How to Expand an Annual Event Into a Series

Lessons from a company that turned a single annual meeting into series of year-round events.

Conducting clinical research for the creation of drugs and medical devices is a 24/7 process that occurs around the globe on a never-ending cycle. That is something that Medidata, a unified cloud-based platform designed to help power clinical trial research, has seen up close. Currently, the company works with 18 of the top 25 pharmaceutical and medical device companies, and has about 1,000 customers, running approximately 14,000 clinical studies. Companies like Medidata are vital conduits to unlocking the value of clinical trial data and accelerating drug development.

Since 2009, the annual Medidata NEXT Conference has been the premier forum where science and technology researchers convene to plan for the future through interactive, hands-on learning opportunities that facilitate the design, execution, management, and monitoring of the next generation of clinical research. Over the years, the event has attracted industry leaders in drug and device development, clinical operations, data management, biostatistics, and digital medicine innovation for networking and collaboration. Senior executives from such companies as Bristol-Myers Squibb, Celgene, GlaxoSmithKline, Memorial Sloan Kettering, Worldwide Clinical Trials, Accenture, Roche, and more are regularly in attendance.

CHOOSING CHANGE

As worthwhile as the event was for attendees, the annual single-destination format wasn't keeping pace with the needs of attendees who worked around the globe on projects where important developments could occur at any time of the year. So in 2017, the company decided to give the event a radical makeover: Instead of one event, they would host a series of gatherings in cities around the world over a 10-month period. Here's how Medidata NEXT Global 2017 was planned and executed -- and how it changed the way the company engages with the industry it serves.

In May and June of 2017, the event had stops in New York, London, Basel, and Berlin. In the fall, the series extended to Seoul, Shanghai, and Tokyo, and then it was all tied together with a return to New York for a large global program in November.

"This was definitely a new-and-improved format for us," says Meghan Dorsey, senior events manager at Medidata. "We really expanded our presence to bring NEXT to all of our most important customer bases. We're very pleased with the broadening presence of NEXT."

And the new event series concept has resulted in greater attendance; the 2017 New York event drew 1,000 attendees -- a 35 percent increase over the attendance a similar gathering in New York drew in 2016. Overall, the entire series of events drew over 3,000 attendees around the globe.

KEEPING THE BRAND CONSISTENT

One challenge that comes with hosting an event at multiple destinations around the globe at different times is maintaining consistency in terms of branding, content, and creating a productive attendee experience.

"To achieve that, it was critically important to have a centralized communication plan that connected our internal folks at Medidata and our external partners such as gyro, our creative agency," says Dianne Yurek, vice president of corporate marketing for Medidata. "We were very much aligned as it related to the branding, the creative, and the messaging that accompanied all of the execution at all of the different locations."

Medidata's branding partner gyro is a global advertising agency with offices in Europe, Asia, and North America. The agency helped develop an overarching branding platform to unify all the events.

"Many of the conference attendees have seen these branding platforms in one context or another," says Marco Walls, creative director at gyro. "So we developed a strategy to make each separate conference around the world an extension of this overall platform. This ensured that the message and the image of the event remained consistent as it moved from country to country."

THE CONTENT EXPERIENCE

One of the main goals of the annual NEXT Conference series is to give attendees a forum in which to exchange best practices while networking with peers. Some of the more popular programs on the agenda last year were the Hackathon, the Design Studio, and the Innovation Tour.

The Design Studio was an opportunity for attendees to talk to Medidata product managers and learn about what was coming down the pike in terms of new Medidata products.

"We also had product demos so attendees could get their hands dirty and play around with our product offerings," says Dorsey.

The Innovation Tour was developed for C-level executives from Medidata's top customers and prospects. Thirty were invited to arrive a day early for an exclusive day of content in a very intimate atmosphere. In addition to hearing the presentations, they also visited some innovative tech companies in the area where the meeting was held.

The entire customer base was invited to participate in the Hackathon. Those who took part spent a day with solutions consultants from Medidata coming up with new, innovative solutions to existing problems. A winning team was chosen, and they were given an award on stage for developing the most out-of-the-box idea.

Relevance was the key. The New York event started with a provocative statement from Janet Woodcock, the director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the FDA: that the clinical trial system that we have right now is broken.

"Then we went on to demonstrate how science and technology power trials of the future that are smarter, more efficient, and generate that needed evidence that our partners and our sponsors want and demand at the end of the day," Yurek says.

KEEPING THE MOMENTUM GOING

After the final event in November, the content generated from all the NEXT events lived on at medidatanext.com, where each city has its own page containing the content generated from its event. "We've built out a resource library allowing people to access data that they either want to follow up on or missed because they were at a different session," says Dorsey.

And the library is continually growing as the 13th annual NEXT Conference series just launched in Basel, Switzerland, in March of this year, beginning its trek around the world once again.

"The main goal is to communicate Medidata's architecture of hope that is driven by powering smarter clinical research for our clients, customers, and partners," says Yurek. "The Medidata NEXT Conference series, through its networking opportunities, interactive learning experiences, and keynote speakers align our brand to that mission."

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