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What was your objective in holding a virtual event, what were you looking to achieve?
The RCP’s annual conference was due to take place in April 2020, however we had to alter the direction of our conference due to COVID-19. We faced date changes, cancellations but eventually hosted our conference virtually, in January 2021.
We wanted Medicine 2021 to be a ‘meeting of medical minds.’ Across the two days, we needed to offer clinical learning, networking opportunities and interactive sessions. We also needed to keep our audience engaged behind a screen.
We had 3 months to create, develop and deliver a virtual platform that could offer this. Knowing both the limitations and benefits of online platforms, we understood that we couldn’t replicate a physical conference online. Instead, we decided to focus on what we could do differently, with a high level of innovation.
What was special about the way in which you prepared for and delivered Medicine 2021?
We were committed to ensuring Medicine 2021 was about more than just clinical learning.
To engage our audience behind a screen, we reviewed the way we consume online content. We identified popular TV shows and incorporated them into the conference to bring personality and lighter moments.
The ‘Good morning physicians’ sessions saw key medical leaders and political figures come together to discuss COVID-19, health inequalities and more. ‘RCP Question time’ proved popular, with almost 600 delegates watching live and on-demand.
The lunchtime cook-along with MasterChef winner Dr Saliha Mahmood quickly became the most watched non-clinical session of the conference and highlighted the importance of adding lighter, fun content to the programme.
We created a conversation on the importance of physical and mental health. We produced a documentary with three physicians who explained how they prioritised their wellbeing during this difficult year. This was showcased in our ‘Wellbeing hour’ and was followed by yoga sessions and a HIIT class led by Olympian, Greg Whyte. These sessions have had over 1,000 views and 95% of the audience said they wanted future conferences to include a similar wellbeing offering.
By offering clinical and non-clinical learning, along with wellbeing sessions, the conference was meaningful and supportive experience for our delegates. Medicine 2021 really was a ‘true meeting of medical minds’.
Would you do anything differently in the future?
One of the biggest challenges was maintaining sponsorship income. We needed to create a way that sponsors could engage with our audience. To overcome this challenge, we built a sponsorship exhibition hall into the platform. The virtual exhibition hall showcased our new building, The Spine. Each sponsor logo linked to a dedicated sponsor page, with information, downloadable content and contact forms to encourage engagement. These pages have had over 1,000 visits.
We also provided sponsors the opportunity to hold virtual symposia. These sessions had a total of 2016 views. At Medicine 2019 we had a total of 248 attendees across 6 sponsored symposia, meaning this year’s attendance increased by 630%.
By reimagining a ‘typical’ in-person conference, creating engaging marketing campaigns and optimising sponsorship opportunities during our virtual site build, we covered the cancellation costs, the virtual conference costs and turned our predicted loss into a surplus.
How did you measure success?
We secured two principal partners, eight sponsored education workshops and twenty-three exhibitors.
The conference had the most diverse speakers of any RCP conference. We achieved a 50:50 split in gender balance, and our diversity balance saw 29% of our speakers of BAME backgrounds. Both figures have increased since Medicine 2019, where 38% of our speakers and chairs were female and 21% were BAME.
A total of 227 abstracts were accepted. Notably, the COVID-19 abstract category saw 61 abstracts accepted. Medical research has never been more important, and the abstracts demonstrate the RCP’s commitment to supporting innovative and original research efforts.
How did you reach your audience?
We delivered a multi-channel, digital campaign across Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube achieving 687,930 impressions on over 87 posts. We maximised our internal resource to create engaging, relevant and fun content.
We wanted to invite our social media audience to help build the conference with us. This involved using Twitter polls to ask questions about what they would like to see at Medicine 2021. This created a conversation around our conference that was more than just tickets and sales, and collectively the 7 polls received 375 answers.
In October, we released a Medicine 2021 promotional video. The aim for the campaign was to show the human side of the College. Our president, Professor Andrew Goddard and vice president, Professor Cheng-Hock Toh were turned into an animation and used in a promo video showcasing the key selling points of the conference. This animation achieved over 51,000 impressions. They also changed their twitter profile images to their avatar characters and recorded all the voiceovers to the animations which really brought the journey of the conference alive.
In mid-November we released our ‘Meet the officers’ campaign. This was a series of posts designed to introduce our senior team and to showcase key elements of the conference. The four short videos achieved 16k impressions and over 3,200 engagements.
In December we released a ‘12 days of Christmas’ theme, generating over 139k impressions. The launch included releasing a mix of clinical leaders and political figures who would be speaking at the conference.
What platform(s) did you use?
We worked with our developers to create a customised, virtual platform for our annual conference. Our focus was on creating an interactive, user-friendly platform that worked for our members and wider NHS workforce. We were thrilled to see that during the conference, delegates easily navigated their way to talks, networked with other users, viewed sponsor stands and attended virtual poster presentations.
To offer such a large amount of content in just 2-days, we built streams that ran concurrently on the platform. Each session offered the opportunity to react to the speakers with emojis and ask questions. There was a dedicated on-demand section with 13 sessions of additional content. The platform also supported eight skills workshops.
An important part of all our conferences is the opportunity for delegates to network with other physicians. We had to find a way to offer networking opportunities online and so, embedded a ‘networking lounge’ onto the platform. Delegates could virtually meet here to discuss conference content or even just catch-up. The ability to turn their cameras on meant that there was still a personable feel to the networking, despite being online.