Medical conferences provide a unique opportunity for medical science liaisons (MSLs): In few other settings can you find and connect with so many healthcare experts and influencers representing such a variety of organizations and specialties.
But the sheer volume of engagement opportunities at conferences doesn’t guarantee success. The key opinion leaders (KOLs) you’re seeking may be scheduled to meet with multiple MSLs before a conference even begins. They might be busy attending—or leading—sessions, meeting with other healthcare professionals (HCPs), or simply trying to get a break from all the action.
You’ll also likely have additional responsibilities to attend to, from covering sessions to working your company’s booth.
To make the most of your KOL engagement efforts at medical conferences, you’ll need to start planning early and leverage data to target the right experts, customize your messaging to their unique needs, and measure the impact of each engagement.
In this guide, we’ll outline some tactics MSLs can use to engage KOLs during conferences, including ways to use healthcare intelligence from multiple sources to identify, prioritize, and understand the experts in your therapy area. After reading, you should understand how to use a variety of data sources—including claims data and reference data, research publications , social media activity, and news—to maximize the impact of your KOL engagements.
Pre-conference: Research and plan for success
Successful KOL engagement begins with careful planning ahead of the conference. At a minimum, your preparation should include researching and identifying KOLs, developing an engagement strategy with salient talking points, creating personalized messaging, and gathering pertinent educational and materials for the KOLs you’re targeting. Ideally, you would use this time to connect virtually via email and LinkedIn.
Pre-conference: Research and identify KOLs
Dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of KOLs could be attending an upcoming conference, and unless your medical affairs team is particularly well-staffed, you’ll need to do some research and prioritize those who are most relevant to your therapeutic area and ideal expert.
Start by determining who’s going to be attending using the conference agenda. Make a list of the speakers and panelists at sessions that relate to your therapy or product. These are probably the highest-profile KOLs at the conference, which means you’ll be vying for their attention along with other medical affairs teams—but their obligation to the event also means they’re unlikely to skip out at the last minute.
You can add some additional names to your list using social media. Search for conversations around the upcoming conference to find HCPs and KOLs who are planning to attend but are not leading a session. These may include high-profile experts as well as rising stars who haven’t quite yet risen to prominence in the field.
Once you’ve established a list of confirmed and likely attendees, gather intelligence on their recent publications, presentations, collaborators, involvement in clinical trials, and clinical activities (like number of diagnoses, procedures, and referrals) to prioritize those based on your company’s needs. Whether you’re looking for specific expertise, influence among target clinicians, or experience with a particular patient cohort, careful analysis of KOLs’ activities will help you find those who can create opportunities for your therapy or product.
Personalize your approach
Using your curated list of KOLs and the intelligence you’ve gathered, you can begin developing tailored messaging that speaks to their therapeutic area of focus, their professional interests and opinions, and collaborative needs.
Consider how your therapy aligns with a KOL’s interests, and then use that concept as the core of your message. Aim to initiate contact with every person on your list via email, phone, or even social media several weeks before the conference and attempt to book meetings in advance. Even if you can’t initially secure a meeting, being on a KOL’s radar can make it more likely that they’ll connect with you.
Depending on the amount of time and resources at your disposal, you may want to create or modify existing materials to directly address target KOLs’ needs. At the very least, any educational materials you bring along should be customized to the conference topics.
You can also use this time to start prepping for meaningful conversations. The KOLs you’re looking for won’t likely have an abundance of time, so know what you’re going to say before stepping into a meeting or initiating an impromptu conversation after a session. Maximize your impact by using a variety of data sources to understand your highest-priority KOLs even better:
- Claims data can help you understand the depth of a KOL’s experience with specific diagnoses, procedures, and prescriptions.
- Healthcare reference and affiliations data offers detailed intelligence about the relationships and connections between a KOL and providers, networks, facilities, and other organizations. This data also reveals financial and clinical performance that you can use to hone your value proposition.
- Additional primary research into social network presence, academic activity, scientific output, and participation at other conferences makes it easier to pinpoint specific needs and areas of focus.
Use your findings to prepare insightful conversation-starters and questions, as well as to anticipate potential objections and construct evidence-based responses. Make sure you understand what connecting with your company means for the KOL—and how it benefits both parties.
