The new world of association congresses

These past few months have shown us that the world we live in has changed almost overnight.

While the environment in which businesses can engage their communities is being disrupted, the customer and external audience needs remain constant. The medical congress world is no exception to this.

Healthcare professionals (HCPs) still need to continue to support patients and engage with peers during the coronavirus pandemic. And medical and association-led congresses are a chance to share insights, data and showcase scientific breakthroughs.

They are an opportunity for the healthcare industry to connect and engage with thought leaders and patient advocacy groups, and most importantly to highlight scientific progress. However, these key face-to-face events and activities are now facing a new paradigm.

The question remains: how can these key calendar milestones continue to engage attendees in a new world.

Reimagining the rules of engagement

We all know that the world we are starting to reconnect with is not the same as the one we left, and the meetings and events sector has felt this particularly acutely.

But rather than trying to rush back to the ‘old world’ as a matter of default, perhaps it’s more interesting to evaluate what the lockdown period has taught us, especially when it comes to people’s behaviours, wants and needs. It’s about using the results of the pandemic as a chance to discover new possibilities and avoid a pendulum swing back to the old status quo.

It’s time we reimagined the rules of engagement, while creating something compelling, something that cuts through, something with the power to ensure engagement to the point of immersion.

How to stand out from the crowd

Like all events, associations have had to quickly pivot from physical to virtual environments and we’ve seen this first-hand as an agency steeped in healthcare communications and events experience.

However, we’re at a different stage of the pandemic now and aren’t as restricted in what we can offer, meaning it’s critically important for pharmaceutical companies to leverage the opportunity to create ongoing engagement, rather than simply relying on a virtual event replication. More actions can and should be taken to maximise this opportunity, or these businesses will be left behind.

With in-depth experience in creating bespoke, educational and scientific exchange platforms and events for pharma, we know the ingredients, what’s currently missing and what’s needed to pull off an event of this type.

In order to achieve this, the industry as a whole must find new ways to engage, new ways to stand out from the crowd, novel ways to connect and continue to provide value, education and insight.

Right now, the industry is working to deploy purely virtual congress and exhibit activities, yet we believe the model of tomorrow will be one of hybrid congress activities – a digital and physical approach, rather than either/or. That’s why the industry needs to be ready to react, and work on creating a new kind of future.

The future is hybrid

Creating an environment that lends itself to both the physical and the digital gives the opportunity to engage not only more people, but for a longer period of time, therefore maximising the accessibility to the science. Only a few associations seem to have seized the opportunity for ongoing education provided by the longer timeline of freely available content.

HCPs are widely sharing the benefits of having virtual meetings, which include sessions being more accessible for participants, having a wider reach globally across time zones, removing any expenses for travelling and saving valuable clinic time.

However, we have also seen HCPs expressing some concerns. Some are overwhelmed at the sheer digital noise, lack of user experience on the virtual journey and an inability to get to what they want, when they want it. Likewise, some are feeling an unfilled void from the lack of in-person meetings. As for many HCPs, this is a key time to interact with peers and network.

So in the world of hybrid, those who can travel, or live locally, will have the option to attend, and if parts of the event are being live streamed, then others who can’t be there physically will also have the chance to engage. Opening congresses and exhibits to wider audiences is the future.

Pre-COVID-19, we had seen a growing trend within the congress arena and an increase in digital behaviours exhibited by HCPs engaging with content online. This will likely continue to evolve. As the prospect of imposed travel restrictions looks to continue into the months and very possibly year ahead, understanding that congress events play a key role in the strategic communications and go-to market strategy

for many pharma brands is key. But most importantly, from a human perspective, it’s about creating a global platform for sharing knowledge and progression in science. Therefore some serious questions need to be raised, because if associations do not collaborate effectively with the right strategic partners and involve the healthcare industry within that process, everyone, including patients who might have benefited from new treatments, will suffer.

Source PMLive