By Erin Buckley
The American College of Cardiology has one of the most robust and well-regarded annual scientific meetings in the medical community, and CURA has had the honor of supporting their communications team on developing and executing the media program of the past three annual scientific sessions. In light of COVID-19, instead of canceling their Annual Meeting entirely, the ACC made the unprecedented decision to make their conference virtual. The organization quickly pivoted and mobilized a three-day international virtual conference, which accommodated cardiologists from South Korea to Canada—and it was a great success!
While most components of the virtual conference were prerecorded, the press conferences, which CURA was responsible for organizing and executing, were the only truly live piece of the virtual annual conference. Alongside the ACC communications team, we planned and executed five press conferences during the span of three days, and this is what we learned:
- There’s no way to avoid the stress that comes with executing virtual press conferences under short notice. Anticipate potential issues and offer ideas/solutions that minimize stress to your client, while preventing fires that you and the client have to put out. For example:
- We built a detailed step-by-step guide to navigating the online platform for cardiologists to follow since there was no time for rehearsals or dry runs, covering off on any potential question a presenter might have about logging in and using the platform with screenshots of each step and feature.
- We doubled down on the online press kit upkeep to provide real time updates, so reporters had all the latest info from the conference at their fingertips, reducing the amount of questions they had to ask the ACC team.
- Record your conference, so reporters and cardiologists can watch when they’re not bombarded by COVID-19
- Learn the platform and understand it as much, if not more, than your client’s team. This way, you can fill in the gaps or answer navigation questions.
- When operating under unprecedented times like a global pandemic, all benchmark numbers and measures of success by which you’ve previously operated will not (and should not) apply. Be sure to level set with your client on expectations and work with them to create new metrics of success.
- A worldwide pandemic will take priority over your client’s conference no matter how much media coverage you’ve received in the past or how interesting the research being presented is. I’d say, expect half of the interest (at most!) and relay that reality to your client.
- This is difficult to say as a PR professional, but deprioritize earned media efforts, especially among top tier reporters. COVID-19 is not something you can compete with and it may be perceived as tone deaf to pitch when these reporters are consumed by coverage of the pandemic.
- Social media is an effective way to engage your audience during times like this and should be bolstered to support the virtual conference. While it won’t replace the face-to-face interactions with peers, mentors and influencers that come with attending conferences, it at least gives people a sense of real-time connection with others in their field at a time when they may feel disconnected.
- And finally: be responsive, be adaptable, mitigate stress and ultimately, don’t sweat the small mistakes.
- The ACC’s live virtual conference was extremely successful and highly complimented, but we would be remiss not to mention the occasional slip ups, like a lag in PPT slide progression, a speaker forgetting to press mute or stay on mute and the occasional muffled audio sound – these things are inevitable. It’s how you respond to them and adapt to them to help avoid these things from happening in the future is what’s important.
Bottom line: don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. Valuable practice-changing research was shared, and the field of cardiology has been improved, thanks to the ACC team’s willingness to go virtual during uncertain times when social distancing was crucial to people’s safety and health.