Forming a Speakers Bureau to Build a Corporate Brand

An interview with Tierney Saccavino, Senior Vice President of Acorda Therapeutics

What was your goal in forming the speakers bureau for Acorda Therapeutics

meeting proiezioneAt Acorda, we have two different communications programs underway to both build Acorda’s brand and to serve our consumer communities.

Within Acorda, we have implemented a program to highlight the professional expertise and thought leadership that exists within the company. We have a roster of individuals, in addition to our CEO, who are experts in their fields and who are able to interact with the media, speak at conferences or write by-lined thought pieces. These experts represent a variety of departments – from marketing to managed markets to manufacturing to advocacy to legal.

Do you also have outside speakers in the bureau?

Within the MS community, we have also developed an unbranded, “Health and Wellness” speakers bureau. At Acorda, we’ve been very lucky to know people who have achieved amazing things in their lives related to their experience with MS, and their experiences can be inspirational for others in the community.

To date, we work with a woman who is a former Olympic cyclist who is living with MS, a woman who ran across country to raise awareness of MS after her mother was diagnosed, and a woman who threw herself into her passion for cooking and entertaining after her diagnosis, and wrote a wonderful book about the relationships and experiences that ensued from her weekly dinner gatherings.

We place our speakers at various kinds of events in the MS community, including fund-raising luncheons, support group meetings, or MS Bike or Walk events. While none of these people talk about our commercial products, it is still important to us that their talks are reviewed internally for appropriateness, and that all of our speakers received compliance and presentation training.

What kind of training do your speakers receive?

Everyone who speaks on behalf of the Company receives training and preparation. For instance, anyone at Acorda who speaks to the media is, without exception, prepped in detail about the story, the reporter’s background, and messaging. They are also accompanied to the interview by a member of my department.

I’m a big believer in speaker training for those within the company who are going to be presenting at a conference or speaking on a panel. Being an expert in your area of professional specialty is very different from being a skilled, polished presenter. It’s an investment that will pay off; not only will your speakers be more polished and effective, but by helping to remove their apprehension about public speaking, you will wind up with more people who are willing to sign up for speaking engagements! We also provide compliance training for anyone who is speaking about our commercial products or our pipeline products, whether to investors or the media.

How successful has the program been in promoting Acorda and its products?

Every year, we’ve expanded the number of speakers in our “Health and Wellness” consumer bureau and have also expanded the number of internal associates at Acorda who are speaking at conferences, working with the media or writing by-lines.

As the head of Corporate Communications at Acorda, I am responsible for building and supporting the Company’s brand across a diverse group of audiences. The variety of people who are demonstrating their thought leadership on behalf of Acorda certainly adds to the overall perception that our associates have a great depth of expertise across a wide range of disciplines.

What advice do you have for other companies who might be interested in starting a speakers bureau? 

Look within your own company – from your most senior-level executives, to department heads, to subject matter experts across a wide range of disciplines. There are sure to be people who are passionate about their work and eager to share it. There are all kinds of trade and specialty publications that are looking for a trusted expert to write a by-line, participate in a panel or speak at a conference; once you start to prime the pump, you will find that the opportunities just keep coming!

The Newman Group is interested in hearing about your experience in starting, managing or participating in a Speakers Bureau. Use the comment box below to communicate with us.

speakers bureau to promote products, services and thought leadership
Tierney Saccavino

Tierney Saccavino is the Senior Vice President of Acorda Therapeutics, a New York-based biotechnology company developing therapies for people with multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury and other nervous system disorders. Acorda’s lead product, Ampyra, is indicated to improve walking in people with MS, demonstrated by an increase in walking speed. Ms. Saccavino joined Acorda in 1996 when it was still a “virtual” company; today, it has 370 employees. Prior to joining Acorda, she spent nine years in a variety of positions at Fidelity Investments in Boston.

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  1. I am just beginning to look into forming an in-house speakers bureau to tap into our staff’s expertise in their fields. I have been scrambling to secure speakers from our physician staff and department heads to address community groups and to pinch-hit when a speaker does not make his scheduled presentation. I’d like to get some ideas as to companies who can come in to brush up my speakers on presentation skills. Any information, that I can share with my department director, will be appreciated. Thank you.

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The Newman Group is a recognized leader in guiding business professionals, celebrities and authors to improve their communications skills in presentations and media interviews.

Our highly skilled and experienced professionals have the expertise in media and presentation training to meet any business situation — from helping an executive to prepare for the challenge of talking to a reporter during a business crisis to presenting a group of investors during an IPO or keeping a celebrity spokesperson on point.