Is it the time to say farewell to traditional methods of conducting medical conferences?
Medical conferences and events play an important part in the pharma industry. Practitioners treat them as a primary source of expanding their medical knowledge. [source] They get the latest medical news and learn how to help their patients efficiently. They have the possibility of networking and exchanging valuable professional experience. Advantages are apparent, and so are disadvantages. In a hectic life of a practitioner, a conference means taking some absences from work, time-consuming trips, incurring additional expenses and some unpredictable factors which need to be considered such as, e.g., illness. Looking at conferences from the perspective of an organizer, they are a must in the highly competitive pharma business. They are also quite demanding in terms of content, compliance and toughening legislation. [source] Organizing a conference can mean continuous challenges: to find an exceptional place, to secure KOLs (key opinion leaders) and to assemble an appropriate number of returning and new participants. It means providing outstanding lectures, meaningful interaction and some entertainment afterward. All of the above within a certain budget. All the above to make it up-to-date and memorable experience.
The conferencing business quickly embraces technology. Acc. to Market Research Media, the overall virtual event market is predicted to grow from $14 billion in 2018 to $18 billion in 2023. [source] It further assumes that traditional conferences and trade shows will gradually move towards virtual events, either to be completely replaced by them or will create a hybrid combining elements of a traditional event and a virtual one. [source] American Express’ Global Meetings and Events Forecast presents some main trends within the conferencing business which turn technology to the unique customer experience. [source] One of them is the use of augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR). Both become more and more affordable these days. The idea behind is to share the experience among the participants during the conference. In 2017 alone, 42% of examined companies used augmented reality during conferences and corporate events and 39% were using virtual reality, with further plans of usage at the level over 85% among the examined companies in 2018. Both technologies can sound even more alluring when thinking of 3D live-streaming during conferences. Artificial intelligence (AI) is another big tech thing to be further used during conferences. 42% of examined companies claim to use AI during conferences. AI can take the form of chatbots answering the participant’s simple questions or become a part of a conference mobile application which will further help in, e.g., networking. [source] Furthermore, event apps gain on massive popularity, with 91% of event planners seeing a return on investment from event apps. [source] Event apps allow for embracing augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) technologies, networking and many more. Last but not least, for an up-to-date conference, one cannot imagine buying a ticket or registration without social networking websites, combining the social aspects of human life with professional ones.
The situation in the pharma conferencing industry, which constitutes the biggest part of the education sector, is hardly different. [source] In the report “The Future of Medical Conferences” (FirstWord Perspectives Report) one can see that 86% of doctors use a smartphone for work and 53% use a tablet for work. There is a growing number of digital-natives and millennials who favor a 24/7, on-demand training to traditional conferences. [source] The report states that doctors were asked to assess in 2016 their physical and virtual attendance during conferences in 2021. Generally, respondents declared participation in person in a smaller number of conferences. [source] When asked about the impact of online interactive medical conferences on their ability to access knowledge, over 54% saw a positive impact. [source] The main drivers for attending a virtual conference were: comfort to access the conference anytime (acc. to 32% of respondents) and progress in technology (28%). [source]
Highp conferencing comes as the answer to the growing demand for digitalization in the field of the pharma conferencing. This is one of the services available within the Highp tool, other being: follow-ups, video messaging, audio messages, education programs, and promotion campaigns. Highp as a tool is easy to use and does not require a user to be tech-savvy. No app installation is needed. Designed to be as intuitive as the use of a smartphone, the messages are sent as SMS but opens in a rich feature format (audio, video or presentation) supplying information and education straight to a doctor´s mobile.
Highp conferencing helps cascade global trends into the local practitioner’s environment. It acts as a newsroom, so a practitioner does not need to wait for updates published in pharma magazines. The messages from the conference can be simply seen or heard on the go. They are usually quite short: 2-3 minutes long so they can be easily squeezed into a practitioner’s agenda with a possibility to request more detailed information. Highp holds communication with a non-physically attending doctor the same way as it does do with attendees. One can find there a pre-congress phase which builds the excitement, a core conference, i.e., supplying the daily highlights from the conference, and finally, a wrap-up stage (with a survey and a key message recall). The conferencing functionality in Highp has been successfully tested several times, to mention some recent conferences as ASCO (the American Society of Clinical Oncology), EBCC (the European Breast Cancer Conference) or ECTRIMS (the European Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis).
