macdougall musings

Biotech Taking a Wait-and-See Attitude to JPM Week

by Zita Schneider, PhD

For years, JPM Week has served as the single most significant gathering of the healthcare industry. During the month of January, the biotech industry descends upon the Bay Area, hungry to line up deals and secure investments.

Historically, the event has drawn nearly 20,000 people and an estimated $51.7 million to San Francisco. However, as COVID continues to upend conferences, travel and networking events, how can you plan for the industry’s biggest soiree without some measure of certainty about in person events and travel?

Recently, BioCentury and MacDougall conducted a survey to get a snapshot of anticipated attendance at JPM Week 2022 and the week’s accompanying activities. Examining the survey’s results can help inform JPM Week 2022 planning – or at least, tell you more about what other industry insiders are planning.

Conferencing in the Time of COVID

Predictably, pre-pandemic attendance was high amongst respondents, with nearly 84 percent attending JPM in person in 2019 and 2020. However, in 2021, JPM (like most events) went virtual to limit COVID-19 contagion. Despite the relative accessibility of a virtual offering, only 48 percent of respondents elected to attend JPM virtually in 2021 and a whopping 39 percent of respondents skipped the proceedings all together.

What does that mean for 2022? In an encouraging sign that appetites might finally be increasing for in person meetings, nearly 45 percent of respondents are planning to trek to San Francisco in January. Not surprisingly however, the numbers show that most respondents remain apprehensive about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting concerns around safety and travel restrictions as major factors influencing their decision to attend.

According to the survey, 31 percent of people are still undecided about their approach to JPM and 16 percent are preparing for virtual participation only. Furthermore, despite its fast-approaching start date, more than 60 percent of respondents have not booked accommodation or travel, demonstrating that a “wait and see” approach remains the most popular (a potentially bold move when hotels reservations during JPM Week are at a premium and notoriously costly).

Why JPM Still Matters

Respondents overwhelmingly cited building new relationships and maintaining existing relationships as the most important reasons for attending JPM, yet less than half plan to attend industry receptions. One might wonder, how do you build new relationships (or foster and grow existing ones) without the tried-and-true method of networking events?

As virtual meetings ramp up their options for connection – virtual exhibit halls, electronic partnership opportunities and streaming mainstage events – we are tentatively entering a new era of industry events, defined by broader access, but potentially lacking in serendipitous cocktail party connections.

Yet, perhaps conventional wisdom has placed too much importance on networking events – 2020, a year marked by stops and starts and unprecedented upheaval, still saw record investment in the biotech industry. Companies that embrace the new normal and build robust engagement and communication plans that account for various channels and audiences – beyond the traditional events and conferences

– will surely see more success in the evolving landscape. One way that some are adapting is by planning smaller, more exclusive dinners and receptions or focusing on outdoor activities like tennis, golf, fun runs, etc. Companies that gather outdoors or in smaller numbers might find more networking success and build more meaningful connections.

Planning for the Unknown

Will the vast uncertainty surrounding JPM and the ROI of in person attendance bolster virtual interactions? Will we see a last-minute rush for travel and accommodation? Will you be attending in person or virtually? Are you taking the “wait and see” approach?

Either way, BioCentury and MacDougall have you covered with the JPM Guide – your go-to resource to make the most of JPM Week 2022.

*** Nearly 400 respondents of various levels spanning biotech companies of all sizes, financial firms, and other services participated in the survey. Most respondents are located in the US and Europe.

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