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Running medical meetings

Learning from large-scale events

Running medical meetings

Conferences and summits are among the essential facets of sharing healthcare information and education, but the inevitable formulaic nature can cause attendees to submit to a mundane complacency.

But are all meetings really that similar? Think of two types of event that may appear poles apart.  What are the disparities between 'world events' - those major, state-run events that capture a prime time slot on the evening news - and the hundreds of medical conferences and investigator meetings that happen in darkened rooms across the globe?

Event planners will always have fundamentals to consider. This include the understanding that every event has a purpose: what are the messages, and how can they be delivered in a way that sticks? And how will the audience view the presenters or absorb the key information?

Client relationship
Agencies responsible for delivery can then look at how they work with the client. They can distinguish their response to these questions into two arenas:

  1. How should the communication experts interpret the brief, with a mind on understanding the audiences and stakeholders.  Are all audiences the same?
  2. What to actually do. The so called 'bringing the event to life'.  What plans and processes do we put in place to develop the plan.

There are two distinguishable audience profiles within this question. For 'world' events, you are often reaching a global audience via television, almost always in a public fashion, and there is always always the press. Alternatively, in the medical sphere, you can expect informed, scientific delegates in a live environment, occasionally webcast or recorded for later availability.  So far, things seem quite different.

Then there are stakeholders. In the 'world' sector this is often a collection of government organisational departments, sometimes conflicting in priorities and objectives, and civil servants. A healthcare client will generally be fronted by a marketing team and a single project leader from its brand department. If a communications agency is involved, you can probably expect a presence here too.

How the stakeholders operate presents its own set of challenges too. The sensitivities of the 'world' sector manifest in secretive meetings, 24-hour emails, decisions and non-decisions, last minute changes and demands, security focus, approvals… and the list goes on.

Healthcare, however, is also demanding, with stakeholders upon stakeholders to consider confidentiality issues, phone calls, small meetings, 11th hour requests and their fair share of approvals and compliance.  With this in mind, maybe these areas are not so different after all.

This presents a standard set of circumstances that can arise pre- or during production for any client. The primary points of difference here are audience profile combined with scale and complexity. Good planning processes will always be necessary.    

Take the 2009 G20 London summit of world leaders. All the normal considerations had to be taken into account, but scaled multiple times. All told, there were 1,100 items of furniture, 1,280 crew, 3,000 journalists and broadcast links to 28 countries with literally millions of viewers to consider.

How an agency responds to these factors shapes the planning process, informs resources and may shed light on their priorities.  But there is more – agencies need to consider the impact of the event, which is the main reason for holding it.

The response
A response can generally be informed by memorability of the event. How impactful was the overall experience? What would resonate that people might find unforgettable? It's that memorable factor that needs to be pursued.

Which brings us to the critical differentiator - how can agencies create experiences relevant to audience?

Interrogating the brief is the start. Bearing in mind what we know of our audience and stakeholders, you need to clarify exactly what the client wants to happen: what is the change it wants; does it want its audience to take action; does it want a change in belief or mindset?

Creating the unforgettable factor is rooted in the science of memory and how it can be the trigger for change. Is an event positively influenced by that remarkable element that makes it memorable? 

Essentially, the approach always begins the same way. But good agencies will create a different end experience every time because rigorous dissection of any brief will unearth the unique factors of a client or project.

Understanding the client's objectives (and the audience's mindset) before designing creative ideas means there is no reason every meeting cannot be completely different, even if not separated by sector.

The merit of dealing with personalities who hold such different values can be a blessing if viewed objectively. The security and confidentiality of an event like G20 can teach things that can be applied directly to the sensitivities of a delicate healthcare landscape.

As long as these lessons are backed with strong, robust delivery and acted on the duty of care to a client, then the rest will fall into place.

Return on investment
Healthcare delegates constantly attend meetings, summits and conferences with varying levels of attention and effectiveness, but the annual monetary cost to these meetings can be inconceivable.  Measuring the return on this investment can be an unquantifiable process. Similarly, nobody can be sure how many people will view, or have a vested interest in, an event of international significance. 

Thinking about differentiation and memorability can be the key, not just to producing a first-class experience, but to forming one that will stick with an audience and prompt the action points or change in attitude that a client wants to see.

How far we amplify that memorable factor can frequently be attributed to its subjectivity. By tailoring experiences to different lengths we can target whole localities, small teams or even individuals through such activities as personalise simulated experiences.

When it all boils down, the 'keep the end in mind' philosophy rings true. The noted similarities remain real but the way agencies work is different.

The key for a successful event is audience insight with application. The amount of time invested for different scale events may vary, but as long as each event is prioritised in terms of messages, delivery and memorability, clients can receive strong, relevant results.

Article by
Graeme Beavers

vice president at WRG North America. Email him

26th March 2014

From: Marketing



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