How to Get Yours Started, Measure Success, and Improve Results
// By Lisa D. Ellis //
Should your health care organization start a speakers bureau? Most experts say, “Yes”—and a few of them offer important advice for making sure yours achieves all of your organization’s desired benefits.
“Speakers bureaus are great reputation-building tools for organizations as they increase awareness of the organization and they also provide a way to build the individual speakers as thought leaders in the health care industry and in their local communities on key issues,” says Kristin Mack Deuber, APR, a public relations and marketing consultant based in Southern California. “For example, an organization can use speakers at the national level to talk about issues impacting health care reform and Medicaid, and at the local level to discuss such things as chronic disease management and prevention, or the latest cancer research,” she adds.
A speakers bureau can also be a strategic vehicle to advance your organization’s brand, says Amy Avery, M.A.Ed., a freelance health care writer and marketing communications consultant based in North Carolina. “I define a speakers bureau as a community service, as well as a way for the organization to provide (mostly) controlled messaging,” Avery says. “Practically, that means promoting services lines; informing the public or other key audiences of important messages related to health care and the business of health care; and, of course, talking about health issues that are in the news or are of particular relevance to your population,” she adds.
How to Get Started
To start a new speakers bureau, Deuber recommends the marketing/public relations department take the lead. “The marketing/public relations department should be the drivers for all reputation-building programs. The successful speakers bureaus I’ve worked with also have buy-in from the leadership team to help get others involved,” Deuber says.
Further, Avery also points out that different markets have different needs and different opportunities for speakers bureaus, but despite these variations, the general process remains the same.
“I’ve started speakers bureaus in three different hospitals/systems: one in a suburban market, one in an urban market, and one in a rural market. Despite the differences in markets, the creation of the speakers bureau was pretty much the same,” Avery says. “The rural organization, however, had many more requests for the fall ‘town fair/street fair’ type events, compared to the others. But even with these, going back to organizational goals helps determine which staff member gets to mind the booth and what program or messaging is emphasized,” she adds.
“If an organization is feeling overwhelmed about the idea of launching a new speakers bureau, they can start small by proactively reaching out to community partners and offering their experts as a resource and then build the program from there,” Deuber says.
When establishing a new group, she suggests including two or three members of the leadership team who can speak about issues impacting the health care industry and the community, and who can put things into a national perspective as well. “They should be available to speak on topics from a high-level perspective that relate back to the organization’s mission and goals. The majority of the speakers should be from key service lines within the organization who can go out into the community and speak to groups about their topics of expertise,” she says.
It’s also important to vet all of the experts you want to include and make sure they have solid speaking abilities. “Some doctors and health care professionals may be expert researchers and caregivers, but they may not be the best at speaking to large groups in an engaging manner. Therefore, the public relations department should review and/or help develop the presentation for the speaker as well as do a run-through before the meeting,” Deuber says. “Speaker training should also be provided to speakers bureau members annually to ensure everyone is ready to speak when opportunities arise.”
Putting Your Speakers Bureau to Work
Once your speakers are trained and comfortable speaking on behalf of your organization, you can put them to work to achieve a variety of benefits, says Aurora Gregory, who serves as a communications consultant and presentation skills trainer, as well as co-author of Get Picked: Tips, Tricks and Tools for Creating an Irresistible Speaker Proposal.
For instance, “when the organization has thought-leaders and subject-matter experts that have a distinct point of view to share on issues related to their business space, seeking out platforms for an organization’s leaders to present their views in public forums raises their profile and the profile of the organization,” she says. “The leader builds a reputation as a thoughtful observer of the industry with specific thoughts on how to navigate the dynamic changes impacting health care.”
Gregory also says that for best results, you’ll need to invest real effort to match the best speaker with each opportunity. “Using mid-level managers and other non-senior management subject-matter experts as speakers at industry events and conferences allows a health care organization to promote its staff and organization to potential partners, customers, and potential hires,” she explains. “From the podium, a manager shares success stories, the strategic thinking and future plans of an organization, giving a conference audience a view they would otherwise not have access to. New connections and relationships are made from the stage that can lead to powerful and profitable engagements.”
One example is Community Health Charities, which has a speakers bureau that strategically places the best members to take advantage of key opportunities.
“We use our board members as our speakers bureau for events and PR opportunities, plus we’ve also built a separate nonprofit speakers bureau for our charity partners and offer training and a guide for that,” explains Amanda Ponzar, chief marketing officer of Community Health Charities, headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia. “We use the right people for the right opportunities, where they are credible in the space, representative or knowledgeable of the issue, etc.,” she adds.
“We also provide talking points when needed or just the platform, and our board members are happy to help. We’re fortunate to have a talented, very diverse, engaged board,” she says.
Evaluating Opportunities for the Best Matches
While it can be tempting to take advantage of the vast array of opportunities your speakers bureau can participate in, Gregory cautions organizations to take time to evaluate opportunities and determine which ones make sense.
“Most of my clients with a speakers bureau are very thoughtful about which events they participate in and pitch their speakers to,” she says. “Conferences have to be evaluated not only on budget and cost of participation but the quality of the audience it attracts. Speaking for speaking’s sake will not deliver the ROI of investing in this effort.” She adds, “It’s critical that events are selected based on conference attendees and the position the event organizer plays in the industry. When it comes to choosing the industry association events an organization participates in, the quality of the company they keep matters.”
Therefore, when determining where to invest your time, Gregory suggests “measuring the success of placing a speaker or speakers on the agenda against what connections are made and how they translate into business gains.”
Much advance preparation is involved in scheduling events, matching speakers, and developing presentations. “The lead time can sometimes be 8 to 12 months in advance of an event,” she says.
Gregory says that some of her clients measure the impact of their participation by looking at things like meetings booked with prospective or existing customers, and deals made (number and size of deals).
In addition, Deuber says, “Organizations should keep track of how many speaking engagements they participate in annually and on what specific topics to help them understand the community’s interests and needs, which will help guide other marketing strategies.” She adds, “Organizations can also direct event attendees to a trackable 800 number or URLs for more information or to schedule an appointment, which will help track the effectiveness of the effort.”
Health care organizations should make sure that they have a speakers bureau page on their website, says Kristin Mack Deuber, APR, a public relations and marketing consultant.
“The page should include an overview of the mission the speakers bureau fulfills for the organization and the community. Topics that the organization’s experts can speak on and videos of past presentations should be included as well as a request form,” she says.
Once this is done, she recommends that an organization promote the speakers bureau (directing them to the webpage) along with featured speakers, on social media and other communications with community organizations and key stakeholders.
Lisa D. Ellis is the editor of Strategic Health Care Marketing. She is a journalist and content development specialist who helps hospitals and other health care providers and organizations shape strategic messages and communicate them to their target audiences. You can reach her at editor@strategicHCmarketing.com.