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Life Science Events and Digital Marketing

Tony Jones is the CEO of One Nucleus, a not-for-profit Life Sciences and Healthcare membership organization, which specializes in supporting life science companies to maximize performance, and in bringing people together to drive innovation and economic development.

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In this episode of the Marketing Science Podcast, we talk with him about how life science and healthcare companies have adapted their digital marketing strategies during 2020, as well as how One Nucleus has worked to encourage collaboration and how they have managed the challenges of running virtual events during the pandemic. Below is an adapted transcript from the podcast.

How important is it for scientists to collaborate and share their work online and to move towards more open-access science?  

It is pivotal that scientists prioritize collaboration because true innovation often happens at the intersection of two different sectors. Collaboration has always been critical, but when it comes to publication and sharing ideas, I think you have to walk that balance between scrutiny or peer review and open-access.

On social media, we are seeing a lot of non-scrutinized information being put out, which creates confusion and can lead to conspiracy theories that can build momentum quickly. However, in science, the only way to test a hypothesis is to argue against it, so I’m also not saying that people shouldn’t publish things that contradict established ideas.

Platforms that allow open publications, help to speed up the dissemination of knowledge, but those platforms also need to create the mechanisms for scrutiny and for assessing the actual data.   

The open sharing of knowledge and the process of scrutinizing open publications can lead to more collaboration, and that's a good way to progress. I think the speed with which we’ve progressed in COVID-19 vaccines and treatments highlights just how important that collaboration is.

How has technology played a role in increasing collaboration in the life sciences sector?

Technology has enabled us to communicate and share knowledge at breakneck speed. At One Nucleus, the point of us coming together through physical events was always to share knowledge. With technology, we're able to do that online and through virtual events.

The advancement of technology has also led to an ability to move knowledge around quicker. Scientists love to share insights and knowledge with their peer groups because that refines their own thinking. If this had happened even five years ago, I think it would have been much more difficult to see the same progress without the quality of infrastructure and technology that we have around digital connectivity today.

How does One Nucleus facilitate global collaboration and interaction between its members in life science and healthcare?

We have often collaborated with groups similar to One Nucleus, but we usually focused on doing events that were face-to-face. If we were all at a big convention in the US, we would plan collaborative events while all of our member companies were together.

"Moving these types of events online has really enabled more international connectivity where we can share insights with our members"

During our virtual events, we can have members from all over the world share their perspectives, leading to more connectivity. Someone from the UK might be able to learn about the manufacturing of advanced therapies going on in New Jersey and get involved, which would have been more difficult before we were forced online.

At a time where our members are unable to travel to open up those new collaborations or new service offerings, virtual events and online collaboration have been areas where we've been able to add real value. We’ll also continue to ask ourselves how we can use technology more effectively in the future and to learn from our current experiences.

Can you describe what your online events have been like this year, in terms of attendees and subject matter?

The size of the events varies a lot with One Nucleus as we do both smaller round table discussions and larger conferences like ON Helix that draw hundreds of people. The job for One Nucleus is to work out what our participants want to learn as well as what information they are looking to share.

We’ve seen real collaboration come out of these events. During our online events, our participants haven’t been thinking about keeping information away from their competition instead, they have come together as business leaders to share ideas around things like how to work within the COVID-guidelines, how to be good employers and good corporate citizens.

Our online events have also helped us deepen our relationships with our member companies. Virtual events have enabled us to engage with people who are based in the labs or on the operational side of the business, who normally would not have been able to leave the company to go to a physical event, but who can attend an hour-long webinar.

Are there any other ways that virtual events have benefited your members and attendees?

I have talked with colleagues about how to better encourage networking and knowledge-sharing for students and those in the early stages of their careers. With our recorded events and sessions, there is a great archive of on-demand material building up that people can use.

I look back to when I was working in labs and wondering what direction to take my career. It would have been invaluable to be able to learn about the industry from this type of on-demand content, which is often much more accessible and affordable than in-person conferences.

Can you tell us more about what you learned from running the ON Helix event as a virtual event over the summer?

The virtual event attracted over 400 people, but the transition to planning an online was definitely a challenge for our small team at One Nucleus. We had a lot of questions around the type of content to create for a digital event vs. a physical event. But we looked at it as a challenge and as an opportunity to learn.

One of the benefits of digital events was the ability to more easily engage with our attendees in a global way. Without the hassle of flying in speakers from other countries or paying for travel costs, we could easily get someone like an investor from California or a public health specialist from Australia to deliver a session.

We’ve learned a lot from the ON Helix event and we’re currently rolling this forward with Genesis, another flagship event. We’ve created a set of on-demand content that we’re calling ‘Around the World’ because of our ability to host a global set of speakers who will discuss the same topic, but from their particular landscape.

For your upcoming event, Genesis, how much of your content will be live and interactive vs. on-demand?

