Every event has nuance. Every event has a different purpose and theme to ensure it is memorable. And while all events require effective planning, adaptability, and a focus on the needs of attendees and stakeholders, when it comes to the pharmaceutical meeting and event space, it is more than just nuance.
What makes pharmaceutical events so interesting is that each type of pharmaceutical program has different types of events and attendees — from investigator meetings, which are held during the research and development process, to product launches, which are often company wide, to national sales meetings that are post-launch and more into the sales and marketing phase of new products.
With that in mind, meeting planners must know the needs of each type of pharmaceutical event and who will be in attendance. But, regardless of the type of event, all should have ample opportunities and experiences that make for a spectacular and memorable event.
“The tactics for creating a dynamic meeting with engaging content are relatively the same for the pharmaceutical industry versus other industries,” said Pat Schaumann, president of Schaumann Consulting Group in St. Louis, MO, as well as author and founder of the Healthcare Meeting Compliance Certificate. “The key is to ensure you take the time to know your goals and objectives, as well as your audience’s.”
The pharmaceutical industry is ever evolving. So, staying abreast of the latest industry trends and incorporating them into the event can be challenging. The industry frequently introduces new therapies, technologies and regulations. That means meeting planners and teams may be dealing with complex regulations, in addition to logistics of an event and its attendees.
Those rules and regulations often affect what planners can and cannot offer at a pharmaceutical meeting, according to Lynn Arnett, Cvent senior client success manager in Cincinnati, OH. Arnett works with planners from pharmaceutical companies such as Abbvie and Astellas. She specifically noted, “The Sunshine Act requires any transfer of value to be reported, and other voluntary codes such as the PhRMA Code dictate the type of hotel you can use and the perceived value of interactions with healthcare professionals.”
While 90% of the pharmaceutical industry is back to live meetings and events, the higher costs of everything from AV to food and beverage is changing the way some meetings are organized.
“Since the budgets have remained flat, taking into consideration significantly increased costs means we need to do a lot more with a lot less,” said Misha Tsirulnikov, director, international lead, Global Medical Srategic Operations for Gilead Sciences in Foster City, CA. “Allowances have largely remained flat for nearly a decade, so our ability to provide exciting and innovative menus for our attendees has been greatly reduced. And while production budgets remain flat, we are able to navigate around some of these hurdles creatively. For example, holding programs in cities and countries that do not charge premium yet deliver both on service and experience.”
Along with the added costs for meetings, there is increased scrutiny about in-person meetings and more focus on ROI. ‘What should I learn?’ ‘What new skills will I acquire?’ ‘What additional new connections can I make?’ These are all questions being raised by attendees.Time is at premium and so they are very selective as to what they say, ‘Yes’ to.
There is also a much greater focus on business needs, as well as environmental impact of attending a meeting. Hence the question, ‘Can I attend virtually instead and still achieve the same outcomes?’ And, not every request for travel is approved.
Higher costs are affecting the meetings Pat Brown plans for the Hemophiliac Federation of America (HFA), including its annual symposium. “Our sponsorships have gone down a bit in terms of our meetings. Drug companies that are big sponsors like Sanofi are starting to sponsor a little less because of the cost.”
Some healthcare and pharmaceutical companies have a maximum allotment for meals they can cover. So, they can only spend so much per person. “That’s creating a challenge for them, which in turn creates a challenge for us. Because if they don’t sponsor that meal, then we have to,” said Brown.
Providing high-quality, relevant content that addresses the latest developments, research, and trends in the industry is a constant challenge, according to Schaumann. “Keeping attendees engaged with informative and valuable sessions is crucial.”
In order to create engaging programs that drive business results, companies need to know their audience, according to Arnett. “Understanding your attendees and your objectives for the meeting will define how engagement within the meeting is created. Build out what the attendee experience will look like based on the business objectives for the meeting and what your attendees’ goals and objectives are for the meeting.”
Today, attendees expect some aspect of digitization at meetings, such as content available on demand to watch later. “This is especially important for pharmaceutical meetings where training and education on products or clinical trials is so critical,” Arnett explained. “Many also expect content to be more personal and relate to their goals and objectives. So, creating communities where attendees cannot only connect but also have access to content that is relevant to their field or therapeutic area is also key.”
