Sociologists Elihu Katz and Paul Lazarsfeld first used the term ‘opinion leader’ in their book titled ‘Personal Influence’ in the year 1955. They used the term to describe the way in which the people of influence helps in the filtering and then spreading of messages of the media to the masses by personal and face to face contact. This idea clicked with the marketers. Mass media advertising usually costs a lot. Finding a way to advertise only to the specific individuals who may be affected by the messages is important in controlling the cost. Hence, to focus on special individuals the term ‘Key Opinion Leader ‘or ‘thought leader’ or ‘KOL’ came into being. Nowadays, pharmaceutical industry uses KOL to refer to those physicians of influence, who are successfully able to transmit important messages to their peers in the same field.
Therefore, key opinion leaders are physicians who can successfully influence not only the practice of their peers but also their prescribing behavior. The pharmaceutical companies engage key opinion leaders during early phases of the drug development, to provide advocacy activity and essential feedback for marketing. Most often the KOLs are chosen for their high prescribing habits and not for their knowledge in the field of medicine. KOLs should be true thought leaders who have both academic credentials and experience in the performance of clinical trials.
What Are The Qualities Of A KOL?
All the qualities of a neighborhood gossiper, a celebrity spokesperson and a popular child in high school are combined in a KOL. They do not endorse the drugs in too obvious manner, but their opinions are used to market the drugs. Though, this marketing is done in some cases by word of mouth; however, in most of the cases it is done by performing quasi-academic activities including organizing lectures or a sponsored symposia and publishing articles in various medical journals.
One of the major benefits of engaging KOLs during the process of new drug development is that they provide with advocacy activity, which is helpful in getting funds for the project. KOLs also ensure that the drugs get patented and reviewed properly later in its life cycle.
How Women Can Be Better KOLs?
A study published in Business Insider (January, 2014) examines the effectiveness of women’s leadership. The study demonstrates that the overall effectiveness of women’s leadership is higher than men. It is even higher in areas, which are considered as male bastions such as sales, IT, legal, engineering and R&D function. Moreover, the women participated in the study stated that ‘we must perform twice as well to be thought half as good’.
The same holds true for the KOLs in the pharmaceutical industry. The overall effectiveness of women KOL’s can be higher than men as women are usually considered a better gossiper, are better heard by their peers as a celebrity spokesperson and are also more popular in their field. Women by nature perform their tasks with more integrity and dedication and they tend to nurture every relationship, whether it is with their peers, a characteristic highly important in the success of a KOL.
This holds true especially for areas which deal with women and child health issues. Women will serve as better KOLs for the drug development of diseases concerning females and children and also contraceptives. Being a female they will better understand the health issue and can provide better feedback and advice during the entire life cycle of a drug development project. Their feedback is very important in the process of the development of a new drug for the health issues of women and children and also in contraceptives development.
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