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How to engage a rising star and assess impact

Medical affairs teams bridge the gap between life science organizations and the providers who can benefit from their products and services. Part educators, part communications specialists, medical affairs teams often leverage partnerships with expert clinicians and researchers to increase their reach and craft messaging that resonates with their provider peers.

Often referred to as key opinion leaders (KOLs), these external experts are valued for their influence, niche knowledge, and industry experience. While long-tenured clinical and scientific professionals represent the model KOL for many medical affairs teams, younger upstarts who show emerging potential in a particular therapy area are increasingly in demand among life science organizations.  

These “rising stars” may be early in their careers, but their increased productivity, openness to new relationships and innovative ideas, and access to younger audiences and their digital networks make them especially valuable for organizations interested in shaking up the status quo.  

Whether you’re looking for an external expert to support a clinical trial, assist with product positioning, help you navigate the regulatory landscape, or represent your organization in public, a rising star could be the partner you’re looking for—especially if you organization is interested in a longer-term relationship with an emerging influencer.

This guide begins where our previous KOL guide, “How to find a rising star”, ended. We’ll assume you’ve already defined the rising star persona and criteria that align with your therapy area and goals and have created a short list of potential candidates to engage. In this guide, we’ll outline some ways to successfully engage those candidates and continually assess the impact of any emerging experts with whom you’ve established a relationship.

Reach out through the right channels

In the research for your list of rising star candidates, you should have taken note of the channels through which these healthcare professionals (HCPs) are engaging their peers and the public. For many experts, and especially rising stars, social media will represent an outsized portion of their public output.  

A cross-sectional study published in JAMA Network Open in 2021 showed that around 70% of U.S. physicians used social media for professional reasons. The same study found that although younger doctors were more likely to be on social media, their older peers tended to post more often and reach more followers.  

The rising stars you’re looking for will likely be speaking on issues, developments, and other news relevant to your therapy area to a broad audience of other physicians and patients online. When you’re ready to start the conversation with a rising star or engage a digital opinion leader (DOL) social media is a great place to begin.  

You might start by sharing a compelling article on a subject of interest to the HCP via their public social media feed. Alternatively, you could share informational content via direct message (DM) or even tag the HCP in an industry-specific discussion thread to demonstrate your organization’s own position as an influencer within the space.  

Some rising stars may prefer old-school email or even a cold call (just make sure your talking points sorted out beforehand). The right method of initial outreach is the one that the expert has demonstrated the greatest likelihood to respond to, whether determined by public activity or other intelligence gathering, so be sure to do your research before you engage.

Start measuring (and keep talking)

So you’ve initiated outreach, and the HCP has shown a willingness to engage, whether by sharing content you’ve provided or replying directly to your messaging. Technically, the hardest part is out of the way—it’s almost always easier to keep a conversation going than it is to start one—but you still have plenty of work to do.  

First, you’ll want to begin measuring the impact of your engagement efforts right away. We’ll get into the details of the assessment process later in the guide, but the key here is to record and quantify the circumstances and outcome of every engagement effort.  

Some of the key metrics to track are built into social media platforms or easily obtained through third-party management programs; others, like clinical activity, will require claims data and other intelligence to properly measure:

  • What channel did you use?
  • What content did you share?
  • Did the HCP reshare it? Who did it reach in their network?  
  • Did the HCP’s social media activity change after the engagement?
  • Did their clinical or prescribing activity change?

Whether you work with a potential KOL for a single clinical trial or across years and development cycles (or even if you never end up working together), gathering data will help you determine the impact of your tactics and adjust your methods going forward.  

Second, you need to keep the HCP engaged by demonstrating your organization’s value to them. You might offer an invite to a webinar hosted or sponsored by your organization, or plan to meet while attending a conference. The conversation could carry on organically through DMs or email, with you sharing some expertise on an issue the HCP is actively facing.  

Regardless of how your outreach began, you should ultimately aim for the conversation to go face-to-face. In person is ideal, but a video call can work in a pinch. The key is to demonstrate your organization’s commitment to the HCP while giving them a chance to reciprocate.  

Make sure the partnership is mutually beneficial

Throughout the entire engagement process, it’s worth remembering that you’re dealing with a human being with unique needs and goals, not just a business opportunity. Treat them as such, and you’re more likely to develop the ongoing conversation into a relationship that benefits both sides.

If the rising star candidate is already a member of your network, you may be acutely aware of their needs and can tailor your messaging and offerings accordingly. Otherwise, you’ll need to determine their needs through a combination of direct inquiry, firsthand research—for instance, by analyzing their social media presence—and healthcare intelligence featuring data on their clinical and financial performance.  

One need shared by nearly all HCPs is for continuing education. Clinicians are typically required to undergo a certain number of hours of ongoing education and training to maintain their licensure and board certification, no matter their specialty or therapy area. When it’s time to start talking about the details of a relationship with a rising star or other opinion leader, offering to fund training or provide additional educational opportunities can set your organization apart as a beneficial partner.

Other potential benefits to offer an emerging expert include:

  • Partnership on publications or clinical work that could advance their career
  • Expanding their network and visibility through invitations to present at conferences or attend exclusive industry events
  • Collaborating on intellectual property, clinical trials, or joint patents to strengthen their body of work

Being relatively fresh in their careers, many rising stars will also value networking, mentorship, and exposure to specific industries or therapy areas. As mentioned, it’s worth directly asking the HCP what they need—their time is as precious as yours, so there’s no need to play a guessing game.  

Regularly ask for their feedback on your organization, too. Not only could they suggest ways to strengthen your partnership, but they might also highlight opportunities to improve your business or product.  

Track a wide variety of metrics with real-world data

As your relationship with an HCP gets underway, you need to continuously monitor their career as well as their impact on your company objectives. You’ll need to work with a wide variety of data to get a full picture of your engagement efforts:

  • Procedure and diagnosis claims data can reveal how a KOL is impacting clinical behavior within a local market or specific therapy area  
  • Social media engagements demonstrate a KOL’s reach and their audience’s willingness to engage with them
  • Social media follower data can help you understand which professions, institutions, and patients a KOL is predominantly reaching
  • Healthcare reference and affiliation data provide insights into a KOL’s professional network and their ability to impact referral patterns
  • Clinical and research activity data can highlight a KOL’s output of relevant published materials, speaking engagements, and clinical trial participation

It’s possible to acquire some of this data manually, but partnering with the right vendor can save you time and money while allowing your medical affairs teams to focus on their core skill: Engaging healthcare professionals.  

The ideal healthcare commercial intelligence combines claims, reference and affiliations data, and clinical activities on both your target rising stars and the HCPs in their networks. With this data, you can craft an outreach plan tailored specifically to the experts you’re looking for, engage them with real-time insights into their circumstances and needs, and assess their impact on your business goals over time.  

Ready to get started? Book a demo to see how Monocl ExpertInsight can help you craft an outreach plan to engage the right rising stars for maximum impact.