Arnett proposes pharmaceutical companies analyze the meeting types and audience. Then, create a strategic framework of how they will engage with the attendees before, during and after the meeting or event.
What technology will you use and then how you will measure the success and effectiveness of the meeting? Look at your tech stack to determine if you have the right types of engagement for each meeting type. If you are conducting testing and certification for specific clinical trial assessments or scales, look at how you can automate this testing if they are done on paper. Automating assessments can provide real time results on scores and also provide additional data on areas where clinical trial staff may need further training.
Creating more dynamic education sessions that reinforce key learning points and keep the audience engaged is critical. Some options include the use of apps, polling questions, gamification, AI/AR/VR, Q&A and providing network opportunities through community features.
Placing sessions on the show floor, so attendees can easily transition between sessions and exhibitor booths, also creates a seamless experience and maximizes their time. Other tactics include encouraging speakers to use interactive elements such as live polls, hands-on demonstrations and mixing up the format of education sessions — from panel discussions, workshops to debates. Also, surveying attendees in advance to understand their preferences can help steer content.
To foster engagement, companies should use mobile apps with the attendees pre meeting, during the meeting and post meeting. “Finally, you need to determine how you will ‘activate’ attendees and measure the ROI for the meeting,” said Arnett, who stresses that getting attendees to take action based on the meeting objectives takes proficiency in pharmaceutical event planning and a rich history of continued success.
It’s not just event planning or the pharma event space that planners need to keep a very close pulse on. It’s about healthcare professionals’ sentiments. How they want to learn or engage with your organization. What different types of meetings and events they want to attend. This understanding will help shape not just the event itself, but how you begin the planning process. The first step is deciding whether it is a virtual or an in-person meeting event.
Stacey Sheppard, senior marketing manager at Cvent, said, “There are certain types, specifically in education, where virtual meetings meet the needs of healthcare professionals — where they can learn on their own schedule without a time and a place and the need to travel. But then, there are other event types — congresses and other conferences — where they really do rely on that face-to-face interaction to learn from one another and share best practices. That’s the organic magic that you just can’t replicate through virtual or digital.”
Like any other event, pharmaceutical meeting planners want their attendees to have an amazing time. Even though they never notice all of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering, attendees expect some downtime.
“Traditionally, our conference has breakfast start at 7am and dinner ends at 9pm,” said Sheppard. “We’re trying to build in some networking time, also some downtime for people so that they won’t feel like that they went to a city but didn’t see the city.”
Pharmaceutical meetings require both forethought and post-meeting assessment. Arnett offers planners some self-assessment advice:
Activate the physician and/or study coordinator to be able to successfully manage your study and recruit the right patients.
Arm your sales force with enough training and excitement to sell the product.
In the end, ask yourself: How will I measure the success of the meeting to know if I met business objectives and my attendees objectives?
A post meeting survey is a great tool for measuring if the meeting was memorable, and if it met the attendees’ objectives, gained valuable feedback and/or gauged the knowledge they obtained. What were your engagement metrics? How many answered the polls, asked questions, which sessions were viewed the most or ranked the highest?
“Determining the success of a pharmaceutical event goes beyond attendee numbers. It involves assessing the impact on the industry, healthcare providers and patients. Measuring this impact accurately can be challenging,” said Schaumann, who also thinks there’s a growing emphasis on incorporating the patient perspective in pharmaceutical events. However, ensuring that the event is truly patient-centric and provides a platform for patient advocacy can be a challenge.
Because many pharmaceutical events aim to attract a global audience, managing time zones, language barriers, and cultural differences while ensuring that the event remains cohesive and accessible to all attendees can be taxing as well.
Pharma events are not simple, but planners use everything in their tool kit to make them memorable. One way to keep the attendees entertained is by choosing dynamic and enthusiastic presenters who have a passion for he subject matter and use storytelling to illustrate key points and captivate their audience.
From all the goods, information and services planners organize for their pharmaceutical meetings and events, the post-meeting tactic, which includes post-session engagement through online forums, social media discussions and follow-up materials is vital to measure success.
As more companies continue the return to in-person meetings, pharmaceutical event planners are finding new ways to help create memorable pharma events that offer attendees an amazing opportunity to connect and celebrate research or launch focused wins. For planners, understanding the type of meeting, the programs space and content, and who will be in attendance are all key points. And overall, ensuring their attendees have a seamless and enjoyable experience. C&IT