Don’t Ask Too Late: KOL Congress Planning

It likely wouldn’t surprise you to know that key opinion leaders (KOLs) coordinate their schedules for congresses and major medical meetings months in advance. As they are in high demand, these therapeutic experts are commonly contacted six to eight months prior to these major events to confirm their availability to present, participate in roundtables or panels, or facilitate other educational engagements.

So, why do some industry staff members (medical and marketing alike) get frustrated when they reach out to a KOL the week prior to a congress and the specific expert they want to meet with isn’t available? Do they realize that this seemingly innocent request may actually damage the KOL relationship with the company? All this could be avoided, but it typically comes down to the fact that they didn’t plan ahead.

The Responsibility of Knowing
There are a number of ways you can predict if a KOL will be in attendance at a congress. Perhaps they have shared in previous discussions that they typically attend this meeting (or you’ve seen them there before). Perhaps they are a leader on a board that meets at the congress or maybe they are even listed as a presenter in the congress program. Once a KOL has been identified as attending (or likely attending), you can determine who from your team needs to meet with them.

Coordinate Your Team
There is nothing more frustrating to a KOL than being contacted by multiple staff members from the same company asking for them to attend the same (or similar) events/activities at the congress. Though no one wants to “drop the ball” and miss the opportunity to interact with the KOL, someone must coordinate and prioritize these internal requests. Determine who from the team needs to meet with specific KOLs and for what reason. Sometimes these meetings can be combined; sometimes they may need to be prioritized. Ultimately, one person should reach out to the KOL with the request (even if multiple requests) and work with the KOL to coordinate within their schedule.

Do Your Homework
When you ask for time with the KOL, understand that they are in high demand and likely have multiple requests for their time. Share why they are personally valuable to your request and how their participation can make a difference. Don’t just ask for their time, but rather explain how they can personally contribute to your overall effort. If you just want a “meet and greet,” consider carefully how that request may be interpreted compared to the other requests they may be receiving. Perhaps those quick “hello and introductions” could be done following a presentation the KOL is giving or within your exhibit booth, but do they really require a scheduled meeting?

Show Respect for the KOL
Beyond the timing, asking within weeks of an event displays disrespect for the KOL and his/her schedule. It communicates that you don’t understand their level of importance or the demand for their time. By reaching out earlier (even six to eight weeks in advance), you will demonstrate that you acknowledge they are busy, and as a gesture of respect, you are trying to coordinate time within their busy schedule (before it gets even busier).

Remember: Like any of us, KOLs want to be valued, respected, and utilized where they will make a difference. Be considerate of your KOL relationships (existing and new ones) and be sure to request your appointments far enough in advance to make it into their schedules. Provide appropriate context and explain how the KOL (as an individual) brings a unique perspective and importance to your request. Doing these small things in advance of your congresses will help you to gain greater access and positive responses from your KOLs.