During the conference: Manage your time and engage effectively
For most attendees, conferences are busy at best, often bordering on hectic. How you spend your time will shape the quality and impact of your engagement efforts throughout the event.
Your schedule will primarily be shaped by any meetings you’ve managed to book in advance. If possible, these should be scheduled to avoid conflict with highly relevant (i.e., high-value) sessions. You may want to book meetings before and after official conference hours—a discussion over breakfast or dinner can be more impactful than a quick huddle in a spare room and will free up time for casual connections and intelligence gathering.
Attend every relevant session you can, especially those where target KOLs are speaking or moderating—even if you’ve already booked a meeting with them. Actively listening and taking notes will help you engage KOLs more effectively and may provide insights that your organization can leverage for product development, marketing strategy, and more. All information has the potential to be useful, so keep a recorder, notebook, or your phone handy.
During breaks between meetings and sessions, make an effort to initiate casual-but-meaningful conversations with KOLs (many conferences host dedicated networking events to encourage these interactions, too). Here are a few tips:
- Start with a friendly introduction and leverage your research and therapy area knowledge/prowess to demonstrate genuine interest in their work.
- Be a good listener and ask open-ended questions that invite them to share their perspective—even if the KOL isn’t a good fit for collaboration, they may be a source of useful intelligence and may be able to connect you with collaborators.
- Showcase your expertise about recent advancements, studies, and trials in your therapeutic area to demonstrate your company’s commitment to scientific excellence.
- Highlight case studies or clinical trials related to your product to underscore the value of a potential collaboration.
When you’re ready to discuss deepening a relationship, such as through collaborations, be specific. Whether you’re proposing advisory board membership, research partnerships, speaking engagements, or any other type of relationship, leverage your knowledge of a KOLs therapy area and your understanding of the challenges facing an HCP and their patients to emphasize the mutual benefits that matter most to the KOL. This can include access to data, resources, scientific expertise, trial participation, patients, and more. KOLs are extremely busy and would value a resource that can update them on upcoming/new treatments for their therapy area.
These conferences are just as busy (or busier) for KOLs as they are for MSLs, so respect your contacts’ time. Offer flexible meeting times and keep any prepared presentations short and to the point. Leave KOLs with personalized collateral to provide longer, more in-depth information and keep your company top of mind following your initial interaction.
Post-conference: Follow up and measure your impact
First impressions are critical, but the follow-up is where you can demonstrate real commitment to a KOL.
Send personalized outreach to every KOL you’ve talked to, being sure to thank them for their time and insights provided. Go over the key points you discussed and reiterate any potential opportunities for collaboration. You might also include digital copies of any physical materials you shared, or links to any other information you referenced in the course of your conversation.
For KOLs whom you were unable to meet, the period immediately after the conference is a great time to reach out, recap any relevant insights from the event, and propose another meeting. You never know who might have a few hours to spare before their flight home—or who may be interested in a video call after recovering from the conference’s hustle and bustle.
Continue to leverage your research on KOLs’ interests and professionals, scientific, and academic activities in your follow-up communications. Not every message needs an explicit call to action. Simply sharing relevant articles, news, or upcoming events shows that you and your organization are valuable resources and may be worth working with in the future.
Don’t forget to track your interactions and measure the impact of your efforts after the conference. You should keep a detailed record of every interaction, including any key topics discussed, useful insights, and action items to follow up on. Collecting a mix of quantitative data (like pre- and post-conference communication engagement rates) and qualitative data (like industry insights and competitive intelligence) will help you report on the impact of your engagements and sharpen your strategy for future conferences.
What it all means
Healthcare commercial intelligence built on claims, reference and affiliations data, and research publications can help MSLs more effectively identify, target, and engage KOLs attending medical conferences. With this data, you can create personalized messaging to increase the likelihood of KOL engagement and make the most of your time—and theirs—amid busy conference schedules. amid busy conference schedules.
For more information on developing data-driven KOL engagement strategies, tap into these resources:
Or if you’re ready to start planning your next KOL conference engagements, book a demo to see how Monocl Expert Suite can help you identify and strategically engage with scientific and clinical experts from around the world.