Connections to Collaborations: Cracking the Code to Conference Season Success 30th October 2023
In the dynamic life sciences sector, conferences and events serve as important platforms for networking, knowledge exchange, and business growth. To shine a light on the event strategies that truly make a difference, we asked six panellists working within the industry to share their opinions, experiences, and recommendations. The responses covered a wide range of marketing topics from branding to communications, with several key themes emerging.
Maximising brand exposure was a theme that many of our panellists discussed. In particular, implementing strategies to effectively promote event attendance was highlighted as a key consideration. Within this area, Isabel Gómez, Lubrizol Life Science, outlined the advantages of creating a complete brand experience that enables customers to interact before, during, and after the event. Similarly, Rossana Carne, PROCOS, spoke of the value of utilising digital sponsorship opportunities and social media to help brands increase visibility.
When attending events, thought leadership was identified as a key opportunity to connect with customers, with Simone Manzini, PROCOS, commenting on its power to help instil confidence in prospective customers. Considering thought leadership planning, Isabel Gómez, Lubrizol Life Science, noted the importance of companies taking a consumer-validated and data-driven approach to both topic and platform selection.
Networking was also frequently cited by our panellists as a major benefit, including Clara Usanna, PROCOS, who highlighted the ability of events to bring together a diverse range of industry stakeholders. Explaining how companies can make the most of networking opportunities, both Simone Manzini, PROCOS and Isabel Gómez, Lubrizol Life Science, highlighted the value of pre-conference partnering platforms. Alicia Xaka, PROCOS, also provided insights into best practices for engaging with new vendors or customers, specifically highlighting the key questions to ask each group.
Despite the return of in-person events, the continued benefits of embracing digital opportunities were mentioned by many of our panellists. Outlining their potential to increase engagement with remote attendees, Rossana Carne, Procos, discussed the utility of initiatives like virtual company tours. Likewise, Isabel Gómez, Lubrizol Life Science, explained the advantages of maximising the accessibility of online events—such as providing on-demand access to webinars for viewers who could not attend live.
Finally, accurately determining the return on investment (ROI) from event attendance was voiced as a challenge by several of our panellists. With many companies using different metrics for success, Kenneth Drew, Flamma, discussed the need to take a holistic approach and consider an event’s long-term impact. This was echoed by Simone Manzini, Procos, who also noted the advantages of companies honestly assessing their own performance, as well as the event itself, when conducting analysis.
Overall, our panellists were united on the significant benefits of both event attendance and careful, strategic planning. In all responses, our panel highlighted the need to develop an event strategy that can support building connections and driving collaborations. Moreover, the importance of being proactive in all areas, from securing thought leadership opportunities to networking, was clearly emphasised.
Isabel Gómez, Global Marketing Manager, Nutraceutical Ingredients, Lubrizol Life Science, Health
Rossana Carne, Marketing Manager, Procos SPA
Simone Manzini, Business Development Manager Custom Synthesis, Procos SPA
Clara Usanna, Senior Sales Manager, Procos SPA
Alicia Xaka, Associate Director Business Development, Procos SPA
Kenneth Drew, Vice President, Flamma USA
Isabel Gómez, Global Marketing Manager, Nutraceutical Ingredients, Lubrizol Life Science, Health
Industry events can be an invaluable way to connect with both new and existing customers, helping to drive sales and generate leads. However, to maximise the value of attendance, it is vital to develop a robust event strategy, proactively considering both your brand presence and additional communication and networking opportunities.
Delivering an end-to-end brand experience
One of the most effective strategies for increasing your event presence is creating a tangible brand experience that enables customers to interact with you before, during, and after the event. This experiential marketing approach can help you to set positive expectations ahead of the event and give a sense of exclusivity to those who receive an invitation—both helping to generate leads. During the event, it can help create memories for customers who have been part of the live storytelling experience, bringing them closer to your products and developing an emotional connection. Building this trusted connection can also enable you to collect immediate customer feedback to further optimise your presence. Finally, after the event, the relationship developed with customers who have experienced this engagement can be built on further to promote brand loyalty.
