Health advocacy organizations, often a trusted source of information and community for patients, families, and caregivers, can be important industry partners when the relationship is cultivated from a place of mutual respect. Each group has much to offer the other, including key insights that might otherwise never be uncovered; however, identifying how best to initiate or move a relationship forward can sometimes be a mystery and, occasionally, be plagued by missteps. While early engagement, transparency, and consistency are critical to success, the partnership may still be rocky if not mutually beneficial, with all stakeholders able to satisfactorily reach and/or support their priority audience: patients.
But how do you know whether a partnership will work? Start by asking yourself the following questions:
If you can answer these questions without stretching too far, then you may have a strategic goal that could truly benefit from a health advocacy organization partnership. Next step? Consider the advocacy landscape. With few exceptions there are established groups for any given therapeutic area. The trick is to determine which is the best fit for your brand. A comprehensive landscape analysis is generally the most efficient way to zero in on the “right” partners (not always the same for every initiative!), and will likely provide critical reconnaissance when conducted by an advocacy agency with experience in landscape analysis. Key metrics to look for when developing your landscape plan include:
What is your focus?
Does this group match well with your organization?
How long since inception?
Is the membership growing?
Are there active initiatives?
Does this focus match with your priorities?
Is there room to contribute?
How can you help the advocacy group grow?
Once the landscape analysis is complete and you’ve identified your top candidates for partnership, a rookie mistake is to move too quickly. You’ve got your list of organizations. You’ve got the names of the key players. You’re itching to make that initial call, but – don’t. At least don’t open communication until you’ve gained complete buy-in from the internal gatekeepers within your own organization.
Having everyone on the same page is important when dealing with any partner, but it is especially important when working with advocacy organizations. Remember, advocacy organizations may be hesitant to engage with an industry partner, even though they are excited by the opportunity. Don’t make the mistake of reaching out too soon, only to later have to backtrack. You lose creditability. You get one chance to make a first impression: a clear, specific, concise initial communication is essential.
When you’re truly ready for that first contact, tread lightly and ask a lot of questions. This is your opportunity to confirm whether your assumptions were correct, and whether there are additional unidentified priorities. It’s also your opportunity to show your most shiny, fabulous self. Be prepared for your interaction, but most importantly, be an empathetic, respectful listener. Remember that these are experts, just like clinical advisors you work with, so recognize that they deserve your undivided attention and regard. From the beginning your relationship must be based on mutual respect and trust. You must have a solid foundation.
If it’s a match, you will recognize similar goals and priorities. You will be well on your way to a successful partnership. And in the end, while you may look like a rock star at your organization for identifying and cultivating this powerful relationship, it’s actually the patients who will benefit most. Win-win-win.