Live, Virtual or Hybrid: Which is the future of pharma industry trade shows?

The pharma sector has encountered an incredible number of technological advances over the last few years.

From new medical devices to drug therapies and more, the achievements made by healthcare professionals (HCPs) and pharma companies has been exemplary – and particularly in the last twelve months or so, in light of the rapid and successful development of the coronavirus vaccine.

Perhaps one of the most unexpected of these technological advances for the industry was the switch from live to virtual pharmaceutical industry trade shows as a result of the pandemic (despite the pharma sector being one of the earliest to adopt digital events).

However, now that live events are taking place again, can we expect pharma events to go back to face-to-face trade shows? Will they, conversely, stick to virtual events? Or are they most likely to adopt the increasingly popular hybrid model?

Read on to find out…

Will pharma events be live, virtual or hybrid in the future?

The case for live pharmaceutical industry trade shows:

Research and statements from HCPs indicate that the main pull for live/face-to-face trade shows to return is networking and social opportunities between pharma companies and their delegates.

Indeed, the Healthcare Parnership Network face-to-face trade show’s main selling point is to “offer attendees the chance to network and attend targeted meetings to uncover innovative solutions to evolving challenges in the sector.”

As stated by Jo Sopala, the Executive Director of the British Society of Echocardiography:

“I think digital will always have a part to play. I suspect for the next year we will remain predominantly virtual, but once we can socialise again, there will be a call for face-to-face events. People, and particularly the medical fraternity, will need the personal connection.

“You cannot underestimate the value of networking and informal clinical supervision/support that people get at conferences – something which is probably needed now more than ever. This has been difficult to recreate in the digital setting.”

What’s more, it appears that HCPs are especially keen to return to live events and trade shows now that restrictions have lifted – although they have additionally stated that they would appreciate having the choice to attend virtually, too.

The case for virtual pharmaceutical industry trade shows:

While many HCPs are eager to get back to physical events, many took advantage of the opportunity to attend virtual events during the pandemic.

One 2020 research study found that 45% of HCPs said that they’d registered for a medical conference purely because it was offered online, and they wouldn’t have attended in person – even if the pandemic hadn’t happened.

This convenience for attendees as well as event organisers and facilitators is just one of the many advantages that virtual pharma trade shows have over live events.

For starters, they’re significantly less expensive to run; instead of paying for a venue, travel and accommodation (for speakers as well as trade stand managers), refreshments, printed materials, stall fees and other costs, they’ll simply be required to pay for their use of a virtual platform.

What’s more, because there is no need to travel and virtual trade shows have no limits on the number of HCPs that can attend, the turnout for a virtual event is likely to be higher and more diverse. Any live sessions can also be recorded, so attendees can come back to these later on should they wish.

Virtual trade shows additionally provide multiple opportunities for engagement and lead generation; for example, by incorporating gamification, live text and video chat, interactive 3D models and more. Alongside this, they enable you to capture the data about your attendees, with their consent, which you can then implement within your marketing funnel.

The possibilities for sharing content and other resources are also limitless, so there’s no risk of running out of physical documents during the event. These, like all other aspects of a virtual trade show, can also be branded to align with your pharma organisation’s brand guidelines.

The case for hybrid pharmaceutical industry trade shows:

As stated in by Forbes, hybrid events capture the benefits of both live and virtual events. In fact, on the of the best things about them is they can be balanced in favour of what your specific audience prefers – live, or virtual.

For example, if you’re planning to welcome only a small number of face-to-face attendees to the live aspect of the event, you can save costs by hiring a small venue, and focus your remaining budget on its interactive live elements and the virtual space.

Alternatively, if HCPs are more likely to want to attend your event in person, you can balance this with hiring a larger venue, and including multiple digital aspects to it, such as large scale attractors like an iPad wall and digital technology attendee engagement solutions such as object recognition tables or bespoke engagement software, whilst providing access to these virtually to those who are unable or not wanting to attend the physical event.

Research from Accenture found that, of 720 HCPs, a staggering 87% want either virtual or hybrid events to continue, event after the end of the pandemic. As stated by Paul Blackburn, Founder and Managing Partner of Certain Health, “audience experiences will drive the future,” and “hybrid is here to stay.”

This is reflected in the sheer number of renowned pharma trade shows and events that have taken/are taking on a hybrid format this year, such as Pharma ForumPharmapack and the Pharmaceutical Compliance Congress.

So, which trade show type wins out?

Weighing up the evidence, it appears that hybrid pharmaceutical trade shows are likely to be the most significant future outcome. As IPCAA’s Co-President, Nicky Simpson, explains: “It’s this choice of participation that signifies a hybrid approach is the blueprint for the future of medical congresses.”

At Gravit8, we’re proud to say that we have years of experience under our belts supporting the delivery of face-to-face, virtual and hybrid trade shows for the pharma and healthcare sectors across the globe.

So, although the future is point strongly in the direction of hybrid, we’d be delighted to work with you to deliver the best possible trade show in whatever format you choose; not just for your brand, but for your attendees.

If this sounds like something you’d like to do, simply get in touch with our team today to get started…