Choosing the right thought leadership platforms and partners
When considering participating in thought leadership activities, such as conference presentations and discussions, it is essential to ensure you identify the right opportunities for your company. This requires taking a consumer-validated and data-driven approach. For example, choosing topics that are not only aligned with your communication goals, but also enable you to add value by speaking directly to key customer needs and pain points. Additionally, evaluating audience demographic data when selecting a platform—whether this is digital or in-person—to ensure you are reaching your target customers is equally important.
Finding a suitable partner can help companies to develop more highly targeted thought leadership approaches. For instance, working with a market intelligence company to hold a joint webinar. Using their insights, a market intelligence partner can lay the foundation for the presentation by establishing a consumer overview and providing market insights supported by the latest data. This can then be followed by a curated marketing pitch outlining how those identified unmet consumer needs are addressed by your company. A similar outcome can be achieved by participating in topic-specific roundtable discussions with other subject matter experts who can provide unique insights.
Interactive sessions can also be highly beneficial for increasing customer engagement. In particular, hands-on workshops, that combine theoretical and practical sessions, can provide a unique opportunity to interact with customers and can be tailored to different stages of the purchasing journey to ensure relevance.
Taking a proactive approach to networking
Pivotal to successful event attendance is networking to build meaningful connections that can drive business growth. As such, it is important to take the time before the event to identify the partners and collaborators that you would like to engage with. To help streamline this process, many events have online matchmaking platforms that can enable you to connect with fellow attendees based on shared interests, goals, or expertise. Once you have identified networking opportunities, being proactive during conversations is also key. This can be done in many ways, including actively participating in conversations, asking thoughtful questions, and engaging with speakers during Q&A sessions.
Throughout the event, your team can also gain additional networking opportunities through their own social media presence. For example, sharing insights on LinkedIn and tagging relevant individuals, such as key speakers, can lead to connections with new contacts and drive engagement through online conversations.
Maximising the visibility and interactivity of online events
Although we are seeing the return of many in-person conferences, participating in online events such as webinars is still a popular and valuable way to connect with customers. However, within an increasingly crowded online webinar space, ensuring your presentation stands out can be challenging.
When designing a webinar, a compelling title that clearly explains to customers what they can expect from the presentation and the benefits they can gain from attending should be a priority. Additionally, incorporating opportunities for audience participation can lead to better results. For instance, launching poll questions during the presentation or enabling a live Q&A session can help engage remote viewers.
In terms of webinar promotion, using multiple channels, from social media to email marketing, can help you to reach the largest possible audience. A dedicated website landing page, which uses relevant keywords, can also be beneficial to help customers easily find and sign up for the webinar. This page can also be used to improve accessibility by providing on-demand access to the webinar for viewers who couldn’t attend the live event, further increasing the potential audience.
Planning for event success
From creating a comprehensive brand experience to optimising networking, proactive planning is central to achieving event success. In particular, carefully considering how you can most effectively communicate with your customers is critical to developing a strategy that can maximise engagement, build strong connections, and, ultimately, generate leads.
Rossana Carne, Marketing Manager, PROCOS S.P.A.
The value of proactive participation
Professionals can effectively promote their event participation by adopting a proactive approach. Engaging in fun and interactive activities organised by the event, such as the DCAT Video Challenge, can not only provide a break from the routine but also generate excitement around your company’s participation. These activities showcase the human side of businesses, emphasising that companies are composed of people, and these personal connections are crucial in cultivating business relationships at fairs and industry events throughout the year.
PROCOS had a fantastic time participating in the DCAT Video Challenge, an enjoyable side event of the DCAT conference. This annual challenge changes its theme each year based on the special guest invited to the DCAT Gala Dinner. In 2023, the theme revolved around recreating famous scenes from Jerry Seinfeld’s iconic show. The DCAT team was exceptionally engaged and enthusiastic throughout the process. We had an absolute blast crafting our own rendition of a classic Seinfeld moment. This initiative not only fostered commitment within the team but also showcased our company’s human and fun-loving side, adding a unique and engaging dimension to our corporate identity.
