Why paid KOLs?

When the ProPublica “Dollars for Docs” database went out late last year, there was a lot of handwringing that went something like this — “How can we not pay our KOLs?”

My reply (or question, if you will) — “Why do you need a paid KOL?”

Paying KOLs raises questions of authenticity of the endorsement and only serves to confirm the profit-mongering of the pharmaceutical. Moreover, paid KOLs come with liability – what they do or say (or not do or not say) could come back to haunt you … after all, paying them makes them the pharmaceutical agent.

A genuine endorsement by a person (with no commercial interest in the product) is like gold. A few years ago, my KOL was coming off of the podium to thunderous applause by the packed room of doctors.  The pharma rep turns to me and says, “Wow, he as great! What did we pay him?” I replied, “Nothing. He just got the $15 dinner like everyone else.” And, I could have added, the KOL was not even reimbursed for his time and driving, both of which in Los Angeles traffic can be quite large.

Genuine, unpaid KOLs are the best product promotion and make great business sense  (you just have to have the smarts and put in the effort to find such people). Paid and not genuine — the two concepts go hand-in-hand for most people — don’t make business sense!

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