The Show Must Go On: Virtual conferences and primary insights

On the final day of 2019, a case of pneumonia with an unknown cause was reported by the Chinese authorities in Wuhan, Hubei province, to the World Health Organisation. As more cases slowly emerged over the coming days, the country’s National Health Commission isolated the virus causing fever and flu-like symptoms and identified it as a novel coronavirus, now known as COVID-19. Ever since, the spread of the virus has been gaining momentum and is now a truly global threat, penetrating all corners of the world.

With the true duration of its effect still a mystery to us, we are becoming increasingly gripped in the uncertainty that accompanies the relentless spread of this disease. Although we do not yet know the full ramifications of the virus, out of this dense fog of uncertainty one thing has become very clear: coronavirus is rapidly changing the way we work.

With each day that passes, increasing numbers of countries are implementing stringent measures to protect the general public and arrest the virus outbreak. The world is responding by quickly turning to technology in an attempt to keep us moving. This has fast become apparent to all of us here at Cambridge Healthcare Research as the virus seemed to tighten its grip at the same time that the 2020 conference season was about to commence, forcing our (well-cleaned) hands to take swift action in ensuring that we continue to deliver the insights and strategic direction that our clients are accustomed to. As the pandemic gained momentum in Europe and the US, medical conference organisers were also forced to respond and were faced with a difficult choice: cancel or find alternative means to proceed? Whilst many opted for the former, several organisers have opted to proceed by going ‘virtual’.

An entirely virtual conference is unprecedented territory, and how this will work in practice is still not entirely clear. What we know is that traditional conference coverage provides an opportunity of immense value to our clients to gain access to the unveiling of new data, product positioning and messaging; gather deep insights on our clients’ competitive environments; and very importantly, conduct primary research with key industry stakeholders to uncover the ‘hidden from view’ competitive insights.

Nevertheless, medical conferences going entirely virtual does not eliminate the opportunity to conduct primary research. Quite the contrary, virtual conferences enable us to continue generating powerful commercial insights through coupling virtual attendance with desk-based primary research which ensures continued support to our clients. Further, we believe there to be significant advantages to a virtual approach:

  • A virtual conference allows for a continuous and ongoing line of communication between us and the client team in a way that is slightly more challenging when attending in person

  • Attending sessions from in front of our computer screen gives us instant access to multiple communication channels allowing us to more frequently maintain alignment (should new information come to light warranting a shift in direction or focus) on key commercial questions to be pursued with desk-based primary research

  • Session clashes are commonplace at most medical conferences, often requiring us to sacrifice one for another. (Most) virtual conferences, however, allow for sessions to be covered retrospectively so that key information is not missed as a result of session clashes; archived presentation footage also affords the opportunity to go back and listen to any specific details of presentations that may require validation

  • Our primary research efforts are not impeded by, or dependent upon, key stakeholders being in attendance at the conference; speaking to company sources remotely allows us to be more targeted in our approach (e.g. targeting sales or marketing roles specifically related to the asset of interest), allows us to reach out to them directly, and allows us to schedule a time to speak that works for them

This by no means detracts from the value of conference coverage in the traditional sense. Further, we are not suggesting that when life as we know it is prised from the grip of this pandemic and we resume ‘business as usual’ that we will continue to conduct activities such as medical conferences virtually. But this is also not to say that these new measures will not illuminate new ways of working. Ways that prove to be of great benefit to our clients, to our own consultants, and even to the environment. But we must weather this storm, albeit a storm which we are prepared for, to know the true outcome. What we do know is that whilst us and our neighbours in Europe, the US and across the globe remain on lockdown, we will continue to deliver the support that our clients have entrusted us to deliver and value so highly.