In 2020, the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry was turned upside-down.
The variety of restrictions implemented by world leaders to prevent the spread of coronavirus saw pharmaceutical and healthcare organisations fundamentally change their way of working; from conducting research and clinical trials to the sales and distribution of products.
A significant percentage of the thousands of pharmaceutical industry events, congresses and expos that take place across the globe each year were cancelled or postponed.
70% of pharma event managers resisted the cancellations by moving their traditionally face-to-face events into the online space, with many of those having already taken advantage of virtual technologies in their physical events prior to the pandemic.
While some professionals in the sector have argued that pharma and healthcare events won't be virtual permanently, many organisations have chosen to implement their pharma and healthcare events online well into 2021 and believe that they will continue to take place virtually for many years to come.
So, the question that remains: now that COVID-19 has thrown pharma events deeper into the online space than ever before, how will they be affected for near future?
3 ways COVID-19 and the subsequent move to online platforms has affected pharma and healthcare events for good:
1. Attendance of both delegates and speakers will be higher and more varied
While attendance at physical pharma and healthcare events is typically high, those organisations who have hosted online events have reported greater (and some even record-breaking) attendance rates compared to their face-to-face counterparts.
What’s more, delegates have found themselves more easily able to attend the seminars, talks, stands and booths than they would normally. Additionally, if they are late to or unable to attend a session, recordings and downloadable content will be available to them so that they do not miss out completely, as they might at a physical event.
In sum, due to the more accessible and affordable nature of virtual events compared to face-to-face ones, not only will more delegates and speakers be able to attend events that they may not have previously been able to, but the scope of pharmaceutical healthcare knowledge, research findings and information they will have access to will also vastly increase.
As stated by Alastair Reece at Gravit8:
“It might seem entirely obvious that our virtual events allow our brand customers to access a far wider audience due than their physical events; however, it wasn't until we really started analysing the data from our events that we realised the true value and power that virtual could harness.
Thanks to our platform, our brand customers are now able to reach a global audience instantly, and are tapping into segments which were either out of reach geographically, economically or due to other barriers such as language, time zones or a lack of desire to travel for sustainability, fear, or time away from family out of the office.
The diversity of the audiences attending events has also widened, as we are seeing young audiences online, and also some less senior positions who now have fewer obstacles to attending.
Once we'd identified this trend in our usage analytics, we set about trying to harness maximum impact for our brands by offering the ability to access richer, more complex, deep dive self-explored content, alongside the live human interactions available when needed for help or to further the conversation.”
2. Opportunities for connectivity and networking will be greater
According to research, up to half of medical experts attend physical conferences not simply for the educational content, but for face-to-face interaction with colleagues and networking opportunities.
However, many organisations have found that, as a result of attending events virtually, their scope for networking has expanded; not only due to the increased number and variety of attendants, but as a result of being more easily able to reach out to people.
In traditional in-person seminars with hundreds of attendees, for example, it has been historically difficult for delegates to find the opportunity to talk with speakers due to high demand or limited time between talks.
However, with an online event space, contact details and chat functions can be made readily available for professionals to connect with each other, both immediately and following the event.
As an example, Gravit8's 3D spaces for pharma events can be linked from any congress social media account, email or website, which means that, rather than struggling to recall or find contact and organisation details later down the line, delegates can access and download the information they need at the click of a button.
Similarly, arranging to meet with other professionals at certain times in a physical environment can be challenging; for example, if a seminar overruns or the physical venue is large and difficult to navigate, or has limited quiet spaces for private discussions.
In fact, Gravit8's virtual pharma events incorporate video stream-enabled meeting rooms, which means that the hassle of finding a suitable meeting location and needing to account for “travel time” between one session and the next is removed. These meeting rooms are also private and secure, so professionals have the opportunity to connect without being disturbed.
As powerfully stated by the European Society of Cardiology following their first virtual congress:
“The meetings were virtual, but the discussions were real.”
3. Hybrid events will become the norm
With the wealth of benefits that professionals have found through attending online pharmaceutical industry events, a general consensus has grown among the industry that, once pharma events are able to take place in the physical environment again, they will be prominently supported by digital innovations and technology.
As stated by Teresa Peña, Executive Principal of Medical Communications at ICON plc:
“After COVID-19, it could become standard practice for congresses to provide virtual sessions and digital access to content. Pharma can help reshape the traditional and predominantly face-to-face landscape through sharing of already developed best practices, technologies and sponsorship of virtual programmes – to enhance and promote broader audience reach to countries, scientists and healthcare professionals when travel is limited by health risk, cost and clinic work.”
And similarly, by Dr Paul Tunnah of pharmaphorum:
“The world is not polarised into virtual and physical spaces, and I don’t see things changing forever. Instead, I think the lasting effect of the coronavirus outbreak will be an acceleration of the smarter use of digital alongside physical to help us work as efficiently and as user-focused as possible.”
For the number of doors that the COVID-19 pandemic closed for pharma and healthcare events in just 2020 alone, it has also opened a window to a lifetime of new and exciting developments for the future of events in the industry, and those who operate within it.
Our experts at Gravit8 have worked in pharmaceutical industry events for the last 20 years and are proud to have been chosen by seven of the world’s top 12 healthcare and pharmaceutical companies to bring their physical events into the virtual world as part of the Gravit8 platform.