Implementing strategies for event preparation is crucial. This includes participating in panel discussions, considering digital sponsorships, and maintaining an active presence on social media platforms. Panel discussions allow your experts to share insights and establish authority in your field. Digital sponsorships can help your brand gain visibility both before and during the event. Regular social media posts about your participation can keep your audience engaged and informed.
Communicating through creativity
Your booth at the event is a reflection of your company. It is essential to pay attention to its design, colours, and overall communication. Every element should convey a message and align with your company’s values. Sustainability-minded companies should consider eco-friendly booth and sponsorship designs, possibly reusing the previous year’s structure with minor modifications. The booth serves as a visual representation of your brand and should be aligned with your messaging.
Utilising art and creative communication to promote your values and innovation is a powerful strategy. Art transcends language barriers and can convey profound messages. For instance, PROCOS partnered with sand artist Erica Abelardo to create a video that tells our story, growth, and future. This artistic approach creates a magical and ethereal experience that resonates with viewers and reinforces PROCOS’s core values of growth, innovation, and empowerment of people. Integrating this video into our booth adds an immersive element to our exhibition.
Bridging the gap between physical and virtual events
To engage remote attendees during virtual or hybrid conferences, companies can employ various strategies. One effective approach, as demonstrated by PROCOS, is to offer a virtual company tour. This virtual tour allows remote participants to explore the company’s facilities and culture as if they were physically present. It provides an immersive experience and fosters a sense of connection.
Moreover, to stand out in the digital space and create memorable experiences for online participants, companies should focus on:
Personalisation by tailoring digital interactions to the interests and preferences of attendees. For example, during events, our team engages in short videos to promote our presence and discuss important topics like QbD, SPC WAIVER, 505(B)(2), flow chemistry, and many more.
Robust tech infrastructure to ensure a seamless and user-friendly digital platform that can handle high traffic and provide a smooth experience. For this reason, PROCOS decided to create a new website, not only with an innovative and user-friendly design but also with the most modern technology to make the new company website lightweight and ecologically sustainable. The new company website was launched during CPHI 2022 and immediately received numerous accolades, not only for its intuitiveness and captivation but also for the colours used, which reflect PROCOS and enhance our company logo.
Post-event engagement to continue engaging with online participants after the event through follow-up content, surveys, and exclusive post-event offers. In this area, PROCOS is very active not only by leveraging the social platforms of LinkedIn and Instagram but also through the website, which features a publications section. Since 2023, the company newsletter has been activated on a quarterly basis, bringing new vitality to our contacts and the messages conveyed by the company.
Conferences and events not only facilitate the exchange of ideas and the forging of partnerships, but also offer a unique opportunity to boost brand exposure. The importance of this aspect cannot be overestimated just as the importance of the digital world cannot be ignored. In today’s digital age, the strategies employed by PROCOS extend beyond physical events. Our virtual company tour is an example of how a company can offer a meaningful and immersive experience to online participants, bridging the gap between the physical and digital realms.
Simone Manzini, Business Development Manager Custom Synthesis, PROCOS SPA
Demonstrating thought leadership
How can companies position themselves as thought leaders in the industry through their conference presentations and discussions?
The CDMO pharmaceutical business heavily relies on B2B relationships, encompassing a diverse range of companies, from major pharmaceutical corporations to small virtual biotech firms and other CDMOs. These companies entrust their resources, and sometimes their faith, to a service provider with the aim of securing the title of “best supplier” for their successful programs.
Behind this demand, CDMOs must cultivate trustworthiness and accountability in their clients, achieved through unwavering consistency and reliability. This is not a task that can be accomplished overnight; it requires years of accomplishments. In essence, it involves building a solid reputation and accountability, which is a time-consuming process.
PROCOS is committed precisely to this objective. During conferences, the goal of our presentations is not to dazzle the audience but to provide concrete examples and address issues that resonate with our listeners. We then showcase the solutions adopted by PROCOS. Similarly, our meetings and discussions are geared towards instilling confidence and demonstrating unwavering consistency by tailoring our communication to the specific needs of the audience. We avoid delivering standalone monologues and relying on predetermined responses.
Can you provide examples of innovative ways to share ideas and insights beyond traditional presentations, such as workshops or interactive sessions?