The advantages of using Highp are numerous. A pharma company can attract the group of practitioners who otherwise would not be able to attend. Both for the company and for the practitioner the cost of virtual attending is lower than participation in person. Practitioners have hands on latest knowledge immediately just via a smartphone, which everybody has.
It seems that further progress in digitalization of pharma conferences is inevitable. The quicker one adopts efficient tools, the bigger benefits one obtains. With Highp tool lagging behind is not an option. On the contrary, it means getting a competitive advantage over other pharma players.
MERCK – a global company with over 350 years of experience, founded in Darmstadt, Germany in 1668 by Friedrich Jacob Merck, now with almost 53 000 employees in 66 countries working on breakthrough solutions and technologies. Healthcare, Life Science and Performance Materials are MERCK’s core businesses. In all three sectors, it offers specialized and high-quality products.
Considering recent changes in European law system (GDPR implementation) Merck is required to gather a personal opt-in for further continuous communication with HCPs. It is a rather challenging activity involving multiple assets and resources, including proper tools, representative training, and development of an add-value – “a reason to believe” – to HCPs give Merck an e-permission.
Connectmedica where responsible for complete project development and implementation using Highp platform and service. During the Polish Clinical Oncology Society Congress, Merck was acquiring opt-in with the support of our conference representatives. Using Highp platform we were able to send instantly thank you message to physicians and reinforce the promotional process of a new app – CRC box, designed especially for oncologists, bringing higher satisfaction and Merck brand awareness. With Highp automation we are able to followed-up communication to successfully engaged hundreds of HCPs remotely.
Boehringer Ingelheim is a global group of companies embracing many cultures and diverse societies. Boehringer Ingelheim was founded in 1885 by Albert Boehringer in Ingelheim am Rhein, Germany. The Boehringer Ingelheim group is one of the world’s 20 leading pharmaceutical companies.
Boehringer Ingelheim’s aims to inform all employees and stakeholders about key marketing and medical activities taking place at the international congresses to streamline communication across the organization and synchronized knowledge across departments.
We recorded and edited high-quality video materials for our collaborative project – „SPAF Academy”, including the 21st International Congress of Polish Cardiac Society – the biggest event in the cardiological environment, with over 4000 HCPs attending the event.
During the conference we sent multiple Highp messages to Boehringer Ingelheim’s employees who could not be present at PTK, keeping them up-to-date with all the necessary information. In result, all of the representatives and office employees were up to date.
For the majority of HCPs, conferences are the venues where they can learn about new research, drugs and essential studies. In the best case scenario, as a CMO of the pharmaceutical company, you should do everything to cover as many medical conferences as it is possible. But there are a few drawbacks.
Conferences are expensive.
In every possible way. If you are planning to emphasize your presence, you either need to be an organizer or one of the primary sponsors. How much to pay for it? There are a lot of offers to look through, even open to the public, like this World Cancer Congress that will be held in Kuala Lumpur later this year. [source] After reading almost thirty pages of this spectacular presentation, you will be probably convinced why it is so essential to becoming a sponsor, but also how to get rid of hundreds of thousands of dollars. And to be frank, it is not just a well-marketed pharma needs creation. It is a plain fact. Conferences are costly. At least, classic ones.
As this conference example covers only one event for the one branch of the medicine, usually pharmaceutical companies have a more comprehensive offer to sell. With a broader range of drugs, different specializations, CMOs needs to reserve millions of dollars to reach the audience of the leading medical conferences each year. According to the report from the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education, the pharmaceutical industry spent on accredited continuing medical education in 2016 hit $704 million [source].
The top of the iceberg
Is it rational? If you can afford it, then yes. Sponsorship of the conference gives you a lot of opportunities, but to materialize you need a lot more than just paying for sponsor package. When the event day arrives, you are becoming a captain of a ship during a storm. All hands on deck needed.
To squeeze the most from what you paid for, you should provide a little army of staff, who would take every opportunity to talk to the doctors, lead the keynotes, present your drugs and research, speak during the banquets, presentations, ask questions. It is an unfinished list of things to do during the conference. And it also cost a lot. Just take logistics, accommodations, outfits.
