Key opinion leaders (KOLs) are an essential group of people for the pharma industry. Considering all the rules and regulations that surround health care, especially in marketing practices, an effective thought leader must be both an advocate and an expert.

These leaders are adept at navigating internal and external communications, and they can often amplify your message more effectively than any other traditional marketing mediums. Moreover, thought leaders are valuable because they contribute to clinical activities such as drug development or identifying new indications for an existing compound.

Health care has an ever-changing landscape: costs rise, approval processes get more complex, and an aging population requires new approaches to care. On top of all that, the industry needs to recognize and integrate new opportunities that involve technology—both in clinical settings and in marketing practices—and new channels to push awareness. To do this effectively, pharma needs to engage KOLs in both strategy development activities and in advocacy-building exercises.

Besides technological proficiency, thought leaders should be true visionaries at the forefront of their organizations and demonstrate notable drive and resourcefulness. For pharma companies to experience success with certain campaigns, they should recognize KOLs early on and sustain critical engagement throughout the development process. In order for a company to identify rising stars in the pharma industry, they should partner with a boutique communications agency whose services offer leadership programs.

1. Identify leadership qualities
Typically, a pharma company enlists an in-house team to manage and engage with industry KOLs. This branch of management is adept at identifying leadership by monitoring and encouraging an individual’s professional capabilities. Of course, a number of analytical tools can evaluate certain qualities that make for an effective leader. While the task of identifying thought leaders can be daunting, a medical communications agency understands the best approach to recruiting and partnering with a diverse array of leaders.

Keep in mind that the qualities you seek in a new crop of KOLs might not intersect with traditional qualifications assigned to thought leaders. Look for potential leaders who can lend credible voices to both social and professional communications, who use creative approaches to industry practices, who are innovative at heart, and to whom collaboration is a valuable exercise.

2. Provide mentorship to up-and-coming leaders
When you identify promising leaders, your company can proactively cultivate their leadership skills by involving future KOLs in training programs and establishing meaningful trajectories for their careers. For those with authentic leadership qualities, knowledge and experience are compelling incentives; a mentorship program is one of the best ways to support and acknowledge rising stars.

Pairing up-and-coming leaders with appropriate mentors in the field can be a powerful yet disciplined experience that prepares them for actual leadership opportunities. Providing these prospective KOLs with access to resources and specific knowledge that supports their own ideas and projects is invaluable, and mentors can further offer feedback and encouragement, or even engage in potential collaborations.

3. Challenge prospective leaders with opportunities
An up-and-coming leader should not only rise to challenges, but welcome them. Testing a prospective KOL is a smart approach that can predict their success in a real leadership position. It’s important to present these individuals with opportunities that test their creativity and resourcefulness, require setting appropriate goals and developing strategies to achieve them, and necessitate collaboration with different departments within the organization.

This new crop of leaders craves engagement on a highly interactive level. Eliciting their participation in activities that range from clinical practices to marketing strategies is imperative and also tests their leadership abilities in different settings. Furthermore, providing these individuals with appropriate challenges is a good way to gauge the authenticity of relationships they build in the process—a key for successful leadership.

4. Allow your mentees to lead real-world projects
Besides challenging rising stars to see whether they have the right stuff when it comes to various industry practices, allow them to drive the marketing conversation or manage specific pharma-related activities. It’s important to see what these up-and-coming KOLs can do by giving them exclusive access to develop new products or services. The next step in designating their KOL status relies on your trust and confidence in their abilities. But to earn this trust, they must include consistency, reliability, and credibility in their approach to leadership. There is no better way to assess these qualities than to exercise them through actual real-world scenarios.

5. Recognize and acknowledge accomplishments
Who doesn’t want to feel appreciated? Recognition of accomplishments is vital in cultivating a strong, dedicated KOL. This doesn’t just mean monetary rewards; dig in to find what means most to the individual. For example, appoint prospective KOLs as members on a board important to their own research and interests. Nominate them to regional or national programs that recognize good leadership skills or endorse their participation in recent medical conferences. Remember, these rising stars are the future of pharma, and the cultivation of their leadership abilities is vital to the industry.
leaders in healthcare