Valuable virtual solutions to keep HCPs informed
If there's one take-home message about working during a pandemic, it is the enormous value that virtual events, webinars and e-learning can bring when face-to-face meetings and presentations are impossible.
COVID-19 raised the profile of these digital interactions, becoming a key resource for pharma during the pandemic almost overnight and leaving companies scrambling to develop and refine their engagement with their target audience.
Use of these platforms was however already trending up before the crisis, and there's every sign demand will stay high from now on, according to Sjors van den Camp, commercial director at Online Seminar – a company whose heritage in this sector goes back more than a decade.
Communications during a crisis
Rewind to March of 2020, and pharma companies were facing a communication crisis. Their entire calendar of face-to-face events was wiped out for the foreseeable future, with one clear implication – adopt a digital approach or be invisible until the pandemic gets under control.
Thankfully, many pharma companies had already started on a journey towards digital engagement, and healthcare professionals (HCPs) are embracing the medium more than ever before, thanks in part to newer generations who are increasingly digitally-savvy.
A 2018 survey by Ashfield Healthcare found, for example, that 78% of HCPs have shown a preference for a mix of online and physical events.
An increasing proportion of HCPs are now 'digital natives', having grown up in an Internet-enabled world. That means they are increasingly demanding personalised, relevant, and seamless experiences regardless of how they interact with content providers.
Key applications of this in pharma include medical education webinars, which can be tied to continuing medical education (CME) accreditation, as well as dissemination of key research data like clinical trial readouts and medical congress highlights.
Other uses include providing a platform for key opinion leaders (KOLs), as well as internal communications to make sure that messages are unified across an organisation.
Meanwhile, it seems that the pandemic has had a positive impact on those interactions. A recent Accenture survey found that a majority of HCPs (82%) think pharma companies have increased the value of what they communicate in the last 18 months, delivering not just product information but also support that meets pressing needs, such as education on how to better treat patients remotely.
"The last 18 months have created opportunities for pharma companies to present themselves more frequently on smaller topics, for example using regular 'bite-size' 30- to 45-minute broadcasts," van den Camp told pharmaphorum.
The importance of digital and video channels
The main advantage of webinars and other online interactions is pretty obvious. They are not location dependent and can reach a wide audience, as attendees can participate without having to leave their home or office and setting aside the time and expense for travel. Crucially, they remain accessible on demand after the event finishes, reaching an even wider audience.
It would be wrong to think however that engaging remotely is a compromise, and somehow of less value than a face-to-face interaction, according to van den Camp.
While webinars are by their nature a mass communication tool, the experience of any individual participant can be very personal, conducive to two-way interactions, and free of the challenges and distractions that can occur when attending a big medical congress, for example.
They can also provide much richer information on participants than an in-person meeting, not just a name and contact details for example, and provide greater scope to engage with them before, during and after an event.
That multi-layered interactivity can start as soon as attendants register, for example by offering the opportunity to submit questions or comments based on the upcoming session beforehand, to raise the chances they become part of the live event.
Facilitating discussion and feedback
Questions and feedback can also be submitted during the broadcast via either chat that is sent to the client or agency for moderation, as well as through unmoderated channels that can act like a forum, facilitating discussion alongside the formal presentation. There's scope for polling questions to gauge audience reactions and feedback, and including 'call out' links to other relevant content.
After the event, there is an opportunity for evaluation, via an on-screen pop-up questionnaire for example, which can be used to monitor the relevance of an event as well as plan for the next one. For HCPs that can also be the point at which attendees carry out a short quiz that can generate CME credits.
"From the moment of registration until the end of the session, the organiser has a way to engage and involve the participants," said van den Camp, who explained that all these functions are embedded in Online Seminar's platform.
Another key benefit is the "data and the quality thereof that we gather during those sessions", he added.
Communications strategy insights
It is possible to see how attendees engage with an event – how long they watched for, how they engaged, whether they asked questions via the chat, and how they answered polling questions, to give some examples – which can provide valuable insights for a communications strategy.
Security and access control is important, particularly for highly regulated industries like pharma, which has strict rules over interactions with HCPs.
"We're able automatically to basically provide content that's only accessible and relevant for them," remarked van den Camp. That is of paramount importance in medical education, "where a lot of the discussions between the KOLs in the sessions are about off-label content."
"Virtual events, webinars and e-learning have been valuable tools that – in the past 18 months – have proven their worth"
That means providers have to make sure that they exclude HCPs from countries that aren't allowed to get off-label content directly from a pharma company.
There's a flipside to a greater willingness by HCPs to engage with digital, and that is working out how to engage with an audience that post-COVID is inundated with more content offers and engagement than ever before.
Compelling, nonpromotional content is a must of course, as is matching the audience carefully to that content, having a clear idea on the objectives of the event. It's also important to generate engagement quickly, ideally within a few minutes, which can be helped by having proficient speakers and high production values.
Going beyond: what Online Seminar can offer
Van den Camp sees a key part of Online Seminar's role as making it possible for pharma companies to enrich the online experience through the creation of knowledge hubs.
These can combine webinars with a host of other content, such as news articles, speaker biographies, podcasts, e-posters, etc, into a branded client portal that can be much more than the sum of its parts.
"For each of our clients, we build a portal for their webinars, ranging from a simple one with just an overview, a signup module, and a broadcasting page, to a full-fledged platform which includes all different types of media, video content, news articles etc."
Along with the broadcast itself and the platform on which it is created and disseminated, the company can also provide other services including physical and virtual studio facilities, creative support, generation of materials like graphics, leaders, lower thirds, bumper videos and after movies, and project management.
A leap forward for pharma
The pandemic has stimulated pharma to make a leap forward in their understanding of how to communicate in the virtual world, according to van den Camp. It's becoming more and more challenging to stand out however, and engaging specialist help can make a difference.
Finally, with vaccines raising the prospect of the pandemic coming under control, what is the future of medical congresses? van den Camp believes that virtual attendance will be here to stay, even after face-to-face conferences resume, with much broader digital programming.
That will allow congresses to continue to expand their reach to people who might not otherwise attend – an entire department for example rather than just one or two representatives – with more attendees getting the benefit of first-hand information without the expense of travel and accommodation.
"Whether it is for medical, internal, promotional, accredited or non-accredited purposes, virtual events, webinars and e-learning have been valuable tools that – in the past 18 months – have proven their worth in helping pharma to not only stay visible, but also to keep HCPs informed without being bombarded with information," concluded van den Camp.
About the interviewee
Sjors van den Camp is the commercial director of Online Seminar. He is responsible for the further growth and global positioning of the webinar company within the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry. Having worked with international pharmaceutical companies for nearly a decade, Sjors has a firm grasp on all challenges and intricacies that come to the fore in today’s communication landscape. Sjors, a Dutch national, holds a MBA in Marketing. Prior to Online Seminar, he has worked as a sales and marketing professional for global corporations like ABN AMRO and Reed Business Media.
About Online Seminar
Online Seminar is the webinar producer for the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry, with offices in Amsterdam, Brussels and Barcelona. Webinars have rapidly become a structural part of the communication mix of companies. Online Seminar facilitates and realises the production of these webinars from beginning to end – this enables companies to truly engage and inform their audience on a personal level, whilst gaining valuable real-time insights into their behaviour. For more information please visit www.healthcare.onlineseminar.com.