After having all of this you can probably call yourself a conference winner, but when you look at it from the broader perspective, you will see that it is just a top of the iceberg. Thera is plenty of other conferences that you can’t attend. More doctors that will not hear a word from you, and you never know, who will become the most influential practitioner or academic researcher in the upcoming years. Maybe he or she is not present at the event you are paying to attend.
So how to get the most of it? What is growth hacking and how to implement it in your pharma marketing plan?
For many reasons, growth hackers are focusing on innovation, scalability, and user connectivity. Instead of a traditional way of buying the access to the target group by advertising, sponsorship and so on, they are thinking about cheaper but as well or even more effective alternatives.
It is thanks to the fast development of the new technologies that we can try the new possibilities. Twenty years ago we read every email we got from the top to the bottom of it, sometimes several times. Now, we don’t. With so many of them, our mailboxes, like Gmail can even categorize them as offers, notification, and social media related content, that we don’t even see it in our main inbox. There are a lot less so-called evergreens that in previous years. What does it mean? That if you are doing something first from the crowd, you can gain much more than when everybody does so.
So what about conferences? Is there any modern alternative for it?
Conferencing is the new deal
There is a new solution called conferencing. It is very basic in the formula but can lead to the unexpected outcomes. It bases on the video messages called Highp videos, that can be quickly sent through the SMS without any need of login to the particular platform or account. Companies who offer this solution, like Connectmedica, cooperate with the most recognizable doctors worldwide. These top medical influencers are attending a lot of conferences, and they become the source of the knowledge for the other doctors who are not present. Usually, an attendee records few videos: useful materials before the conference, some highlight during it and recalls just after it. The statistic shows that the open rate of that kind of messages is enormous. In about two hours after receiving, about eighty percent of the recipients open the message. What is more important, it is valuable for the doctors. For nearly ninety percent of them, getting the news from other professor is trustworthy. As being so intuitive, they prefer this type of connection. Not to mention that it is straightforward to profile the needs of doctors and send them only info that is highly recommended for them.
There is a rising demand for the knowledge, exceptionally accessible one. The option of the conference coverage enriched with the video messages is highly attractive. It can even use powerpoint slides to picture the topic better.
Thanks to the ease of getting doctors contact data like their phone number or email address it is more comfortable for the pharmaceutical companies to use the big data solution to even better communicate.
But first and foremost it broadens the audience for the fracture of the typical conference costs. As conferences are usually only marketing and brand awareness events, and sales go only through the medical representatives, in conferencing, you can merge those actions as the reps could efficiently use video messages to show the interesting conference data to the doctors they are cooperating. In 2018 conferencing is present on more than 20 international events like ASCO, EULAR or EADV.
For at least 15 last years, the topic of pharma’s marketing return on investment is a hot one. There are organizations which entirely focus on that matter, making annual conferences and writing reports. It is because the market defined the need quite clearly: to deliver more significant profits from increasingly smaller promotional budgets. 
However, measuring ROI in pharmaceutical marketing is a little bit tricky. It would be perfect to know the exact value of this factor, especially when CMO is talking with CFO on the next year budget. However, the fact is, not all of the marketing goals are easy to count or capitalize. Which part of the marketing budget is countable? The answer is quite simple – conferences. They can absorb even 70 percent of the total marketing spending.
First of all, medicine is a very fast growing branch of science and doctors, both educators and practitioners, need to be up to date with the latest knowledge. Exchange their thoughts, findings, and experiments. Conferences are the best to accumulate all of it in one place and make it in the short period. Labeling such vital gatherings with a pharmaceutical company logo is expected to be beneficial.
Moreover, it is. According to Keyword Pharma report by Dr. Barrie G Jamesdoctors are more keen to prescribe a drug they heard of during an event. It is in their top four decision-making factors, just under such undeniable as being asked for a specific medicine by a patient or being used to prescribing some drug. In this case, we are talking about a sales perspective. However, what about going a little bit deeper? Is it possible to connect conferences to the production process?
It is imperative. None of the drugs could enter the market without the proper research. Moreover, that is made by scientists, doctors who are working at universities and has the knowledge, skills, and reputation to carry out the appropriate tests. For this academics, being a keynote speaker at the major conference is desirable. For the pharmaceutical companies, the higher-ranked scientist to perform drug tests means the easiest way to get all the needed approvals. Benefits are mutual. So pharma wants to pay for the best keynoters available.
