Re-imagining the Conference Experience

Rethinking conferences in the age of Coronavirus
Danny Flamberg post by: Danny Flamberg

This article was previously published in PM360 on March 26, 2020.

This is Part 1 in a series: Thinking More Digitally in the Age of Coronavirus

On Friday the 13th, Medscape reported that 26 medical conferences were being cancelled or postponed. Reactions from commenters were mixed, from “remember the Biogen folks,” to “I don’t see the reason for the hysteria” (and stronger reactions as well).

The healthcare industry is uniquely dependent on human interactions, from robust conversations between the field force and HCPs, to the energy and innovation at Congresses, to the vital, everyday meetings between HCPs and the people they care for. All of this, as we are all aware, is in jeopardy as the world confronts COVID19.

Rather than lose the opportunity to interact, converse, engage or persuade,  this is also a moment to evaluate the digital tools we have available to keep those human interactions going – continuously, effectively, and most important, safely.  Creatively deploying technology in service toward better, collaborative communications can be one step toward keeping the vital work of business and the economy – and the critical healthcare industry – alive and well – and in the process, accelerate and realize more of the potential inherent in digital transformation.

For the first of our series in how we can accomplish this, let’s look at conferences. While some conferences are being postponed in favor of live meetings when the crisis has been controlled, others have taken it as an opportunity to keep scientific experts, HCPs and brands connected. The Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease conference, scheduled to take place in Vienna in early April, announced it would be going entirely virtual, with lectures held from remote locations, posters shared virtually, forum discussions and corporate symposia taking place as scheduled via webcast, and online chat rooms available for exhibitors.

We applaud the move to keeping information and engagement flowing while keeping participants safely “social distanced”- and we think there’s even more that companies can do to ensure that their critical messages, innovation and business updates continue to be heard.

Our top five recommendations for how marketers can maintain vital thought leadership with creative and purposeful use of digital – and just as important, build and maintain relationships that are so important to creating trust in both current brands and new innovations are:

1) Reformat content.

Reformatting content, from posters to non-personal sales promotion, can be hosted on a wide variety of owned platforms, from your brand’s HCP site, to a dedicated micro-site, unbranded property, or even a new section on your corporate website. They can also be delivered by email and through social media. Don’t forget to tag content for search engine optimization.

2) Showcase Ideas & Talent.

Invite your in-house experts, partners and other thought leaders to a chat about current innovations, how your brand is helping HCPs when they’re overwhelmed, or contributing to communities. Consider making it weekly, or monthly. Schedule a webcast with your HCP contact list, and record the event for future playback. Increase engagement with apps like Zoom which allow real-time interaction, and consider embedding real-time quizzes, surveys, and pop-ups to create more active engagement and learning. Platforms we recommend include Demio and JetWebinar for large-scale events; for smaller group chats we choose the Whatsapp group chat, Facebook Live for regular events, Facebook or LinkedIn groups for threaded conversations over several days, and Instagram stories for town-hall like events.

3) Conference in a Box.

Use this opportunity to bring your planned booth directly to HCPs, media and partners, combining classic NPP with digital tools to be creative, targeted and physically present. Invite HCPs to curated experiences on a private microsite, mirroring the experience they might have at your conference booth, while offering a deeper level of HCP and patient education and promotional items. You might even consider bringing a flavor of the planned conference city – like Barcelona, Glasgow, Austin or Boston – to your creative materials.

4) Seize the digital foreground.

Global media platform The Drum announced that it was replacing cancelled events at SXSW and Advertising Week with a “digital transformation festival” – with a “packed programme of high-profile interviews, keynotes and panels in a dynamic new format.”[3] This goes beyond reformatting content, and adds a whole new dynamic of being digitally forward. Consider town hall events with your CEO, chief scientist, epidemiologist, where viewers can use chatbots to send in Q&A and hear real-time answers. Relevance is key, as always: consider subjects like quality control, supply lines and ensuring continued distribution of critical medications. Remember to invite HCPs with multiple follow-ups through rep interactions, using email, phone, text, or WhatsApp (more on that in a subsequent article), and consider heavying up on targeted HCP-exclusive social sites like Doximity or Sermo… and consider sharing your events on social media and with traditional media for amplified targeting and interest.

5) Consider a long-term relationship.

Conferences offer a special, once-a-year opportunity to see colleagues, experts, customers and prospects face-to-face – but why let that be the only time? Tools that your company may already use for internal meetings, like GoToMeeting, Slack, WebEx and GroupMe can also be used to connect your content directly with your customers and prospects. A constantly evolving stream of content can encourage more online participation on your current sites – and may inspire you to create new chatbots, gamified interactions, even new customer research opportunities.

Navigating in times of change requires investments in both thought and action.  Your investment in powering up your digital presence can help you maintain a strong, relevant and engaging brand presence in a time of less face-to-face or in-person interaction, and continue to be a platform in the days and months ahead – well into what we hope will be a healthy future.

Danny Flamberg is VP, Strategy – HCP at LiveWorld

Stay tuned for the next in this series: on empowering your field force to maintain relationships with prospects and customers, when “social distancing” requires a more digital approach.