Constructively Deconstructing the #BIO2010 Convention

I have blogged at the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) convention for three years now (see posts here), and I am always very grateful that they give me a pass in exchange for blogging. It’s a great experience for me all around–learning, meeting, and getting exposure for Comprendia and the San Diego Biotechnology Network. You may have heard that this year the media, including me, were shut out from the keynote sessions featuring Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Al Gore. I was incredibly disappointed as two of these are big heroes of mine (I’ll let you guess which ones). Two of my friends/colleagues gave feedback: Christiane Truelove and Mike Spear. I recently wrote an open letter to life science conferences with suggestions for improving them, and wanted to give an update and some examples specific to the BIO 2010 convention and how it could be improved.
Improve website information. It is very difficult to find information on the BIO 2010 website. For example, I was interested in finding all of the attendees from San Diego at the conference, and this was near impossible. Instead, I had to look up or go to individual breakout sessions to find them. There are super sessions, breakout sessions, business development presentations, and partnering, and with an estimated 13,000 in attendance, I’m sure I only met with a fraction of the San Diego companies in attendance. BIO sets up a great interface for partnering and searching, but this is an additional cost, and what happens to it after the conference? I suggest opening that up in an interface that is available year round to facilitate more interaction and to help the media give more intelligent coverage of the industry.
Choose keynote speakers who ‘get it.’ We don’t really know why the media were excluded from the keynotes, but some speculated that the speakers give ‘canned’ presentations at each event, and don’t want reporters making this information public. Others commented that the Bush/Clinton appearance was more of a ‘Mutt and Jeff’ show than a serious discussion about biotechnology (I heard Bush made up a new word which I’m sorry to have missed). Regardless of the reason, isn’t one of the major objectives of BIO to get the word out to the public that important people care about biotech, and have messages for the outside world? Having keynote speakers who do not allow media coverage would seem to only have the benefit of attracting BIO attendees. In the future, I suggest inviting speakers who are not only famous, but who can be the advocates we need.
Take good care of the exhibitors. There is no doubt that the choice of non-media friendly keynote speakers affected the coverage of the conference, and don’t forget that the exhibitors pay dearly to be at BIO. This event is their big chance to get news out, whether they’re a biotechnology company or cluster. Anecdotally, I heard that ‘the big media names were not at BIO this year,’ which is a bad sign. As part of the media, I got a flurry (maybe 50?) emails from exhibitors and followed up on very few of them. Also, of the projected 13,000 who attended BIO this year, how many spent a lot of time in the exhibit hall? I’m betting only a small fraction, as several exhibitors commented that the meeting was slow. By most accounts, BIO is becoming more about the partnering meetings than the exhibit hall, but will this be sustainable? Related to this is the comment about making the website more interactive and opening up the partnering interface to all. More access to information helps everyone.
Leverage the media. Related to this last point, if indeed the professional journalists are becoming less interested in BIO, help bloggers like myself to cover the event more fully. I suggest you employ a team of bloggers who start six months before the conference, planning in depth coverage of different aspects. Think about it, you’ve now got some control of media coverage, the opportunity is golden, and will give the BIO site search engine fodder for many months after the conference is over.
Ride the social media wave. It must be said that BIO appears to want to ‘turn on’ social media shortly before the convention so that it can be leveraged only when needed. For example, a flurry of meetup invitations were sent about a week before the convention–these groups need to be cultivated year round. The efforts they’ve undertaken are great, but they’re just scratching the surface. The image on the right of this post is the word cloud of the BIO2010 twitter stream. Check out the twitter hashtag search, we counted around 50 people tweeting about BIO 2010, or 0.4% of the estimated 13,000 attendees. Imagine the power of enlisting just 5%, or roughly 10 times that amount. The BIO coverage would be fantastic, allowing those who couldn’t attend, or even those like me who were busy the whole time and did not even see a small fraction of the conference. Think it will result in less people attending? That thinking is so outdated. I can guarantee you that even this minuscule coverage made more people think about the convention than before, when perhaps more official, ‘sterile’ coverage was the norm. BIO will continue to own all of the official recordings of the meetings, and if anything, they’ll sell more copies due to piqued interest (although I would argue that the entire conference should be ustreamed live).
Help us help you. Yes, the media was very frustrated with BIO 2010. I think it was partly personal, as we were treated like outsiders, but realize that all of our careers depend upon heavily the success of biotechnology. If BIO is not taking every opportunity to communicate biotechnology to the public during this convention, can we count on them to be an effective ambassador year round? We are very eager to help BIO with its objectives, because we care about the cause and also our livelihoods. I hope that this blog post is seen as a constructive effort to visualize how we can all work together to make biotechnology as an industry as successful as it can be to heal, fuel, and feed the world.
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5 Comments
  1. Great insights… I haven’t attended a conference that allows attendees to search for others by location, but can definitely see the benefit. I see a lot of friction happening when people don’t know anyone.

    If attendees were able to easily find out where others are from it would allow for an easy way to make a connection.

    ‘Hi, my name is XYZ. I saw you are from San Diego like me.’

    I can see that conversation going places…

  2. Very good suggestions.

  3. Mary I agree with many of the points you make but I do think that the future (at least for the international attendees) will lie with partnering. Qualified opportunities give a better ROI case when considering the costs of travel, time etc.

    Re tweeting – with no WiFi access in the exhibition it was harder and more expensive to do (ref: data roaming charges for UK mobile networks). Most of my tweets were from presentations – which did have free (a must) WiFi.

    The evening receptions these are very useful as well and give a good idea of the ‘mood music’ in vino veritas perhaps!

    P.S. I was great meeting you – keep in touch

  4. Very interesting blog, and I do hope that I will get to attend BIO again soon! I did follow the BIO hashtag, and though much of it seemed to be about ‘Mutt & Jeff’, it did give me a flavour of the conference. I have to disagree with Graeme about the future being with partnering though. I agree that is an increasingly important part of the event, and it makes good use of limited time to meet with qualified leads, but a major advantage of attending a conference like BIO are the serendipitous meetings and the introductions from your contacts to their other contacts (a non-virtual LinkedIn, if you like!). Also, a lively exhibition hall is a great asset, and don’t forget how much the exhibitors contribute to the costs of the event.

  5. PS I do agree with the usefulness of the social events. My best contacts, who are willing to help me in many ways, are generally the ones I share a few drinks with every year, especially at the follow-on parties :)

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