How to make an impact at a virtual congress

Natasha Cowan | 20 October 2020

The pharmaceutical industry has long relied on congresses to build relationships with customers and to showcase the latest data and information on new additions to the pipeline. However, COVID-19 has changed the congress experience significantly. Social distancing and travel restrictions have forced congress organizers to make a tough decision between canceling events or re-formatting for a remote audience.


As hard as congress organizers try, replicating the congress experience on a virtual platform is difficult. Rather than trying to replicate the in-person congress experience, the industry has a real opportunity to innovate, leverage the benefits of digital channels, and approach congresses in a completely different way.

More competition than ever before

Virtual congresses are different from physical congresses and bring with them a new set of challenges. Firstly, delegate behavior differs. When a healthcare professional attends a physical congress, they commit the entire day to the event. At a virtual congress, they can log on or off at a time that suits them, and they can become distracted by work or by their home life. So, you are competing with more than just your competitors for attendees’ time.

During the ASCO 2020 Annual Meeting, just 16% of respondents visited virtual booths or exhibits from pharmaceutical companies. Among those who did visit, more than half spent significantly less time visiting the stands than when attending an in-person congress. With no congress hall to walk around the delegates may not have felt inspired to visit the exhibits.

We have more patience in the physical world. Slow loading times, poor user experience, content that is too personalized and perceived as invasive, poorly written content, and content that is not personalized enough, all leads users to click away from a website without a second thought.

These challenges change the essence of the congress experience. However, virtual congresses also provide new ways of engaging customers and develop a captive digital audience. So, how can pharmaceutical companies create an impactful virtual congress experience?

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