What Is a Key Opinion Leader: Everything You Need To Know

Senior doctors who assist drug companies in selling their products are referred to as “key opinion leaders” in the world of medicine, which sounds a bit Orwellian. 1 The pharmaceutical industry consults with these prominent physicians to provide marketing guidance and increase sales of new medications. Many eminent specialists across all specialties are paid opulent fees to sell influence on behalf of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world, and this is happening in hospitals and universities all over the world.

In the United States for almost two decades, Kimberly Elliott worked as a drug company sales representative. We routinely measured the return on our investment by tracking prescriptions before and after key opinion leaders’ presentations when they worked as salespeople for us, she said. “You wouldn’t invite that speaker back if they didn’t have the impact the company was looking for.” ”.

Ms. Elliott began working for several major pharmaceutical companies when she was 23 years old, including Westwood Squibb, SmithKline Beecham, and Novartis. She left the industry 18 years later, just last year. She was frequently a top national salesperson, and part of her duties included cultivating friendships with thought leaders locally and nationally. “Ms Elliott claims that she would pay these reputable physicians $2500 (£1280; €1610) for a single lecture that was based primarily on slides provided by the company. Occasionally, the business would pay the fee to a university, which would then pay the physician. She claimed that “these people are paid a lot of money to say what they say.” “I’m not saying the key opinion leaders are bad; they’re just salespeople like the sales reps are,” ”.

Richard Tiner, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry’s medical director, acknowledged the significance of key opinion leaders in an open interview with the BMJ. “Companies will employ consultants to help advise on marketing strategies . and present and speak at conferences,” he said.

Influential doctors can make up to $400 per hour, according to two recent business intelligence reports on how drug companies identify, recruit, train, and pay their opinion leaders. The reports, which cost about $8000, were created by a business called Cutting Edge, which collaborates closely with executives from pharmaceutical companies. According to a report summary that is publicly available, some doctors can make more than $25,000 per year in advisory fees. According to a press release promoting the other report, a doctor typically receives more than $3000 for a “scientific speech.” 4 Usually, these speeches are given at conferences that are sponsored by businesses.

The BMA claimed that although fees for its members to be paid as key opinion leaders may have been agreed upon in the past, it had not occurred recently. However, according to the association’s fee guidance schedule, members may charge pharmaceutical companies more than £200 per hour for taking part in clinical trials. It’s important to note that some doctors donate their payments from drug companies to charities or research, even though many keep these earnings.

The use of key opinion leaders is a worldwide occurrence, much like drug marketing strategies. Key opinion leaders should be cultivated into “product champions,” according to advice given to drug company marketing staff in an article for the UK-based Pharmaceutical Marketing magazine outlining the “tricks of the trade.” Finding doctors who will endorse their products, “who may be further down the influence ladder,” is crucial. Marketing staff should do this and then work to raise their profile in order to turn them into opinion leaders. ”.

The first steps in finding and cultivating a group of opinion leaders, according to this industry guide, are to “evaluate their views and influence potential,” build relationships with them, and then give the doctors “appropriate communications platforms” so they can “communicate on your behalf” with other physicians and the general public. Then, in order to avoid “wasting money on the wrong people,” pharmaceutical companies are urged to continuously assess the performance of their key opinion leaders. ”.

Keeping central databases of opinion leaders is a crucial trade secret. Some small businesses even provide specialized web-based software to monitor thought leaders and demonstrate their return on investment. 6 One company providing such software, known as KOL, focuses on managing opinion leaders for pharmaceutical companies. Although these “thought leaders” in the field “may not write many prescriptions,” they can “influence thousands of prescribers and hence prescriptions through their research, lectures, publications and their participation on advisory boards, committees, editorial boards, professional societies and guideline/consensus document development,” according to the organization’s website. Richard Tiner of the industry acknowledges that drug companies frequently hire senior specialists and assess the potential return on investment they may provide. They become a crucial component of the business’s marketing, instruction, and research plans. In his words, “when these people are receiving a fee, they are in a sense in the employment of the company,” adding that this would allow the industry’s code of conduct to examine their statements. When asked how senior physicians with long-term financial relationships with pharmaceutical companies could maintain independence, he responded that influential medical speakers are “free to speak about other medicines” and their presentations are “often quite balanced.” ”.