On-demand society changes everything
We are living in an on-demand society in which learning new things is quite simple and determined mostly by the internet connection. Almost every knowledge is right there, just one click away. If you would like to read a rare book, not present in any library or bookstore near you or even learn the Etruscan language – you can do it. Whenever you want and wherever you are. However, with the medical subjects, things are a little bit different, and more difficult to reach. We are not talking about some scientific disputes, but the life-changing knowledge that can do much good, but if not understand correctly, can also do immeasurable harm. That is why the medical research took time, and the conferences are the best venues to present findings by its authors and contributors. It is another example of why these meetings are so important for the healthcare development.
Financial drain for pharmaceutical companies
However, on the other hand, organizing such a significant event is a financial drain. Even short, two-day conferences for not more than 300 participants could cost about $ 1 mln. Of course, the top-notch lecturers demand the highest wages, but there are a lot of peripheral expenses that make the final amount goes through the roof. Logistics, hotels, booth makers, staff, security, catering to name the few. Is it possible to cut some of it down? For years it wasn’t an option, but now, the new possibilities appeared on the horizon. Thanks to the latest technologies, a pharmaceutical company could organize top events for a fracture of the original price. Here are some hints.
As all of us probably agree, the conference attendants, both the lecturers and the audience, are the core and the most important added value of the conference. However, should they meet in a real conference room? It is not needed anymore. Some companies are trying to change it and go into the future. Video recording of the sessions is becoming more and more popular. The others try to gather all of the local doctors in one place, like a movie theatre, and then organize live streaming with a famous speaker. Some try to record short interviews and sum-ups with the keynoters and then send it to the audiences, usually weeks after the event. Those are some excellent directions for changes but still not enough. The real future lies in a process that covers more than those single actions.
The future of conferencing
Doctors need some pre-conference materials to get to know the topic and prepare for the central part. Then many highlights during the conference and recalls after it. Only practical solutions could work properly. That is why video messaging like Highp are getting more and more attention. Due to its high open-rate (80% of the doctors watch the video in just 2 hours after getting it) and simplicity – just getting the link via personal SMS, it seems to be the perfect solution. For 90% of the doctors, a video message from the professor is considered to be reliable. Whats more, the simple way of getting it, which not require any particular actions, logins or registrations is making it even more attractive. Last but not least, the messages could be personalized according to the preferences of each doctor.
This conferencing solution is getting more and more users as its credibility goas higher thanks to its presence on the leading conferences, like ASCO, EULAR or EADV, to name just a few. For the pharmaceutical marketing departments, it becomes a tempting alternative to broaden the audience for less than a fracture of an original cost. Once they cope with expensive conferences ending up with getting common effects, now they can extend those costs to a broader group of doctors.
According to the data analysis, conferencing help in building brand awareness and getting the real leads. The knowledge of what do doctors need is also crucial. What is more important, it engages about 55 percent of the physicians. When the keynote speaker is a match, the engagement rate rise to even 72 percent.
When talking about ROI, in this case, it is not even an investment but rather wise decision to be made to reach for more with spending much less.
 Pharmaceutical marketing return-on-investment: a European perspective – Michel Rod, Nicholas J. Ashill, and Janet Carruthers
Anyone who attends conferences knows how crucial it is to be up to date with the newest data. What is even more critical, having a chance to listen to the most influential people and their current findings in the fields we are interested. But it is not effortless.
Conferences as seen from a pharmaceutical company perspective
One of the values of conferences that are crucial for the pharmaceutical companies is to build trust among the doctors. Achieving this goal is easier when the keynote speakers are experts and have a perfect reputation. On the other hand, thanks to an added value, and the ability to deepen doctor’s knowledge, organizers could influence the most ambitious attendants to become a keynote speaker one day. Not to mention that during medical conferences a lot of meetings and a backstage conversation took place, which in connection with the newest knowledge and the up to date research data are the key values for this group.
Both pharmaceutical companies and the doctors are aware of the fact that in today’s digitalized world the masses are dealing the cards. With so many troubles to maintain working and affordable health care system, everyone knows that refundable medicines are the most important ones. But to be a part of this system, the drug needs to have a support from the opinion leaders, which could be built during the conference.
