In the rapidly advancing world of medical technology, establishing credibility and trust is paramount. And one of the best ways to establish that credibility is to seek—and follow—the advice of prominent experts in a particular medtech field. Combined with a strategic public relations strategy, such key opinion leaders (KOLs) can then help raise awareness and provide an invaluable validation of a technology’s importance and value. Together, thought leaders and PR experts enable businesses to gain media exposure, present results at scientific meetings, and secure speaking engagements at industry conferences, thus raising the companies’ visibility and credibility.
Jeffrey Jones, Managing Partner at The Deerborne Group, a global diagnostics and life sciences consulting firm, has learned the importance of key opinion leaders over the course of a long and successful career at both Fortune 500 companies like Abbott, Bayer, and Quest Diagnostics and venture-backed startups like Agendia, which offers genomic testing for breast cancers. Here are his insights:
Thought Leadership: Shaping credibility and trust
In his years at major corporations, Jones says he’s “worked for some incredible leaders, and also a couple of knuckleheads.” He started off in sales at Abbott, “carrying a bag in a small little territory in Northern California,” he recalls. Thereafter, he worked his way up to various product marketing and sales leadership roles and eventually to senior executive commercial and GM roles.
Along the way, he learned three key lessons about leadership. Leaders must make sure every single person on their teams is successful. They need to be comfortable knowing that they aren’t always going to be popular among the troops. And they must realize they don’t have all the answers. Instead, “you hire really smart people and then you listen to them,” Jones says.
But not until he got involved with Agendia did Jones truly understand the importance of thought leaders and public relations. “When I first got there, Agendia needed a great deal of help,” he recalls. The big problem: the company had a product the industry didn’t want.
So, Jones hired an experienced PR firm, Dowling & Dennis, and, yes, he listened to them. Their advice: Go out to key opinion leaders and ask them what they really wanted. That feedback was priceless. “The interviews with key opinion leaders ended up dramatically changing the trajectory of Agendia,” Jones says.
Now as managing partner of The Deerborne Group, Jones actively cultivates experts and reporters as a key part of his work for a variety of clients, guided by the expertise of Dowling & Dennis.
Jones cites his recent experience of conducting a survey among corporate leaders in liquid biopsy at this year’s meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. He was able to write up the results of his KOL survey and will be presenting it at an international scientific meeting in Spain, which he expects will earn even more recognition from the press, from researchers, and from clinicians.
“My team and I go out and find who the KOLs are and whom they influence,” he explains. It’s not rocket science, he adds, “but it is hard and takes years.” Yet it must be done for a company to be truly successful, he argues. “Key opinion leaders can make or break a drug, medical device or diagnostic test.”
“Key opinion leaders can make or break a drug, medical device or diagnostic test.”Jeffrey Jones
Adapting to modern communication channels
Identifying key opinion leaders and taking advantage of their advice is only part of the challenge, however. The other fundamental element is getting out the right messages, which means developing an effective media strategy. So when Jones goes to conferences, “I make sure to meet the press and nurture those relationships,” he says. That effort brings results. “We’re probably in at least one article a quarter right now,” he says.
It’s also important to harness the power of social media, Jones says. The Deerborne Group was quick to jump on Facebook, Twitter (now X), and LinkedIn, he says. But a young digital marketing intern that Jones hired pointed out that young physicians didn’t grow up on Facebook or even LinkedIn or Twitter. Instead, their social media of choice is Instagram. So, Jones created an Instagram page. “Like I said, I try to hire and surround myself with people that are smarter than me,” Jones says.
Jones’ expects is that key opinion leaders will play increasingly important roles in the future. They don’t just guide companies’ current decisions and technologies, he explains, they also drive innovation within the industry. As a result, companies that recognize the value of thought leadership and that are able leverage PR initiatives will be those that lead the medtech industry of tomorrow.