms, we know that engaging premier thought leaders to advise and help guide educational programs can be a bit challenging. No surprise really, given that today’s high-end, much-in-demand, key opinion leaders (KOLs) find themselves pulled in many directions… and aren’t exactly sitting at home (even if they were home like the rest of us for the past year or more) waiting breathlessly for your call.

Though pharma and agency personnel often develop specific programs they believe will attract these much sought-after individuals, they typically and far too often use the same old tactical approaches to Med Comms – approaches that aren’t customer centric and those that health care providers (HCPs) have seen and heard over and over and over. These tactical approaches may seem exciting to a medical affairs or marketing director, but as for the KOLs they’re trying to attract and engage? (Zzzzzzzz...)

So what’s the ticket? What can be done to:

a. Get attention among top KOLs, in a way that

b. Gets them excited to be part of your program or outreach, and ideally

c. Puts your organization on their radar for the future?

At SAKS Health our team has found that the creation and activation of an elite KOL Working Group has proven to be one of the most dynamic forums for engaging and sustaining KOL-pharma relationships. Unlike advisory boards and steering committees, KOLs are contracted for an extended period of time to work on educational initiatives that target the HCPs who diagnose and treat patients in a specific disease area. The initiatives may be recommended by medical affairs or marketing individuals, but the final decision – as to which to proceed with and in which direction to go – is determined by member KOLs. Though the KOLs guide and review all output, and the materials are reviewed by the pharma client team, we at SAKS Health, do the heavy lifting.

So, you ask, why is this approach so much more effective in engaging KOLs than traditional programs? Below are five reasons we hear time and again from past Working Group members and our pharma clients:

1. “KOL Working Groups stimulate participation in projects/programs that are truly helpful and useful for the patients we treat.”

These programs, designed by KOLs in the trenches, have not only proven effective in enhancing HCP knowledge, but are also the kinds of programs Working Group members are keen to participate in. With member guidance of each project, seeing the results of their efforts as it impacts patient outcomes can be very rewarding.

2. “Gives us, the members, program ownership and therefore participants feel more engaged.”

Engagement comes from KOLs having the opportunity to develop and customize initiatives in the direction they believe will be most effective based on their expertise and experience. Program ownership, not just program participation, is the key here.

3. “KOL Working Groups encourage the advancement of scientific knowledge and, according to the KOLs themselves, often facilitate our own professional development.”

KOLs see this opportunity as an advantage to participating in a pharma company sponsored program. As a Working Group member, they can potentially serve as a catalyst to influence consensus and treatment guidelines while focusing on evidence-based medicine and producing high quality outputs.

4. “These Working Groups also provide an opportunity for scientific exchange with colleagues we don’t usually have the opportunity to collaborate with.”

Often top KOLs from various institutions don’t have the opportunity to engage in forums where they can cultivate enhanced knowledge sharing and connectivity with other leading therapeutic thought leaders. It gives them a venue to generate and exchange ideas for advancing innovative treatment and improving patient outcomes. Furthermore, it provides recognition for them as a member of a Working Group of eminent KOLs.

5. “Helps pharma companies build long-term relationships with key thought leaders.”

Advisory boards and steering committees definitely have their value in providing guidance and recommendations to pharma executives, however they often only involve brief encounters. Working Groups sustain relationships over longer periods, but only require a limited amount of time each month by the KOL. By supporting these Working Groups, clients at pharma companies demonstrate commitment to the therapeutic area, scientific integrity and facilitation of tangible results. At the same time, it allows opportunities for them to identify new areas to collaborate with KOLs, i.e., clinical trials, improving patient access and the like.

As some pharma clients have already noted, KOL Working Groups serve as a critical slice of any Med Comms program. An important note in activating these types of initiatives: use a customized portal, like our SAKSxCHANGE portal, that meets compliance and industry standards to connect all parties. This creates the best possible value for both KOLs and pharma clients while streamlining the entire process.

If you’re trying to engage KOLs in a sustained long-term relationship, short of magic, it will never be truly easy. But with a smart Working Group leading the way, “easier” is attainable. In other words, if a successful KOL Engagement Process is a 3-point shot from mid-court, we’re not suggesting a Working Group turns it into an easy lay-up. But a jumper from the key? Definitely. At SAKS Health we are always striving to improve KOL engagements, let us help you find the best fit for your needs.



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