In the digital era, numerous avenues exist for sharing ideas and insights, even in B2B businesses like ours, where innovative approaches can be leveraged for broader distribution. For instance, promoting ourselves through podcasts and establishing dedicated media channels can be highly effective for thought leadership.
Although this approach is prevalent in many industries, the pharmaceutical CDMO sector has yet to fully embrace it, relying primarily on sporadic experiments. This represents a missed opportunity. Creating dedicated CDMO media content channels that discuss topics relevant to pharmaceutical manufacturers and innovators, such as supply chain issues and solutions, could be a powerful method to attract followers and, ultimately, drive business growth.
Considering this, PROCOS is taking steps in that direction by creating specialised media content through various communication channels, including podcasts. These resources will be easily accessible from the PROCOS website.
Unlocking your networking potential
What are your top tips for initiating meaningful conversations and building valuable connections at industry conferences?
In the CDMO business, solid and meaningful connections are the lifeblood of new opportunities. For this reason, face-to-face networking at live conferences remains fundamental in creating strong connections and trust. Having said that, conference meetings have limited time, making it challenging to convey your message and make a lasting impression on a potential lead. Our approach focuses on deeply understanding what your listener desires and tailoring your communication to match their interests. We generally avoid lengthy company presentations or pre-established talks about our capabilities or how PROCOS excels (there are dedicated company presentations and media coverage for that purpose). Our emphasis lies in demonstrating how PROCOS can assist you in achieving your goals and how PROCOS can fit into your project scenario. Building a solid relationship extends beyond the first meeting and relies on honest and trustworthy communication throughout the year, regardless of whether business transactions occur.
What approaches can professionals take to identify potential partners or collaborators during conferences?
Since conferences are unfortunately limited, it is essential to maximise their potential. To do so, thorough preparation is crucial, sometimes even before selecting the conference. This involves defining the right conference, its objectives, and the level of engagement you intend to have. It is essential to research the attendees and arrange as many meaningful meetings as possible. Typically, we use pre-conference partnering portals or contact all available potential contacts.
Regardless of the chosen approach, it is important to study the companies attending (are they involved in activities we can contribute to? Is there existing contact within our organisation?) and the individuals you plan to contact (do they hold a relevant role? Are they decision-makers? Do we have prior knowledge of them, or can we find someone in our organisation to facilitate an introduction?). Be well-prepared not only for target selection but also to personalise your outreach to be more effective and less spammy.
Assessing event ROI
How can event managers effectively capture qualitative data, such as relationship-building or brand exposure, to complement quantitative metrics?
Answering this question is not straightforward. Indeed, various aspects of a conference can be measured, but the results obtained can be either positive or negative depending on the specific focus of the analysis.
For instance, at PROCOS, we aim to assess the ratio of attendees from our company versus competitors at each conference to gauge the event’s networking potential. A conference with a higher proportion of decision-makers might be considered successful for a business development or sales professional. However, for someone involved in sourcing or purchasing, the opposite could be true. Even considering metrics such as the number of leads generated after a conference and the number of requests for proposals (RFPs) received or projects awarded can sometimes be misleading.
Perhaps the most effective way for an event manager to qualitatively evaluate a conference revolves around factors like the responsiveness of partnering systems (the number of users who utilised the system, the percentage of positive responses to requests, user-friendliness of the platform pre- and post-event) and the overall quality of the conference itself (the distribution of the audience, the variety of companies represented per attendee, the ease of interaction beyond scheduled meetings, and more).
Regarding brand exposure, it is important to assess the ROI in terms of visibility during and after the event. This can be done through unrelated monitoring, such as post-event views, website visits, and independent inquiries. It is worth noting that building brand awareness takes time and cannot be achieved in a single conference.
In your experience, how can companies learn from post-event analysis to continually improve their strategies?
Companies can learn and improve from post-event analysis by first conducting an honest evaluation of their performance and efforts at the event, rather than placing blame solely on the event itself. While it is true that some events may experience changes in audience, target demographics, or overall interest, it is crucial to determine whether the strategies employed were effective or if improvements are needed.