While acknowledging that hyping is inappropriate, Mr. Tiner rejects the notion that physicians who are compensated by industry may present overly favorable portraits of their sponsors’ products. He claims that greater transparency is the best remedy for these worries. At medical meetings, he asserts that all speaker fees received from companies should be routinely disclosed. When asked if such payments could be considered bribes to persuade others to prescribe, he responded, “I don’t think they are bribes. It’s payment for work done, rather than a bribe. Nevertheless, he acknowledged that the project “might help to promote a specific medicine. ”.

Drug companies, according to former sales representative Ms. Elliott, urgently require key opinion leaders. “A lot of doctors don’t believe what we say as drug representatives,” They will believe it if we have a KOL (key opinion leader) stand in front of them and say the same thing. After a car accident and a workers’ compensation claim, Elliott was fired from the company she was working for in January of last year. She made the decision to permanently leave the industry after becoming disenchanted with what she perceived as its increasingly aggressive marketing tactics. She now advises medical professionals who attend presentations by key opinion leaders to “take them with a grain of salt and go back and do your own research.” ”.

According to Harvard University researcher David Blumenthal, who has examined the connections between business and the profession, company payments to influential people are not in the public interest rather than being corrupt. “I believe that these are legal relationships between consenting adults who have overlapping interests that are not necessarily in the best interests of the patients that these doctors are treating,” Blumenthal is a member of a small but vocal global chorus calling for a significant reduction in industry influence over the medical profession, particularly its educational system. This chorus includes advocacy organizations No Free Lunch and Healthy Skepticism.

More independent sources of funding might be found if industry’s support of medical education is curtailed. Yet little, if anything, will have been gained if the speakers giving the educational presentations in any newly independent forums continue to be the overpaid “thought leaders” on the payrolls of the drug companies.

Key Opinion Leaders.

Why are key opinion leaders important?

Key opinion leaders are significant because many professionals in the industry value their opinions as a result of their high level of respect in their fields. An item, service, or brand may gain more attention from its audience and encourage more people to buy it or learn more about it if a prominent figure endorses it.

Some influential people may already use a product and decide to promote it on social media, television, in videos, or through other traditional or digital marketing channels. A key opinion leader’s use of and preference for your product over a rival’s can help you stand out from the crowd.

What is a key opinion leader?

A key opinion leader is a professional who is an authority in their area of expertise and upholds a respectable social standing in their field. Since they are recognized authorities in their field, businesses and individuals frequently consult with them before making purchases or decisions. Key opinion leaders are employed by businesses to discuss the advantages of their goods and services and how they can benefit customers. Common examples of opinion leaders include:

How do key opinion leaders differ from influencers?

Influencers or key opinion leaders are typically employed by businesses to market their goods to fans and followers. Influencers are usually people who develop a large following on social media platforms, enabling them to convince their audience to try or buy particular products. This increases the visibility of an organization’s brand and enhances its standing in its sector. When deciding between an influencer and a key opinion leader, consider the following:

Levels of expertise

The majority of influential people worked hard to develop their knowledge and skills over a long period of time, which gave them high credibility. Many of them frequently have an impact on other business professionals who make purchasing decisions based on data and research. Having a large social media following is typically how key opinion leaders build their credibility. Although they are rarely authorities on particular subjects, the knowledge that they use and like a product encourages their fans to do the same.

Income source

Typically, an influencer’s main source of income comes from endorsing goods they firmly believe in and frequently use. By informing their followers about the advantages and features of products through social media posts, they can frequently maintain a respectable income. Influencers are frequently compensated by brands for each post they share, or they may get a cut of any sales made to their followers using a special discount code they share on their profiles.

Most influential people work full-time jobs in their field, where they make the majority of their income. They may be less expensive to hire to promote your product than influencers because they are more credible in their niche than on social media.