A lot of companies find it crucial to becoming a partner of a significant branch conference, having the proper booth and a chance to make a prelection. Especially for pharmaceutical companies, the expenses for the Continuing Medical Education (CME) are enormous. According to an annual report from the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education, companies from this sector spends more than $700 million on that goal. About half of this spending goes just for the registration fees. It is huge. There are some two-day events that cost a single company about $750 000. 
We are facing a situation in which the majority of company’s marketing budget goes for fees, booths, logistics, travel, hotels and so on. Not to mention providing stuff to handle the conference. What are the outcomes of the enormous financial investment? Unfortunately, in the vast number of cases, potential revenues do not offset the costs incurred. Why is that?
The needs of an attendant
Conference attendants use new technology to peak information that is most important to them. Thanks to event calendars that are present all over the Internet, they can choose the conference that matches their needs the best way. What’s more, equipped with mobile applications, participants can plan their presence on the speeches or accompanying events that suits them best without the need of attending everything the agenda contains.
Shortcuts – the new beginning
It is a significant change, like comparing the old IKEA style. Everyone knows this pattern in which clients went through the whole store until they reached the check-out. The new model, on the other hand, allows you to get to know the exact location of the product you picked before you even leave your home and finally you can use the shortcuts to get them the fastest way.
The same is with conferencing. Let say that you spend a big part of your marketing budget on the proper booth. It may not be a bad idea if it is located on the main route that most of the attendants must walk every time they go for or back from the lecture. But what if you have not so visible but still expensive place in the second or third row? Your opportunities of getting the proper attention are decreasing. It is because people, especially medical doctors, are smart enough to assume that it is your duty to get their attention. On the overcrowded marketplace, and the pharmaceutical industry is one of such, especially in the era of patent cliffs and generic medicines, doctors know that companies will do everything they could do to contact them. So the option of even seeing the pharmaceutical company booth may seem to some them not very important.
How to be remembered
In that case, you may not reach your primary goals which are entering the broad group of doors and building the healthy and impactful relationship with them. What more, due to the vast numbers of companies like your at the conference it is more than possible, that your target group will quickly forget you and your message. A pharmaceutical company could try to gain maximum attention by organizing the conference by themselves, but in this scenario, costs will rocket through the roof. Providing top-notch lecturers is expensive. While the company needs to reach the broad range of the healthcare practitioners, focusing on the few may not be the best solution. Thanks to the new technology, there is a solution.
Virtual Congress – the solution of the 21st century
The most important results of attending the conference are being up-to-date with the newest medical research and getting to know people, which means building face-to-face relationships. With virtual conferencing pharmaceutical company could easily reach both goals or rather provide the benefits of it to doctors, attendants of the event. Seeing the world as a global village is crucial.
Let’s suppose that company would like to target doctors from the US specializing in one medical field. After the research, it cames out that there are some great scientific authorities from Argentina, France, South Africa, Japan and New Zeland. It is usually costly to have them all in one country. With the virtual conference, you don’t need to worry about the logistics and its costs. What is more, you can not only invite few most prominent doctors from around the world but the whole groups from their countries. That could be very important for your US target group. Building a relationship with the colleagues from other nations, that in another case wouldn’t come to the conference. That is an extra benefit which doesn’t make the organization of the conference more expensive.
How does it work?
The future of conferencing is in the video messages. That is how the system works. Virtual Attendants can have access to pre-conference materials – series of videos from the lecturers that could build an image about the topic of the conference speech. Next, during the conference, they get the highlights and after it, series of recalls. It is crucial to maintaining doctor’s interest through the more extended period. It also answers the need of providing knowledge on demand. Congres attendants could access materials whenever they like.
The crucial factor which determines if the virtual congress will end up as a success is simplicity. One of the best solutions provides Highp system. It simplifies the way that video messages get to the final recipient who only needs to have a smartphone without any particular application installed. That is a cost reduction as well.
For decision makers in pharmaceutical companies marketing departments, it is a game-changing ability. Knowing their budgets, they can now spend more time and money on activities that are crucial to generating valuable leads than spending a lot on other people businesses like hotels owner, airlines, booth producers and lots more.