In late March, event-planning agency Etherio Group announced that its Global Meetings & Incentives division would now be known as Etherio Life Sciences, one of four divisions under the Etherio Group umbrella that executes hundreds of events annually for corporate, pharmaceutical, and association clients. The division is expanding its focus on early- and clinical-stage biopharmaceutical companies working to bring new products to market. It will provide planning services and meetings technology as it does for larger client events, satellite symposia, conferences, and congresses.
Specifically, the technology offerings include budget-management tools, electronic signature and wireless check-in devices, mobile-app technology, and project-management solutions that allow clients to view real-time data.
These mostly smaller clients “have additional concerns beyond logistical planning: building timelines, developing budgets, hotel sourcing and contracting, risk mitigation, and developing compliant engagement strategies,” says Eli Sananes, division president. “We believe that focusing on the needs of biopharma companies in clinical-stage and about-to-file NDAs [new drug applications] and BLAs [biologic license applications] is an industry first. The expanding entrepreneurial needs of these clients ramping up to their launches require an experienced entrepreneurial partner to guide them through while maintaining flexibility to pivot as needs and timelines shift.”
MeetingsNet caught up with Sananes in early April to ask him about how two factors—an end to the pandemic-induced travel lockdown and the change in leadership in Washington D.C.—will affect product launches in the medical sector.
MeetingsNet: What are the priorities for biopharma companies as they consider a return to in-person events?
Eli Sananes: For both the event host and attendees, participation in the short term will still vary from company to company based on travel restrictions and internal guidelines with regard to being in person. [But] clinical-stage biopharma companies view the risk-reward proposition of in-person product launches far more favorably than do larger, more mature pharma companies. Achieving the coveted FDA approval status is generally associated with some form of in-person celebration, particularly for companies receiving their first-ever approval.
MeetingsNet: How will product launches in the medical niche look or feel different than before the pandemic?
Eli Sananes: Product launches will undoubtedly operate as hybrid programs for the foreseeable future, which means that agencies like ours need to sharpen the focus around objectives and the specific audience, and then leverage the correct digital platform. For us, success will be measured by the ability to successfully manage a dual audience and a dual agenda: in person and virtual.
MeetingsNet: Under the Biden administration, the Federal Trade Commission appears to be increasing its scrutiny of mergers and acquisitions in the pharma sector. How will this affect the way smaller biopharma firms strategize and execute product launches and subsequent in-person events designed to increase exposure for possible M&A interest?
Eli Sananes: In our opinion, the new administration will not impact M&A activity in the life-sciences space. In fact, we feel that 2021 will be another record-setting year for M&A activity. However, we do feel the Biden administration will focus on reducing drug prices and making access to generic drugs easier. But in either case, we do not have concern about the desire for biopharma companies large and small to continue hosting product-launch events.
MeetingsNet: Can virtual product launches be effective, especially for firms that don’t have an established brand identity?
Eli Sananes: Absolutely. Hybrid events will be the new normal for most meetings going forward; for various reasons, some attendees will be reluctant to attend in-person events. Agencies will need to deliver the same level of detail and quality for a virtual audience as they do for an in-person event.
MeetingsNet: Event technology has come a long way in one year. For purposes of launches and promotional/educational events, what do you see as the virtual medium’s best attributes? Conversely, what do you see as its limitations?
Eli Sananes: The advantages include the ability to deliver effective experiences with reduced costs from eliminating air travel, hotel, and food & beverage. Also, there’s the ability to broaden the audience and to conduct detailed attendee analytics across each program element.
Virtual’s drawbacks include a lack of networking opportunities; an increase in production costs; the potential for spotty internet connectivity for attendees or for an inconsistent virtual platform; difficulty engaging audiences for extended periods of time due to distractions or simply “Zoom fatigue”; and a lack of knowledge on how to engage the in-person and virtual audience equally.
MeetingsNet: What else should pharma and medical-device planners who work on product launches or product-related promotional/educational events be thinking about right now?
Eli Sananes: Before contracting a hotel or selecting a virtual-meeting platform, conduct a survey of potential participants to determine the likely makeup of the in-person and virtual audiences. Those results will help mitigate financial penalties as you create the contract and also ensure the digital platform you select is best suited for that program’s objectives and virtual audience. I’d also recommend designing parallel agendas for the in-person and virtual experiences that are different where they need to be. For instance, be mindful of time zones as you schedule livestream programming, as your virtual audience will probably be scattered around the country.