For instance, attending a trade fair at an unsuitable venue, failing to utilise a booth, or not taking advantage of partnering systems can significantly hinder a conference’s effectiveness in certain circumstances. Therefore, it is essential to consistently question whether the approach taken could have been enhanced and what valuable takeaways can be derived from the event. At PROCOS, we conduct thorough analyses to determine how we can improve our presence at future conferences, whether it is deciding to skip an event or exploring new, undiscovered opportunities.
Clara Usanna, Senior Sales Manager, PROCOS SPA
Communicating your excellence and building strong connections
Conferences are full of opportunities, they are gold mines for businesses looking to generate valuable leads and create meaningful connections, bringing together people from all different geographical areas.
Speaking at conferences helps create, maintain, and build an industry leadership reputation in several ways. Working with your own message helps gain perspective on what you do and sharpens how your company presents its excellences in the complex, dynamic and challenging environment you are playing. The material you develop can find further life in other departments and become part of the educational and leadership legacy of your company. And, of course, speaking at a conference showcases your company as an industry expert, giving you the direct opportunity to connect with prospects.
Transfer to the audience the concept that your brand is more than a logo, it is a collection of company values, product design, customer experience, people, and all sorts of intangible elements. Be a visionary firm that attracts the best people, partners, and customers and uses them to drive the best profits in your sector.
During conversations, listen actively and ask open-ended questions. Showing a genuine interest in the work or experiences of others can help you create meaningful connections and long-term collaborations. One of the key things to do is to get involved in the conversation, therefore don’t be afraid to jump into the conversation. Share your thoughts and opinions, ask questions, etc. By contributing valuable insights to the discussion, you’ll connect more easily with others with similar interests. Staying in touch with your new contacts after the event or initial connections is essential for building and nurturing relationships. Share your experience and be emphatic and creative in your interactions.
Study the conference agenda and attendee list in advance to identify potential prospects and key decision makers of the companies you are interested in. Connect with the attendees before the conference or exhibition through all the possible communication channels. Act professionally, but also try to be honest and genuine about your goals and intentions. You can show that you’re transparent by providing industry anecdotes or honestly describing your ideas. This can help you connect with other passionate professionals. Keep the conversations professional, but feel free to add small personal touches to make the interaction enjoyable and meaningful.
Alicia Xaka, Associate Director Business Development, PROCOS SPA
Maximising customer engagement to drive long-term connections
Oftentimes, as business development people, we find ourselves standing at the company booth at a conference, waiting patiently for a potential customer to approach us with some interest, question, or new opportunity to work together. This is the real reason or intention of our presence at the conference, to connect to those interested in doing business with the company where, in the end, they will purchase a service or a product somewhere down the line.
The reality is that the conferences are stocked full of vendors all competing to gain the attention of the same “100” representatives who are the potential customers, while those 100 representatives are sent there by their company to gain some knowledge, earn some continuing education credit, or meet one or two key partners. They pass the booth glancing quickly at the pop ups, signage, or the takeaways on the table (usually a pen or some fun stuffed toy to bring home to their children), avoiding eye contact at all costs. If engaged, most are polite to say hello, ask a question, and move on. Other times, a potential vendor for your company approaches selling their services or products and you must listen intently, collect information, and pass it on to the right people internally after the event. You say to yourself, this is not why I am here. But it is, you must make the most of your time and your company’s dollar.
Business development professionals wear many hats for their organisations, and they must fully represent themselves and their company at a conference in many ways. Our team at PROCOS has done it all, we have presented, joined panel discussions, round tables, hosted lunch and learns, been interviewed on camera, participated in speed dating, sponsored networking events, the list goes on and on. Through each of these activities, there are several ways to spark meaningful conversations that can lead to building valuable connections at industry conferences.
At PROCOS, our business development team practices engagement in several ways that keep our global cross-functional teams working together to better serve both our clients and vendors to ultimately achieve successful results for API process development, scale-up, and GMP manufacturing. As a CDMO, we are selective in which clients and projects we work with, and we are also selective about which vendors we buy from or contract a service to.
When there is an opportunity to network at a trade show or conference with a company or a person we have never met before, either client or vendor, we engage by asking questions.
