Back to the buzz or hello to hybrid?
Pre-pandemic most companies involved in the outsourcing space were prominent players in the trade event, conference and exhibition space. Events featured heavily in marketing and sales strategies and pharma figureheads utilised events to network globally.
As the landscape shifted following restrictions, companies reviewed their approach to events, forced to adapt and refocus their marketing activities to negate events and to reach audiences in different and oftentimes more innovative ways.
We’ve explored the shift away from events and into alternative marketing activities with keen interest. Having talked to people from inside the outsourcing space, we wanted to understand their opinions and priorities for 2022 and beyond now that the world is opening back up, and to assess the appetite for in-person events as we move into next year.
We recently hosted a Molecule to Market podcast focused specifically on trade events and their evolution. In the episode our special guests discussed their observations around events after they were forced to pivot away from in-person events and into webinars, virtual and more recently hybrid events. We discussed the positives and negatives of each approach and made informed predictions for the future of global trade events.
Catch episode 56, ‘What next for trade events?’ featuring Samuel Thangiah, co-founder of Life Science Integrates and Tara Dougal, Head Of Content & Insights for Pharma at Informa Markets with Edward McNamara, Vice President of Innovation Banking – Life Sciences at Cambridge Trust and the Co-Founder of BioXchange, alongside Raman Sehgal, podcast host who leads a discussion on the pharmaceutical and biotechnology event scene.
During the interview Raman asks his guests about the impact on event organisers and the pivot required over the last 18 months including the birth of the smart/hybrid event models. The episode also covers the benefits of virtual events including their international reach and the attraction of quality speakers.
The trio also look forward to what local, regional, national and international trade events may look like in the future. And, how you and your organisation should be thinking about approaching and planning for events in 2022 and beyond.
So, what’s ahead for events in pharma?
Defining the purpose behind each event is pretty fundamental. Whether you’re planning an event and working with sponsors, exhibitors and delegates or planning to attend an event to represent your company. What is your priority? Is the event focussed on informing, networking, sales, training or something else? The audience is also key – are you targeting the C-Suite and Senior Post Holders or Bench Scientists and Business Development teams? The purpose will define the strategy and/or your decision making and the best approach to meet your needs.
Content or contacts?
Are you hosting or attending an event to gather or share content, or is your primary focus on making contacts and meeting clients and connections? Most people are typically looking for both, but by prioritising a focus you can hone in on the right events and make a call about whether face-to-face or virtual will offer the platform to meet your needs.
Replicating face-to-face networking is tricky and nothing seems to offer a similar experience to in-person interactions. Software platforms have come a long way in serving the needs of virtual events and many companies have sourced platforms that offer fantastic event capabilities, but the sector seems keen on returning to face-to-face networking. It appears the ability to shake someone’s hand and look them in the eye is a priority for building and maintaining connections and there is likely to be little persuasion necessary to encourage people back to in-person.
A hidden benefit of virtual events is the ability to source and secure quality speakers. Without the need to travel, book accommodation and attend an event in-person many more high profile speakers are available to login and deliver an hour presentation or to lead a panel discussion. With less pressure to commit valuable time, the sector is opening up to many more speakers and audiences have also grown with the ability to access, watch-again and share on-demand content more freely.
Is hybrid here to stay?
Smart or hybrid events have grown in popularity and companies are confident and comfortable to deliver combination events that now offer in-person alongside virtual options. These combination events have increased the audience reach and enabled more people from within the sector to attend or to revisit online material at a time and place that suits them.
Having a plan b is clearly the smart approach and companies are well advised to have virtual and smart alternatives. Perhaps with a seasonal approach – virtual throughout the winter before moving to in-person from the Spring for example. Monitoring Covid and travel restrictions will become the norm with event organisers ensuring they remain compliant with alternatives and the flexibility to adapt and change quickly. An increase in local/regional events might continue initially whilst the resistance/ nervousness for international travel and the complexities of European travel remain in place, so careful consideration and close working relationships with suppliers, venues and delegates will continue to be a priority.
The evolution of events
It is only natural that events will evolve and shift as the learnings from the pandemic shapes audience and sponsor needs. Innovation is inevitable and is a good thing!
Trade events are now so much more than in-person networking and sales opportunities, by offering smart options attendees can benefit from the traditional approach alongside options to participate in virtual sessions and to access on-demand content, alongside panel discussions, webinars, podcasts, breakout sessions and watch-again presentations.
People who are time poor or less able to travel no longer have to miss out and increased numbers of delegates from within a company can book and attend without wiping out the staffing at the Head Quarters or having to manage company travel and the subsequent time out of the business and jet lag.
So, should you be organising or attending an event in 2022/23?
It looks like the answer is YES.
People working in pharma and the outsourcing space are keen to return to events. BUT, it may be sensible to proceed with caution.
There is an acceptance that events will continue to evolve and it seems that organisers, sponsors and delegates are happy to adapt to hybrid and smart events, and where they have the opportunity and restrictions allow, people are more keen than ever to attend in-person events.
The sector craves human interaction and a return to the ‘fun’ of networking. Virtual events can’t quite replace the feeling of grabbing a drink with your connections and colleagues!
Learn more about our podcast guests:
Samuel Thangiah is Co-Founder and Executive Director of Life Science Integrates. Life Science Integrates produces the debate-led events shaping conversations in Pharma, BioTech and MedTech.
Tara Dougal is Head of Content and Insights for the Pharma Portfolio at Informa Markets, where she has worked since 2015. In this role, Tara leads the digital and live content strategy for CPhI Worldwide, Pharmapack Europe and CPhI North America.
Edward McNamara is Vice President of Innovation Banking at Cambridge Trust and has both a life sciences and banking background. Prior to joining Cambridge Trust, Ed worked on business development for Biotech Vendor Services. Ed also co-founded a very successful networking group, BioXchange.
Listen to episode 56 here: https://moleculetomarketpod.com/episodes/what-next-for-trade-events/