“I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” – Jimmy Dean
The rapid shift to virtual has created a significant problem for large conference organisers – especially associations and not-for-profit organisations, that depend on high percentages of their revenue being generated from the sponsorship of such meetings.
Understandably, sponsors can be reticent to switch to virtual alternatives. They want to know what value they will get from spending large amounts of money on a virtual booth or sponsored webinars. Typically, in the physical environment, significant value is garnered from the face-to-face time sponsors spend with customers and the ability to network in a neutral environment. The virtual world is unfamiliar, and sponsors may struggle to see how that networking can occur and can perceive that value is lost.
In the life sciences industry, there’s another element that is adding to companies’ concerns – compliance.
What does that mean in the virtual world? How can they be sure that they are meeting their compliance requirements? In the physical environment, companies attending a conference in a specific country need to ensure their materials are approved by a specific date and how they need to speak with healthcare professionals in that market. But how are those compliance requirements and regulations affected in a virtual meeting and what steps do marketers need to take to get approval from their regulatory departments?
These issues create new challenges – but also opportunities – for organisers. Keeping existing sponsors and attracting new ones begins by having open conversations. It’s important to understand and ask the sponsor what it is they expect to get out of a meeting, what their objective is in engaging with the association – whether physical or virtual. For some sponsors the priority may be more about brand awareness and visibility, for some it might be a specific treatment focus, and for others it may be wanting to glean insights and understanding from the physician audience.
For the organiser it is important to understand that all these varying goals can be achieved in the virtual environment, but you need the right session design, with a variety of tools in place and the industry expertise and contacts to support customers. Most importantly, you need to build that understanding by asking the appropriate questions.
Getting the look right
The look and feel of a virtual booth is also key. In the physical world, sponsors often spend a large amount of money on creating booths that attract visitors. While different, that is possible in the virtual world with the right solutions and platforms.
A sponsor may want to create a branded look that replicates their virtual booth or have different ways of connecting, such as through video chat. In a physical booth you may have touch screens and a learning path or education, or a ‘Meet the expert’ setup. With the right platform all of that functionality is not only possible in the virtual world but can even be better.
You can potentially offer detailed, real-time analytics in the background to provide ROI follow-up information to a sponsor in a way that is easier in the virtual world than the physical one. There is also the potential to give exposure to a much wider audience in a virtual or hybrid meeting.
Where some meeting organisers come unstuck is that they are either struggling to have the right conversation with the sponsor or exhibitor, unable to communicate the value proposition, or they are not bringing the right partners on board to offer the level of functionality that will engage sponsors.
Meeting organisers also need to assess their pricing points to ensure sponsors are getting value – and equally important, feel they are getting value.
As meetings, conferences and exhibitions continue to transition to the virtual space, success will depend 5 key points:
1. Understanding the industry,
2. Knowing their pain points,
3. Having the technology and resources to support customers’ objectives,
4. Being willing to review your value proposition,
5. And having the skill set to act as a facilitator.
Caroline MacKenzie is the Operations Director at Open Audience, which specialises in making life sciences meetings more engaging with more positive, successful outcomes.
The Open Audience team helps to strategise and prepare pre- and post-meeting as well as providing real-time support and guidance during the event. Open Audience also offers customisable, multilingual engagement platforms that include interactive polling, surveys, and ideas exchange.