3 Best Practices to Manage Vendors for Your Next Virtual (or Hybrid!) Healthcare Event

Event management has taken on a whole new level of complexity during this pandemic. We’re not worried anymore about who’s bringing the power cords to charge all the tablets in the exhibit hall. Now we’re scheming ways to create community, host breakout sessions and share knowledge via video streaming.

It may seem even more overwhelming than an in-person event, but the process is definitely manageable. And should not feel chaotic.

You’re still juggling lots of moving parts, but you can do this. You can create an engaging, informative and successful event.

Whether you’re hosting the whole event or managing your company’s presence at a conference, here are three practices to get you from today to day one:

Best Practice #1: Identify All Vendors and Stakeholders

Using vendors from multiple agencies is now the norm. In some companies, your internal stakeholders may even have vendors working for them. It’s crucial to identify everyone involved.

 

Speakers:

  • Once you’ve identified the key speakers for your event, you’ll want to determine their comfort level — and technical capabilities — for speaking at an online event. Some have done this before, but many have not. Ongoing communication and support are vital.

External vendors might include:

  • Video streaming services – Will you offer pre-recorded or live sessions? How can attendees ask questions and connect with each other? If attendees are in multiple time zones around the globe, what options are available? Choose a provider that will give you the training you need ahead of time, as well as support during the event.
  • Online video platforms – If you’re not up for running a live event, consider videos recorded ahead of time and hosted on a platform. Ask about options for attendees to connect directly with the speaker during or after the presentation. Do you want all content restricted behind a paywall, or have some available for public access? How can your internal team moderate and respond to comments while speakers are presenting? How are sessions archived after the event for future access?
  • Exhibit design firms – These are the experts who design the blueprint/footprint of your booth space — whether digital or in-person. They build creative, interactive ways of engaging customers and delivering your message digitally.
  • Digital tool designers – Virtual product demos, apps, videos, interactive experiences, gaming and other immersive tools to excite and educate customers
  • Gathering events – In-person? You’ll need to coordinate with planners and venue managers. Virtual? Companies like eatNgage(link)* bring people together over a meal — through their computer screens! Other companies can create live, breakout rooms for teaching or networking. The possibilities are endless!
  • Social media, Email campaigns – Whether your event is virtual or in-person or a mix of both, a coordinated calendar of social media and targeted email campaigns is vital — before, during and after the event.

Remember to identify and update internal stakeholders, too. They’re vital to your success:

  • Marketing, PR, social media
  • Sales
  • Legal
  • Regulatory
  • Clinical
  • Engineering, research, and product development
  • Graphic design and web managers
  • Education
  • Administrative support

Best Practice #2: Set Specific Expectations

Know exactly what you expect from everyone on the team, and state your expectations clearly – at the kick-off meeting and throughout. Be very specific about roles, responsibilities and deadlines. Scope and investment creep will be easier to control – and the process will run more smoothly – if everyone understands exactly what’s expected of them.

Things to consider:
For vendors, contracts should be specific. For example:

  • How many design iterations are included in the original budget?
  • How quickly will you be required to return revisions? (Some vendors require 24-hour turnaround.)
  • When do you need final cost estimates from vendors?
  • How will vendors test and verify online access and digital tools before the event?
  • Will vendors have a representative you can contact during the event if problems come up?
  • How will the various digital experiences, such as breakout rooms or one-on-one chats, be coordinated?
  • How (and when) will event metrics be tracked and reported to you?

For internal stakeholders, develop your sales and networking strategy ahead of time, while being cognizant of potentially conflicting objectives. For example:

  • Which clinical trials, product offerings or research pipelines will you highlight? What legal and regulatory restrictions must be adhered to?
  • What digital tools and immersive experiences are best for your customers to engage with your product, if hands-on demonstrations aren’t possible? How will your sales staff be involved — during the event and for follow-up afterwards?
  • How many private/semi-private spaces will be needed to connect with KOLs, site investigators, investors, etc.?
  • What kind of interactive spaces do you need your digital vendors to create for clinical education or product demonstrations?

Tools to help you:
When managing multiple vendors, you need to see all tasks, responsibilities and deadlines. Whether you’re a digital-only person or like to have papers taped to the wall, you’ve got lots of options – each with different capabilities, advantages, and costs.

Some free project management resources to consider:

  • Online tools: Asana, Smartsheets, Microsoft Planner, etc.
  • Gantt charts in Excel
  • RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed) Matrix

Using the RACI Matrix is a simple way to give you a big-picture perspective:

  • Responsible: Who is actually doing each task?
  • Accountable: A single point of contact who will answer for completion of all tasks
  • Consulted: Who is part of the team?
  • Informed: Others you want in the loop (external or internal) and anyone who needs ongoing updates, like speakers, investors, or key customers.

Best Practice #3: Communicate Clearly

Along with expectations, clear communication is vital. Without it, collaboration will not happen, accuracy is jeopardized, and deadlines could be missed.

Things to Consider:

  • How often will your team meet? And how will you coordinate multiple time zones?
  • Can you record your team calls?
  • Will you send follow-up emails after each call to summarize what was decided and discussed?
  • Do any internal stakeholders require updates more frequently? For example: marketing might need budget updates to ensure costs stay within forecasted plan.
  • What’s the best way to reach external stakeholders, such as speakers or key customers? And how often? What technical information do speakers need to know ahead of time?
  • If problems arise before the event, how should you be notified? And conversely, how will you notify the team when risks or conflicts are identified?
  • How will you stay in contact during the event?
  • How will you moderate live chats and commenting during an online event?
  • Who will troubleshoot problems, if they arise?

Creating a unique, impactful experience at your next event doesn’t have to be overwhelming. When expectations and deadlines are communicated clearly – from day one – vendors will help bring your ideas to life.

 

Lauren Dustman is a strategic events manager and BMMG service line leader with a passion for improvement and keen attention to detail. In her 6 years of experience in the medical events industry, she has managed everything from small tabletop exhibits to large multimillion-dollar sales meetings. Lauren also has experience restructuring event departments and creating annual operating plans with a systematic and methodical approach.

Lisa Bichsel is founder and CEO of Bichsel Medical Marketing Group. Lisa offers each client her 35+ years of expertise in commercializing medical device and biotech innovations. Lisa and the team at BMMG work to differentiate their clients’ disruptive technologies, demonstrating the need for change due to increased efficacy, improved workflow, and positive impact to health economics.