Medical Meetings: From ‘Tried and True’ to ‘What’s New?’

Once upon a time, we hauled 500 pounds of paper press kits around convention centers, bribed Kinkos to stay open late and fretted over spiral or three-ring bindings. We then moved forward from trading mountains of paper to carrying multiple, pre-charged BlackBerry batteries as technology “advanced.”

Fast forward to today’s standard approach of emailing and texting reporters rather than standing outside a press room waving (well, that still happens too). The halls, formerly bustling with reporters armed with pens and paper, have transformed into smartphones and cameras lined up like paparazzi “filming” expert interviews.

However, despite technological advances, some things about medical meetings have stayed the same. On the heels of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting, here’s a look at the top five ways media and account teams continue to capitalize on our clients’ news at medical meetings, mixing old and new:

  • Advance Planning - Reporters don’t have extra minutes in the day as they churn out stories and accompanying content. Outreach early and often is critical. The key to outreach is understanding what topics the media is covering, inserting your client when appropriate, and providing editors with broad ideas to work your client into stories.  Reporters generally have a good idea of what they are covering and who they are interviewing before they arrive. However, many are looking for the stories behind (and away from) the press program—looking for something that separates them from their competition. Making executives and experts available ahead of a meeting for interviews is critical to ensure you are taking advantage of the data stories, as well as planting seeds for larger stories on the ground.
  • Understand the Meeting Environment- What are you walking into? Biopharma companies presenting data (big or small) will get coverage, but how do you go in if you aren’t big pharma and have brand recognition? Scanning the press program and finding opportunities to insert your client into the data-driven news cycle and larger trend pieces means lots of work on the ground, being aware of the conversations reporters are having with each other about what’s interesting, and being smart about where you can add value versus blatant promotion. Your client’s CEOs can serve as industry commentators speaking about their observations of the meeting, the data being presented and the advancement and trends they see in science and business of oncology. Reading the meeting coverage each day, looking for the untold stories offers an opportunity for you to break through. Check out this Forbes article on GRAIL as an example. A small but mighty biotech company looking to create a blood test that can detect cancer early enough to treat it. Matt Herper followed this story through two medical meetings and then created this piece from ASCO.
  • Hustle on the Floor - This. Never. Gets. Old. EVER. The hustle is real, and it starts the day you arrive. Edelman, along with several other partners, start the hustle on day one of the meeting with a Tweet Up for media, clients and advocacy to begin conversations about what to expect out of the meeting. There will always be a press room: Stick around that area, have a hallway conversation, and brainstorm ideas beyond just data with reporters. Being knowledgeable about trends beyond the data will help you stand out, and turn you into a source of information, not just client representation. Hustle isn’t just about chasing down reporters. It’s also about doing your homework and making sure you are knowledgeable about the topics at-hand.
  • Coverage through Sponsored Content - People want news in real time, so media outlets like STAT, FiercePharma, EndPoints and others are pushing conference specific newsletters out quickly for that “in your face” specialized meeting coverage. Many of these newsletters (not all) are sponsored, which allows you to place your owned content in front of a quality audience. Doing so guarantees your brand getting in front of captive audiences each day even if the data didn’t break through and garner individual or round-up coverage. Sponsorships and sponsored content require early planning and agreed upon metrics of success with your clients. Ensuring what you are or are not getting from this approach is key.
  • How many days can the news cycle last at these meetings? - This is an interesting trend to watch. At ASCO, Fridays used to be the day to get settled. This year, the meeting kicked off Friday afternoon with hot data right out of the gate, starting the news cycle a full day earlier. Meetings are merchandising themselves. Previously, all the data was crammed into a couple days, and only the “big” pieces of data were covered. Now, the meeting “news” spans more days, so the cadence of press program data is running at a more measured pace—keeping companies, attendees and reporters around for longer stretches of time. This can offer clients more robust dialog with media and other stakeholders and more opportunities to be part of a specialized news flow. We—along with reporters—will be watching this trend for sure as we follow the remaining meetings of 2018 and enter next year’s medical meeting season.

While the reams of paper press kits are gone, some of the old is here to stay as tried and true.  But technology and new channels used to elevate your brand presences are opening more opportunities to make the meeting a success for you and your clients.  

Bottom line: If you prepare early, stay alert and find your angle, you will have a voice.

Steven Cooper is executive vice president, National Health Media.
Kim Angelastro is senior vice president, National Health Media.

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