The euroPLX 73 Vienna marketplace event — held Sept. 14–15 — was less than two days away when Austria announced a new wave of coronavirus cases, prompting nearby countries including Germany and Switzerland to designate Vienna as “high risk” and companies to cross the destination off their safe lists. Almost overnight, the number of on-site attendees dropped to just under 50, down from nearly 100. But all was not lost — a virtual alternative was already in place to break the fall.
For RauCon, a Germany-based B2B company that provides business development support to the global pharmaceutical industry, its marketplace events are a key asset for its customers. euroPLX, held three times a year in different locations in Europe, attracts executives interested in licenses, products, assets, distribution deals, and other business opportunities. In a normal year, they’d expect to see anywhere from 300 to 400 attendees come from upwards of 40 countries at each event.
The value for attendees, according to RauCon founder Dr. Norbert Rau, has always been the event’s appointment-based format, enabling participants to connect face-to-face. “Business development is really an in-person business,” Rau told Convene. “You have to meet people personally and look into their eyes to get the feeling if you can trust them or not. This is essential.”
Rau postponed the original June event to September, but he knew that he needed a plan B. In addition to planning a pared-down live event, he and his team added an alternative virtual format that would not only give in-person attendees extra time and flexibility if they couldn’t attend at the last minute, but also keep registration high enough that participants would want to attend.
Kicking off the day after the live event wrapped on September 15, the virtual program is available to all participants — whether they chose to attend in-person or virtually — for two months. “Registrants can join the event whenever they want,” Rau said. “They determine which business meetings they prefer to have in-person at the venue, and which ones by video meeting at any convenient date and time during the eight weeks following the venue event.”
The virtual program also provided a convenient on-demand channel for follow-up appointments, as his attendees often end up meeting more than once. “This leaves room for focusing on the more important, and time-critical cases at the physical event,” Rau said, “and on those which need the personal encounter to build trust.”
As for the on-site component, the team worked with longtime hotel partner Hotel Savoyen Vienna to ensure health and safety guidelines were followed. The event was the first it had hosted in months, so the hotel was keen to stay flexible and renegotiate the contract after it was originally postponed in June, waiving attrition fees on cancellations up until seven days prior to the event, Rau said.
Rau credits the success of the event, which attracted nearly 220 attendees in total, to the hotel’s willingness to postpone and the flexibility of RauCon’s new hybrid model. “If we had not provided the possibility of a change from physical to virtual (and back, for that matter), about two-thirds would not have registered,” he said. “The content of our event is made up by the companies [that participate], and if you don’t have enough companies … it’s not attractive anymore. With poor attendance, other registrants would have canceled. In the end, the event would have fallen apart completely before it started.”
Jennifer N. Dienst is managing editor of Convene.