When AstraZeneca held an important press conference in Amsterdam less than a month after the World Trade Centre attacks, only ten reporters turned up. But their PR agency wasn’t worried.
The picturesque Dutch city may have been unusually quiet, but 33 key industry journalists from nine countries were flexing their fingers and dialing up to participate in the event over the internet. And interested parties from all over the world were not only able to watch the live results of the first head to head clinical trial between Nexium and lansoprazole, but also participate in a real time question and answer session we produced at www.nexiumpressoffice.com
But it is not only the threat of airborne attacks that is keeping many industry journalists increasingly rooted to their desks. The atrocities of recent months have simply exacerbated what was already a growing trend. In an increasingly understaffed and cost conscious media industry, publications can little afford a member of staff to be out the office for days at a time. Business to business healthcare publications often run with a multi-tasking editorial staff of not much more than one and often editors work alone, supplemented by freelancers. The once priority activity of travelling across the globe to a press conference can now seem like an industry jolly rather than a necessity.
Telephone and internet use is so ubiquitous in the corporate world we now save face to face meetings for very special occasions. We work in companies where it is not uncommon to phone, text or email someone sitting across the other side of the office, so it is no wonder the virtual online press conference is fast becoming part of the zeitgeist.
The internet is changing the traditional media relations model. In the past, organisations would decide what information their audiences should receive: this is termed the Push communication model. Now with the advent of online news sources, audiences can select information that applies directly to them. This is now termed the Pull communication model. Journalists, health care professionals, patients and investors no longer wait for press releases, treatment or launch information to come to them, but now actively go in search.
Public Relations Consultancy Middleberg Euro RSCG has been conducting studies of internet usage by journalists since 1994. And year on year the figures have significantly increasing. The most recent study found a massive 81 percent of print journalists were making use of the internet at least once a day for story research (Middleberg/ Ross Survey of the Media in the Wired World).
Journalist Phil Taylor from Pharma Marketletter spends up to four hours a day online researching stories and is an old hand at virtual press conferencing.
“Obviously it is just not possible to attend every event and virtual press conferences give you the immediacy of access at your desk,” he said.
Of course watching a live webcast is never going to replace a real live event, just as travel programmes don’t stem people’s curiosity to travel. But in the situation where attending in person is just not an option for whatever reason, the ability to view virtually can mean a message will reach an audience who otherwise would not have been available.
So virtual press conferences can widen the reach of information exchange and can do this in a very economical way. The costs involved in setting up and producing a virtual press conference are small compared with the travel and hotel bills associated with a traditional conference.
Sophisticated internet monitoring tools can make the event extremely accountable. Reports can be generated detailing exactly who was online, when, for how long and what they look at. This will help pharmas not only evaluate the effectiveness of the site but also encourage ongoing media relationships by being able to tailor the site to audience needs.
Going back to basics for the uninitiated, webcasting is simply broadcasting over the internet and covers both audio and video casting. There are two options to web casting, as with traditional TV and radio. Live web casting simply means that the event is filmed and is viewable instantly over a webpage. On-demand web casting refers to pre-recorded material and is ideal for showing edited highlights or for duplication of a live event. Apart from it being a lot more cost effective, on-demand means that the videos are available globally 24/7 and as it can be edited, you have full control over the content.
And the future looks good for webcasting technologies. With increased bandwidth, full screen video quality webcasts will become possible. And looking further ahead, it looks like webcasting will be going mobile. The Foma (freedom of multimedia access) video streaming mobile phone by Japanese high tech innovators NTT DoCoMo was launched in Japan last October (2001). Forty times faster than WAP phones, Foma can handle data such as video images and claims to offer “freedom to access multimedia content without restrictions on time and place”. So the press conferences of the future could take place, not just on the desktop, but on the train, in a restaurant or even in the bath.
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