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13/04/11: On organizing company seminars to scientists

This is a busy time of year for those of us involved in the business side of the Life Sciences. Conference season is in full swing, customers are deep into their research projects (new Ph.D.s have been at it for a few months already) and things need to get done before Summer brings things to a halt.

Anyway, one of the tasks I recently undertook was to organize the Danish part of Agilent’s Nordic genomics roadshow. As usual, if you’re not focused on making these events a success you will end up with a last minute panic. Which is exactly what happened. 

It’s easy enough to know what to do: arrange some rooms, make sure there is food, invite people. However, bringing it all together involves a lot of running around at the last minute. And I really don’t like raising a sweat in my nice, clean “customer-facing” clothes just before I meet those customers. However, unless I get organized (I mean really organized), it will be the same next time.

Arranging Venues

Getting a room at DTU was easy – thanks to Laurent, head of the core lab there who took care of that. Århus was a bit more difficult. Due to some  rules at Århus University, there are not exactly open arms for vendors who are not official suppliers to turn up and give presentations. Such restrictions are a pain for both small companies and many researchers interested in their products (maybe I will write about that in another post one day). However, my contact there, Jørgen, did a great job in fighting our corner and was able to secure the rooms. OK, that was the rooms sorted!

Food

Arranging food at DTU was remarkably easy. I just went to the canteen, spoke to the man in charge and arranged the whole thing in a few minutes, with a follow-up by email. They deilvered it on time and it was good. With Århus, the location for the seminar was next to the Maths Canteen. I had sent them an email explaining what I wanted (which is what they told me to do, on the phone), but when I turned up it seems that they had not got the message! Ooops, However, to their great credit after I spoke to one of the managers there  they managed to get sandwiches, fruit and drinks (hot and cold) for 25 people delivered in just 20 minutes!! Damn fine job – thanks guys.

Getting Customers to the Event

Now we come to the most important bit. That is the issue of getting people to come to these events. Since Agilent are supplying five speakers, travelling from all over Europe, this has to be worth it. I don’t want them to talk to an empty lecture theatre.

So the mission is to get a room full of interested researchers! The standard way that companies try to do this is to send an email “blast.” It’s cheap, you can do it from your computer and get the satisfaction of sending an email to thousands of people at once. That makes you feel like you really accomplished something! Great – except that it is almost useless as a way of getting people’s interest. In fact, I’ve no faith in email blasts, or maybe we’re not doing them well enough. In any case, with 6 days to the event in Copenhagen, we have 17 registrants. However, 4 of them are not going to show (you know, because you spoke to them and one is on maternity leave) and 2 are from another company, so they don’t count. Given that 2-3 will forget on the day, we are below the “magic 10” at which you don’t feel the whole thing has been a waste of time. Also, to be honest, Agilent probably wouldn’t want to run a similar event in the future if there was a low turnout.

At this point, panic sets in and you do what should have been done anyway: invite people personally. So, I printed up some A5 flyers and went to the University of Århus – Institute for Human Genetics and Molecular Biology – and just knocked on doors. On Monday, I did the same at KU’s Biologisk Insitut. One of the great things about Danish Universities is that you can still just walk in, knock on someone’s door and have a chat. Nine times out of ten, I get a friendly reception. Guess what? Most people are interested. No, they never knew there was such an interesting event close by (even those that you know got the email blast and the reminder, which proves my point). Both those actions, plus sending a lot of personal emails, got the number of registrants into double figures.

The biggest lesson I learned from this is to start inviting people, personally, at least a month before such an event. Otherwise, calendars are full and you never really get the time to invite all the people you would like. And yes, I did know that before I started.

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