It’s about 60% live and interactive and 40% on-demand. In order to mimic a physical conference where you have opportunities to engage in-person with delegates, we have planned a week surrounding the event with scheduled ‘Innovation Workshops’, where exhibitors can run a 1-hour interactive workshop to enable that live interaction.

With these workshops, you no longer have to compete with other conference sessions. You’re also getting a more engaged and interested audience because you know that each attendee is coming to your session because they have a specific interest in what you offer.

We also learned that it is useful to supplement live and interactive sessions with on-demand content. We’ll have live streaming, but we'll also release some pre-recorded content that will be accessible at the same time. If an attendee isn’t particularly interested in one live stream topic, they can easily find an on-demand topic they are more interested in.

It’s also important to encourage our attendees to make the best use of the on-demand content so that they get the best return on their investment of time during sessions. The on-demand content can give great background information for the live events, which can encourage people to engage more with live panelists and ask questions that they may have been too intimidated to ask before.

How many delegates are you expecting for Genesis 2020 and what do you think networking will look like at the event?

We’re expecting around 400 - 450 delegates for Genesis 2020. There are also about 20 of the Innovation Workshops going on across the week, which are replacing the exhibitors. We have also scheduled those interactive workshops so that none overlap. We recognize that many people don’t want to spend 4 full days watching digital workshops, so you can tailor your own agenda to include the sessions you are most interested in. And again, we will be recording all sessions so they will be available on our website after the event.

Beyond that, it's going to be interesting to see how active people remain after the event in terms of following up with contacts on the event networking system or connecting with someone from an on-demand session they watched. With physical events, if you don’t get a chance to network with someone during the event, you've often missed that opportunity to connect. With digital events, you've got the ability to go back and network with someone and really leverage that connectivity.

How have companies adapted their communications and digital marketing strategies over the course of 2020?

We’re generally seeing a huge increase in the volume of digital marketing activity. Science companies like contract research organizations and technical service providers are creating much more digital content than they used to. Many companies have really embraced technology and have found innovative ways to make content more accessible online.

I have been impressed with the speed at which some of our member companies in the life sciences sector have learned how to do digital marketing. These companies have managed to get inside the mindset of their audience and learn about their interests and about what type of subjects will drive them to digital marketing content like webinars or pre-recorded educational videos.

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The companies that are successfully adapting their digital marketing strategies have given a lot of thought about the key message they are trying to get across and about how to get that message across quickly.   

For a long time we've talked about what the future of communication looks like, and how it's going to become more of a conversation and less of just information push. I think the pandemic has just fast forwarded that.

What do you think future events like ON Helix and Genesis will look like? Do you see a hybrid event format working?

Assuming we can go back to face-to-face events, I certainly anticipate the use of more technology. We may continue to create on-demand content that can supplement or lead people into face-to-face conferences. Retaining that ability to bring international perspectives to our events has also been very valuable and I think technology will continue to allow us to do that.

Hybrid events have been around for some time, so I think we're going to have to learn what elements work and what doesn't work for an event like ON Helix or Genesis. That may be different for other events even within our own sector of life sciences and healthcare. I believe that Genesis and ON Helix will come back in a physical form of some kind, but I can easily see why a virtual event like Genesis 2020 would still work well in the future. There will definitely be forms of hybrid events, we just need to figure out what they will look like.

How has the financing and investment side of the life sciences sector been affected over the course of 2020?

What has been interesting over this period is that it looks like 2020 is going to be a record year in the amount of investments raised by the life sciences sector in the UK. Some of that money has come into companies who are active in the COVID-19 response and has been driven by a need for a rapid response, but there are also many companies who have raised money outside of the COVID space.

Financing has worked at a very healthy level and we may see people who haven’t been investing in life sciences before, start to see, not just the monetary value of investing, but also the opportunity to invest as responsible citizens.

People want to be a part of larger causes and take part in impact investing. I think we've seen the life science sector justifiably raise significant money during 2020 because it has demonstrated that it adds a lot of value to our society and our populations.

What are the major trends within biotech, healthcare, and life sciences that you expect to see over the next five years?

Many of the trends are already happening. For example, the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning, data science to better inform research, and particularly in the biomedical field we’re seeing a convergence of technology and biology.

I think what this pandemic has done is accelerated those trends. We're going to see more interdisciplinary teams developing within the life science space. And bringing this back to the last question, these developments may help to bring in investors who are new to the life sciences or healthcare sectors.

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Posted by Elizabeth Rudy

Elizabeth graduated from Wesleyan University (Middletown, CT) with a BA in Psychology and completed a MA in Organizational Psychology at Adelphi University in New York. Elizabeth recently relocated from New York, and she has enjoyed exploring and getting to know her new home in Manchester. Elizabeth started her career in human resources and operations before discovering a passion for marketing. She previously worked as a marketing and operations professional in the international education sector. Outside of work, Elizabeth loves cooking and is always interested to experiment with new cuisines and dishes. She also enjoys baking, true crime, traveling, playing the piano and singing.

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