- For clients, what challenges are they faced with? For vendors, how are they approaching the challenge? Get them to talk about the challenge and listen carefully. You may need to ask for clarity to connect their approach with your company’s approach. Are there similarities or differences? Identify them and then engage further.
- For both clients and vendors, what are the key priorities when selecting business partners? Again, listen carefully and engage when they strike a chord about a requirement for a service or product that your company can provide or a service or product your company may need. You may ask leading questions to guide the discussion to a more specific topic.
- For clients, what is the most important driver for the stage of their project, quality, timing, or price? For vendors, which is your strength, quality, timing, or price? No company can provide all 3, all at the same time, so listen carefully to their answer and reply accordingly.
Specific to CDMOs focused on API process development, scale-up and, manufacturing, it is important to approach “hot topics” as icebreakers. Yes, it can be seen as a general approach, however, it will lead toward more narrow topics if there is some synergy among the people. This year, in particular, our team is focused on topics such as capacity constraints, post COVID-19 supply trends, nitrosamine impurities, and sustainability. All heavy challenges, with long-term engagement leading to a light at the end of the tunnel.
PROCOS is certainly focused on long-term challenges related to growth which continuously build up the foundation of our company. We seek the same in our industry partners whether they are a client or a vendor, so that we may learn and grow together. And while the questions listed above have the intention to support the initial engagement of people or companies for a specific service or product, they also provide the opportunity to bridge many other silent opportunities waiting in the future. People remember these engagements, they love exchanging business cards, they bond over a coffee or a meal, and one day, this small engagement, that starts with a few simple questions, leads to long-term business partnerships. Just give it time.
Kenneth Drew, Vice President, Flamma USA
Evaluating event success and assessing your impact
Trying to gauge ROI from an event is a challenge. What makes a successful event for your company? Much of this is determined by what you feel is important. Is it the number of visitors to your stand or the number of meetings held? Is it the number of LinkedIn likes or is it the increase in website traffic? Each company has its own perspective on ROI.
Flamma has been around since 1950 and has grown significantly since 2010. This growth has been accomplished by a variety of factors including word of mouth, referrals, overall customer experience, repeat customers, providing excellent service, and a host of others. All the while, there has been a smart, unique marketing plan. This plan is a corporate secret, but we can divulge some basic strategy here.
Helping to build a brand in the pharmaceutical industry is difficult since the methods of traditional marketing do not work. Our industry is large in the eyes of many, but it really is small. Everyone knows everyone or at least someone who has worked with a company, in our case, a CDMO. You cannot ever underestimate the power of a referral. No matter how big your stand is or how many ads you run, success is not guaranteed. Trust me, some companies have very deep pockets and blanket the landscape with ads, yet the customer experience is often lacking according to my sources.
Being visible at an event like CPHI Barcelona is necessary as customers need to see you with your competitors. One can try to build the biggest stand or have a happy hour to get attendees to visit but does this actually bring you business? Just because a visitor has a glass of wine at your stand does not mean a purchase order is forthcoming.
How do we quantify our ROI? When you hear from someone who says “I did not have an appointment but wanted to talk with you. Unfortunately, every time I stopped by you were either in a meeting or talking with people”. This tells our team that we are doing well. First off, people wanted to stop by to talk with you. Secondly, if you are busy, it tells the visitor that your company is probably a good one as your team is busy.
Further understanding of whether an event was successful comes weeks and often months after the event. You can measure website traffic and other indicators. You can also discuss the stand’s pros and cons, but when your team receives a call or email asking if you have time to discuss a project, you are doing your job properly. Often one finds that the potential customer either talked to you at the event or walked by your stand and took note. They then called their network of friends and colleagues and asked one simple question “Have you ever heard of Flamma or worked with them?”. This is truly the only way one can determine if the event provided a good ROI.
Many companies focus on numbers but often the wrong numbers. Having a huge number of business development people does not guarantee success. Making sure you have a warm body in various locations around the US or other parts of the world is useless if they cannot properly represent your company. Having the knowledge and understanding of what a potential customer desires but also needs is critical to your company’s success as well as the customer. If you work with good companies, you will benefit handsomely.