By Sarah Natoli
Our Health practice recently published a piece full of tips and tricks for navigating events and securing speaking opportunities, but that’s not always the only event “ask” we get from our clients. In fact, over the past year, we’ve increasingly been tasked with sourcing co-panelists and moderators to engage with our executives at high profile events. As a result, we’ve established best practices for selecting various types of speakers, and we’ve become quite adept at not only putting together a “Plan A,” but also a “Plan B” (and occasionally, a “Plan C”!). In this blog, we’ll share our top three learnings from a series of marquee events for health clients—both industry-specific and outside-industry.
Tip #1: Understand your client’s key requirements from the start
While this tip might seem like a no-brainer, we’ve actually found that clients may have very different expectations and requirements for speakers. If we assume that what works for vetting partners for one client will work for another—even if they’re both in the healthcare industry—we’re bound to miss something.
Are there requirements that are specific to the client’s company? For example, one of our clients is in the life sciences vertical, and it’s important to find partners for them that understand the complex science behind their products. We recently sourced a moderator for one of their executive’s panels who had previously led a health system and is a clinician by training. He was able to drive a compelling conversation driven by deep understanding of the science and its potential human impact. Another example is clients that are building their DEI strategy, which we see increasingly in health. For them, ensuring there is diversity across a panel is a key requirement.
Who are we sourcing for and how does that play into selection? Our speaker searches look radically different when the client we’re supporting is a CEO at a big brand versus a rising star at an early-stage company. For the C-suite at established brands, we often go after moderators from the media world with a focus on top-tier outlets. Two years ago, at SXSW, we sourced a moderator from Fortune for a high-profile client. For leaders at emerging health brands, we might pull in a venture capitalist or an individual from another company in the space. At last year’s HLTH, we helped a client connect with the CEO of a health tech startup as a moderator, because he was a subject matter expert on the session topic—health equity—and he provided a valuable POV as an early-stage entrepreneur.
What does the client want to offer in terms of incentives? We have some clients that feel very strongly about keeping everything organic. In other words, they do not want to pay speaker fees. This isn’t always a matter of budget, but rather of principle. When a speaker is paid, some feel there’s a risk that they won’t come across as authentic. We find this is more of an issue with co-panelists than moderators, who more often than not do require a fee. It’s important to also establish if the client is willing to cover out of pocket expenses such as travel and lodging. Wherever you land, be sure to document the terms clearly, ideally in a speaker contract so that everyone is on the same page and the engagement proceeds smoothly.
Tip #2: Roll up your sleeves and do research—a lot of it!
Once you understand your client’s key requirements, it’s truly time to get to work. Many folks on our junior team really enjoy speaker research, and they often have out of the box ideas that clients are delighted by. Be forewarned though, these searches take time, so it’s important to resource the research appropriately.
Can you find someone who is already going to be at the event?
Our team has found that often the fastest path to finding a co-panelist or moderator is to look at individuals who are either already speaking at the event in a different session or who attend annually and are likely to be there. They’re easier to vet, engage, and coordinate with on the logistics front. Additionally, the conference organizers may be willing to make introductions to these individuals.
Do you have a Plan B?
When this strategy doesn’t work, we of course have alternate paths to finding the right person. While we specialize in healthcare, we’re fortunate to work at an agency that covers a wide swath of industries, making it easy to tap colleagues in different practices and leverage the full resources and connections of Allison+Partners to find that ideal person to complement our client. For a solo presentation at CES, the consumer tech show, we reached out to a YouTuber, which was an unexpected, yet extremely appealing, choice. While he ultimately could not act as moderator for that event, our team made an important future connection for our client.
And a Plan C?
While it’s convenient and efficient to leverage the strategies above, sometimes you have to do a lot of your own research. At a recent event where we wanted to source a co-panelist with some “star power,” we looked, for example, at authors who had books about healthcare coming out that they might want to promote. We also looked at entrepreneurs inside and outside the industry. Provided your client has wide name recognition, putting their brand in the subject line of an outreach email is a great way to get an individual’s attention when you don’t have a way to get formally introduced. Note that if you select an individual who moderates or appears on panels frequently, they are likely to have a team representing them, as well as a speaker fee and specific contract terms.
Tip #3: Overcommunicate throughout the process and be prepared to pivot
Once you’ve found the right person, there’s still significant work to do, and if you miss steps in the process or fumble the ball in any way, you may be back to square one (which is yet another reason to do a lot of research and have backup options!).
Have you communicated expectations beyond the actual event?
We heard last year at HLTH that a lot of the panels felt disjointed—that’s because many speakers did not know each other and did not prep for their panels together. It’s always our goal to avoid that dynamic and we do so by clearly communicating our expectations with moderators and panelists alike. Typically, we ask for a live prep session ahead of the event, and we always prepare a briefing document for all presenters. Ideally, co-panelists and moderators will also promote the event through their social accounts, sharing with their networks, but if you don’t ask them to do this or any other activity up front, there’s no guarantee it will be done.
Are you prepared to address last minute changes?
Whether it’s the event organizers throwing a wrench in things by changing a panel time or some other detail, or your client swapping out one C-suite for another, events are notoriously unpredictable. They require significant creativity and flexibility from the supporting agency team. We put forward an executive to speak at CES and then he had a conflict, so we went back to the organizers with an alternative executive and re-did the programming. Of course, with the pandemic, we’ve also had to pivot when events go virtual or are hybrid.
As challenging as it can be, sourcing a co-panelist or moderator is one of our team’s favorite tasks. It’s an opportunity to show the depth of our cross-industry connections, our commitment to getting things right for our clients, and perhaps most important, our deep creativity and ability to bring learnings from other industries to our healthcare clients. One last piece of advice—the answer is always “no” until you ask the question. Don’t be afraid to reach out cold on behalf of your clients. Just like the perfect pitch sent to the right reporter, if you find a topic that truly touches the individual in question, chances are, they’ll be up for having a conversation!
To work with our Health team on events (or anything else), reach out to [email protected].
View our health tech microsite here.
Sarah is a seasoned content and communications strategist with deep experience in the healthcare industry. At Allison, she serves as the Health Practice’s “Storyteller-in-Chief,” counseling clients on the most effective narratives and messages for their businesses, as well as advising on the appropriate channels to leverage for maximum impact. Prior to joining the agency, Sarah worked at Revive, a Nashville-based healthcare agency that sits within the Weber/IPG ecosystem. Before joining the agency world, she worked as an in-house content marketer primarily in health tech.