You want to build relationships with the relevant KOLs in your therapy area and gain insights from them. You may have identified the KOLs you think are important, either yourself or through a vendor such as Kendle Healthcare. Often clients come to us a little overwhelmed by where to begin, particularly if they are new to a therapy area. So how do you begin building these KOL relationships?
We often advise clients to start by going to national and international congresses. Many of the KOLs will be chairing or speaking at sessions which will inform you about some of their opinions. You will see whether they are good and credible speakers, have presence and authority. But that isn’t the main value to you of attending.
Experts go to conferences for a variety of reasons, but one of the most important is to network. You can be part of this conversation of expertise by sharing any information about your product (but not preaching about your product’s place in the therapy area – the KOL is the expert here), and respectfully questioning the KOL and gathering insights. These conversations can reveal how approachable they are; provide an insight into their opinions and how closely those are aligned to those of your organisation, and give you a feeling for whether they might be good future collaborators on studies, advisory boards or other projects and maybe even whether this is the sort of thing they might be interested in. These conversations can also start to build that relationship that you are seeking.
Attending conferences became impossible during the pandemic, of course, when medical conferences were cancelled or became online only. However, most major conferences have now moved to a hybrid format, offering both in person and online attendance. There was a view that in person attendance at conferences might never get back to what it was; that many people would continue to access the meetings online. This doesn’t appear to be what’s happening. in person attendance seems to be back to pre-pandemic levels. and for example, ASCO (The American Society of Clinical Oncology) reports virtually identical numbers attending in person in 2022 compared with their last pre-COVID conference in 2019.
One caveat about going to conferences with the above in mind. If you don’t know anyone and you just pitch up at a meeting, you’ll come home still not knowing anyone. You need to plan your meetings. Draw up a long list of those you feel you might want to see and contact them asking to meet you briefly. Most of them will ignore you but if you explain who you are and why you’d like to meet them, and importantly, why they might like to meet you, enough will accept to make your trip worthwhile. And from little acorns…..