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scientific advisory board

Five critical steps to building scientific advisory boards that drive ROI

Before building winning scientific advisory boards, health and nutrition companies must consider the board’s goals, members and expectations.

In today’s hypervigilant climate of trust and transparency, conversations about the necessity for, creation of, use of and potential monetization of scientific advisory boards (SABs) are happening with increased frequency within the health and nutrition industry. Done right, SABs provide valuable third-party credibility and validation for a company’s product platform, be it innovation based or based on “better sameness.”

A properly constituted and well-functioning SAB evaluates, supports and enhances the scientific basis on which a company and products are established and marketed. But SABs assembled without appropriate forethought and planning may provide little or no real business value and could be costly mistakes.

Five key considerations before creating an SAB, include:

1.            Why do you want an SAB?

The initial value of an SAB is to fortify a company’s scientific base, validating the foundation on which the company is built. An SAB helps to establish outside credibility in a new field, and the points of differentiation in a competitive field. A well-constructed, well-run and highly focused SAB will help ensure the science will withstand the highest level of scrutiny by the scientific community, regulators and consumers.  

2.            What type of SAB do you need, and have you defined its purpose?

The SAB’s purpose should be in alignment with a company’s vision and mission. Does the company need the expertise of scientific researchers at the forefront of innovation, or would the vision be better served by an advisory board comprised of health care practitioners effectively incorporating the product in their clinical practices? As the company examines the mission, it may discover that it needs representatives from both areas to accomplish its strategy.

The brand may want science experts whose work is in alignment with its various product claims—joint health, heart health, etc.—to help make decisions for areas of future research, or plan and execute current applied research studies. The company may also want to call on the expertise of SAB members as sources of high-value content across the entire media spectrum to educate employees, customers and other stakeholders. 

3.            Who should be on your SAB?

Companies should approach the creation of the SAB in the same way it might put together a board of directors. They should consider people they can’t necessarily hire, but whose talents and experience they want on the SAB so it has continuing access to unique area of expertise. These selections should be based on what these people are likely to be doing in their day-to-day professional lives that can benefit the company in the future.

This means finding experts who are still in the game instead of those relying on what they did in the past, however noteworthy their past achievements may have been. It’s like a sports team: the ideal players are those who still have upward momentum. They are in their prime with several more years of optimal performance. Athletes at the end of the careers often get enormous contracts based on their past achievements and current crowd appeal, even though their performance is only average. They are already on the downslope, and their celebrity may not produce the benefits that help grow your company.

In evaluating scientists, companies should look for those involved with moving the frontiers of science. Companies should engage health care professionals who are currently in practice, who enjoy being on the cutting edge and whose professional philosophies are in line with their product strategies. Having professionals on the leading edge of their careers will make it easier for brands to harness their expertise for specific promotional channels, including personal selling, digital/social and publicity across the entire media spectrum.

As much as possible, companies should confirm compatibility among the potential members, relevant to the position they are about to play. Members shouldn’t be selected simply because they know influential people. That’s nice to have, but not essential. It’s better to focus on synergies between members so that the SAB is properly integrated and optimally productive.

The ideal approach is not to go out and find the person with the biggest name who frequently has the largest financial requirements. The ones who are on the rise are potentially much more valuable to you than those who have been there, done that. Think of it this way: How many people want to buy a seat on a train that has already reached its destination?

4.            Do you have clear expectations for SAB members? 

A carefully constructed SAB agreement clearly defines roles, responsibilities and limitations. Such agreements should include performance requirements for the SAB members’ speaking, writing and reporting in a way that is in optimal alignment with the company’s message and mission. Typical SAB agreements will call for SAB members to fulfill a minimum of one speaking engagement a year at a designated event, write one to two articles per year and participate in one relevant company meeting each year. Attending carefully selected company meetings can help SAB members learn more about the business and may spark insights for improving your research and products. 

A big part of appropriate SAB utilization is strategically putting members into venues where there’s a high level of certainty they will be effective. Forward-thinking marketers may arrange for SAB members to post pre-recorded videos, podcasts and interviews that can be repurposed to support the company’s business objectives. Other value-added tactics include creating a social media presence for one or two of the most appropriate SAB members and arranging for them to participate on select sales calls. And brands must remember that SAB members are not product endorsers. They provide support for the validity and credibility of the science on which the products are designed, produced and used. 

5.            Who will be in charge of your SAB?

While it is common and seemingly logical to have the company’s chief science officer lead the SAB, it may put a company at risk of not having sufficient involvement of the chief marketing officer and chief executive officer. SABs have collapsed because the science people don’t speak the same language as corporate or marketing, and vice versa. Consider engaging an executive director experienced with organizing and running SABs, and with experience in corporate strategy, marketing and science, to bridge the gap between the SAB and senior management.

One final thought: SABs are dynamic. They need to be fluid and change with the times. They don’t need to be tenured members. While some members may be central, companies can also rotate ad hoc members to help achieve goals as the evolve.

Properly organized and managed, SABs can generate significant ROIs, not just significant costs. Just like any other investment in a business, they must be evaluated based on their potential to add value both in the short term and the long term.  

Learn more about SABs in the INSIDER article “Scientific advisory boards and the promotional mix: blending oil and water” by Bernie Landes and Mike Danielson.

Bernie Landes, president and founder, Nutritional Products Consulting Group LLC has a 40-year history of success as a C-level and/or senior level manager and consultant in the nutritional products and wellness industries. He is currently providing ongoing support for a global client base in the natural health, nutritional products and wellness industries, with a broad range of clients focused on functional foods, nutraceuticals, dietary supplements, information technology, omni-channel marketing, personal care, environmental, and traditional food products and related services, including all areas of contract manufacturing. NPCG works with domestic and international clients to identify, acquire, develop, market and sell new technologies and products.

Mike Danielson is partner of Media Relations Agency and president of the health and nutrition division. He uses his 30 years of experience to manage campaigns that have measurable impacts on clients’ bottom lines. Danielson enjoys consulting with his clients in positioning, leveraging promotional and influence channels, brand and reputation management, consumer education and media relations. Danielson programs have had a direct and measurable impact on consumer awareness and purchasing habits. He has forged strong relationships with key stakeholders in the health and nutrition sector, moved public opinion through publicity, and encouraging positive and healthy behavioral changes.

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