Every year, medical conference planners have new challenges to face. This year, Brexit is top of everyone’s minds - and with other factors like changing demographics and the desire of many to scale up their events, there’s plenty to think about in 2019.
So, with these challenges and changes in mind, how can medical conference planners ensure that this year’s event is a roaring success? Follow our 12-step checklist for success, and make 2019 your best year yet.
1. Learn from experience
A great place to start is to analyse the highs, the lows and the in-betweens of your last event, using the learnings as the foundation for improvement.
Take a look at every element of last year’s performance. Did you achieve your objectives? Could stand and sponsorship sales be improved? Were you and your attendees happy with the logistics on the day? Were there any gaps in the programme that should be addressed? Were you happy with the performance of your website and your app, and is there anything that could be done to improve your social media presence before, during and after the show?
A post-event report will help you to answer all of these questions and more, giving you a strong foundation on which to build in 2019.
2. Analyse your competitors
Each year, your target delegates, speakers, sponsors and exhibitors will need to make some tricky decisions. Budgets and time are limited, so which events will best serve their needs?
To ensure that your medical conference is top of the list, you’ll need to understand what your competitors are offering. What USPs do they highlight on their website and in their show guide? What are their visitors praising - or complaining about - most on social media? How does their format differ to yours?
By understanding what the competition is doing, you can ensure that you stay competitive - and understand what you may need to change to appeal to current preferences.
3. Focus on your goals
Without knowing the objectives of your event, it’s impossible to know whether it was a success.
Demonstrating ROI requires a three-part framework: goals that are clearly defined, measurable metrics that relate to these goals, and a detailed plan that allows you to learn from these results. Then - and only then - can you understand and demonstrate return on investment: success won’t happen by accident.
4. Set a budget
Without setting and sticking to a budget, it’s unlikely that your 2019 event will be a success. Take a look at your 2018 spend and establish which elements of your event were financially efficient, which could have been improved, and where your spend needs to be focused this year.
Establish which elements of your spend are vital and which are simply nice to have if your economising allows. There’s a fine line between spending too little and spending too much - but it is possible to do more with less and still create a medical conference that wows.
5. Ask for feedback
Sitting down with your team to analyse performance post-event is one thing - understanding things from the point of view of those who paid to be there is entirely another. Think empathy-first: understanding what attendees really want from your event can help you to achieve all of your event goals.
To ensure high booking numbers, strong revenue, a broad (and positive) social footprint and that you’re set up for success in 2020 too, consider customer research at every stage of the process. Post-event surveys, social media polls throughout the planning stage and even informal chats with prospects while you’re pitching can establish the difference between their needs and your perception of their needs for a truly customer-first approach.
6. Don’t neglect the brief
Every party involved in the organising of your event needs to understand what you’re aiming to achieve and how you will achieve it: information which they’ll obtain from a detailed event brief.
This document should cover three areas. The first is strategic information - like your target audience, your goals and the background to your company. The second is functional, focusing on logistics and the brand assets that should be used throughout the process. The third? Pragmatic: the budget you’ve agreed, and any constraints - whether technical or business-led - that need to be borne in mind. The three combined will ensure that all parties have a common frame of reference throughout.
7. Tell your story
Every event should tell a story - one that’s closely aligned with your mission, vision and values.
But exactly what this story is and how it’s defined is up to you. Whether it’s informed by speaking with your delegates and exhibitors, or by the objectives you’ve set for the event, you just need to make sure that it’s told - and told well. But it’s not just about telling the story: it’s about making sure that throughout your event comms it’s told with consistency, and in a way that excites and delights your audience.
8. Define your creative brief
Once your story has been written, it’s time to establish how you’ll tell it. And a large part of this will come down to design.
Getting the look and feel of your event just right isn’t easy. It needs to tie together your goals and your story with the budget you have available to convey your message well, and to create a memorable experience for your audience.
9. Decide on your venue
The venue you choose can have a huge impact not only on your event’s success, but on your audience’s perception of your organisation. So choose carefully, and ensure it completely meets your needs.
Is it available on the right date? Does it have the right transport links? Is the capacity right? Does the style fit with your brand? Do the facilities - from the equipment to the food - fit the bill? Does it fit within your budget?
Whether you choose a tried and tested venue that you’ve worked with for years or somewhere different to keep things new and exciting, don’t book until you’re confident that it completely fits the bill.
10. Don’t leave marketing too late
Marketing isn’t something that should be left to the last few months: as soon as you’ve booked the venue and defined your goals, get cracking. With so many medical conferences throughout the year, you want to give your audience as much notice as possible so yours is top of mind when they come to book.
Starting your marketing early will encourage ticket and stand sales are spread throughout the year and that many are achieved more passively, rather than the frantic push for sales in the month leading up to it. In 2019, you could even go one step further, using your post-event debrief to pull together a marketing plan straight after the event, giving you a good head start on your 2020 activity.
11. Choose speakers with care
Being approached by businesses and individuals who are keen to speak at your conference shows your event is on the radar - but don’t agree to speaking slots unless you’re sure they’re the right fit.
Some will simply want to plug their own brand with no care for your own objectives. Others will be working the conference circuit, and you’ll see their names in all your competitors’ show guides as well as in yours.
Instead, think about your event goals, and the speakers whose expertise is naturally aligned with the organisation. Establish which topics and speakers are likely to inspire, educate and engage your attendees. And understand just how big a part your chosen speakers are willing to play. You don’t just want someone who will turn up on the day, speak and then send an invoice. A good speaker will help you to spread the word before, during and after the event, helping you to create that all-important buzz. Choose wisely.
12. Think about people
Conferences, by their nature, are all about people - but it’s not just your speakers, sponsors, exhibitors and attendees that matter. The staff you hire to run your event matter just as much: your sales and marketing team, your client support staff at the event itself, those you hire for setup and teardown. They’re the public face of your organisation, and need to be chosen with care so you’re represented in the best possible way.
You may want to use internal employees, you may choose to hire agency staff. There’s no right or wrong way to approach event staffing, providing you allow ample time for briefing and training, and that everyone knows exactly how responsibilities are allocated to ensure your event runs smoothly.
Your next medical conference may seem like an age away, but the earlier you start to plan, the more likely it is that the event will be a success. Sit down with your team now to set your goals, to analyse past events, to check out the competition and to plan your marketing approach - and if you need a hand, remember we’re always happy to help.