Companies usually hire influencers to gain access to their audiences. They usually check the followers of the influencers to see if their target market is represented. The influencer then advertises the brand’s product to a potential customer base. Key opinion leaders are frequently used by other organizations to support claims and establish the products’ credibility in an established and professional industry. Common industries key opinion leaders typically promote brands for include:

The industries with products influencers often promote include:

How to use key opinion leaders in your marketing efforts

Look for a key influencer who would use and appreciate your product. Additionally, look for someone who is well-known in their industry and whose advice is highly valued by those who are most likely to buy the goods you are selling. Use key opinion leaders in your marketing by following these steps:

1. Define your organizational goals

Determine the objectives you’d like to achieve with their promotional efforts before you hire the right key opinion leader to promote a product. Determine what you want the key opinion leader to achieve. This could be increasing brand recognition, establishing yourself as an industry thought leader, or demonstrating the value of your product. Consider the target audience you hope this influential person will help you reach as well.

2. Determine the values, characteristics and knowledge of the ideal KOL

You can determine the traits of your potential key opinion leader once you have a better understanding of the objectives you would like your ideal key opinion leader to assist you in achieving. You can choose a similar audience for the key opinion leader because you already know who your audience is.

Think about locating a key opinion leader whose values are compatible with those of the business. This may increase their motivation and enthusiasm to promote the business. Because they know the key opinion leader genuinely believes in the product, their audience may also have more faith in their assessment of it. Determine the profession that is related to your brand and product that you would like the key opinion leader to have. For instance, a dentist could be a great key opinion leader to promote your toothpaste if you’re selling it.

3. Search online for the KOL

You can look for the best key opinion leader for you because you know their traits and preferences. Find relevant resources, such as industry newsletters, articles, events, seminars, or webinars, by conducting online research on the subject. You can locate well-known industry leaders who consistently contribute to position themselves as authorities by having them speak at events, write opinion or factual pieces, or host training seminars. Additionally, you can routinely look for industry experts in the press for specific accomplishments and awards.

Once you’ve identified a select group of highly respected key opinion leaders, you can start approaching them with materials and content that are directly related to your brand or product. Discover their email address on their company website or on social media, then send them a professional message outlining your product and why you think they’d make the best key opinion leader to promote it. You can then send them your product and start a partnership from there.

4. Create a marketing strategy

Develop a strategy for the key opinion leader to follow. Based on research done on your target audience, you can decide which outlet to use to promote the key opinion leader. For instance, if you discover that your target audience frequently watches the news, you can schedule your key opinion leader to appear on a segment outlining the advantages of your products.

Using the following additional marketing strategies in conjunction with your key opinion leader

5. Build your budget

The budget you have usually determines the strategy you can implement. To find out how much the key opinion leader typically charges to speak about your product, meet with them. Some may charge more than others because they have more credibility in their fields and within the industry. Work closely with the key influencer to agree on a price that fairly rewards them for their expertise and value while still keeping a reasonable budget to market the product on the required channels.


What makes someone a Key Opinion Leader?

Because people trust them, key opinion leaders assist in attracting genuinely interested clients. A well-known persona gives the impression that people know them personally and can trust their opinions. The company may even use key opinion leaders as brand ambassadors.

What does an opinion leader do?

Types of Key Opinion Leader (KOL)
  • Mega influencer: An individual with more than 1,000,000 followers. …
  • Macro Influencer: An individual with more than 100,000 followers. …
  • Micro-Influencers: This KOL category has more than 10,000 followers. …
  • A category KOL with more than 1,000 followers is a nanoinfluencer.

Which is an example of an opinion leader?

A trusted, well-respected influencer with demonstrable experience and expertise in a given field is known as a key opinion leader (KOL). These thought leaders in healthcare could be doctors, hospital administrators, health system directors, researchers, members of patient advocacy groups, and more.

Are key opinion leaders paid?

Those with significant influence within their network and the capacity to sway the opinions of those in their network are known as opinion leaders.

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