Three+ Steps to Selecting the Right Advocacy Partner

By: Hildy Dillon

Back in the day when I served as an advisor to industry as an advocate leader, more often than not I struggled to find the true purpose and outcome of lending my valuable time and expertise. At times, a company would reach out to several members of our leadership team at once, like telemarketers just hoping ‘someone’ will pick up the phone.

Now as a consultant to industry for constituent relations, I help my clients avoid these transparent mistakes that can bruise relationships and waste everyone’s time.  Today, most, not all, of my clients are attuned to the fact that advocates and groups are professionals with specific areas of expertise. And they want help finding the right advocate or group aligned with the perspective they wish to gain. A lead advocate for a Health Technology Assessment discussion is most likely not the same advocate expert on concept development for a clinical trial for a refractory patient population.

The good news is for many therapeutic areas the era of advocate ‘specialization’ is here; organizations such as the European Patient’s Academy on Therapeutic Innovation (EUPATI) are training advocates to provide a professional, balanced perspective on regulatory panels or in reviewing early stage protocols for industry.   Within broad therapeutic areas, there are advocates to represent patients with sub-types of disease such as triple negative breast cancer or double hit lymphoma. Many patient groups now have a central contact and process in place to work with industry in a compliant manner; they will clarify the expertise needed and assist in outreach to appropriate advocates.

The challenge is how to find the right advocates for specific insights across industry company functions and needs. Here are three essential first steps to identifying a qualified advocate:

  1. Ensure internal consensus on the specific goals and objectives of advocate outreach.
    Work with the company advocacy lead to identify all internal stakeholders to coordinate outreach efforts. Utilize the advocacy leads’ expertise and networks to ensure that there is internal consensus on the specific goals and objectives of seeking the patient advocate perspective. Without a centralized advocacy function within the company, seek guidance from external advocacy relations experts (such as MK&A) before you go any further, as this will compromise your success, and is a subject for another blog.
  2. Create advocate selection criteria.
    When there are multiple advocates in the same therapeutic space it is important to consider each objectively as potential partners. It’s important to create selection criteria for individuals that will be directly involved in your project and for the organizations they represent.Criteria will differ in every example but may include: organizational reach, credibility, medical knowledge, willingness to work with industry and professionalism.
  3. Assess and regroup, before you reach out.
    Assess how each advocacy group (and individuals within) aligns with the established criteria; get back together with internal stakeholders to ensure there is agreement about which group(s) and individual(s) will form the best advocacy partners.

After taking the three essential steps above, you will need to invite and prepare the selected advocate(s) and all internal stakeholders for successful engagement. At MK&A, we have been helping industry and advocates partner for 20 years. We have personal knowledge of many of the advocate groups and the individuals within them to help industry develop an advocacy partnership that has the greatest chance of success.

To learn more about how MK&A can help your company maximize advocacy relationships, contact us or call 1 212 620 2770.

About the Author:

Hildy Dillon

Hildy Dillon is vice president at MK&A.  She can be reached at +1 212 620 2761 or

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