ExL Events, a division of Questex, develops and hosts content-driven conferences and partnered events for life sciences industry professionals and academia that cover a breadth of topics from drug and device development issues and services, to hospital networks, communications, and human resources. Their diverse event portfolio is backed by extensive market research and targeted outreach to facilitate the exchange of crucial information between industry professionals and suppliers who support shared goals.
In early August 2019, Marie Daghlian, editor at Big4Bio, sat down with Scott Grossman, managing director of conference production, to find out about ExL Events and what defines their conference goals.
MD: Tell me about Questex, ExL Events and what you do in the company.
SG: Questex is a business-to-business (B2B) organization that drives outcomes for both buyers and sellers. Online, on devices and live with experiential engagements, Questex connects buyers with the seller from discovery, purchase through advocacy. What that means in an educational format is that we are bringing in all the sides of the discussion around a certain topic to learn: gather insights, learn advocacy, buyer perspectives, as well as ways to drive change in the industry for positive ends.
We strive to bring allied industries together to discuss and strategize on key issues and challenges that will hopefully result in the implementation of new ideas, strategies, and tactics to help improve the lives of patients and improve their outcomes. I am the manager of conference production at ExL Events, a division of Questex. I am responsible for the conferences that we host, including topic generation, speakers, sessions, insuring that we have high quality programming, sessions, and themes throughout the year.
MD: When did ExL Events get started?
SG: ExL has been around for 14 years and was acquired by Questex three years ago. Our first events were an investigator initiated trials conference and a pharmaceutical public relations conference, which we still do today. The 15th Public Relations Summit took place in July and it was hosted at Novo Nordisk headquarters in New Jersey.
MD: When did Questex acquire the Fierce publications and incorporate it into its events?
SG: FierceMarkets was acquired in 2008. They offer digital and events in the life science/pharmaceutical space. It’s a great fit for Questex and especially ExL. Specifically, FierceMarkets provides that on-site, in-person discussion and education.
MD: Does ExL coordinate the Fierce events, like the one happening in Boston during Biotech Week?
SG: Yes, the FierceMarkets and ExL teams collaborate on many events. And we are producing the Drug Development Forum, taking place at the end of October, in collaboration with the FierceMarkets team. At Questex we have many conference producers who are content-focused and work closely with the FierceMarkets editors to create an outstanding education track.
MD: What differentiates ExL events from all the other conferences? You already said that you try and bring both sides of the conversation together. What do you do to get that going?
SG: We do a lot that to provide an outstanding educational platform for customers. First, we are constantly researching, having conversations and following industry news and trends. We have a core group of contacts that we speak to frequently to make sure we have full all-encompassing programs. For example, for our biotech events we have contacts we speak with on a regular basis as part of our research. That’s one side—research and development – it’s very topical.
The other side to that is the actual education. Even though we bring buyers and sellers together, it’s an educational platform so that at the end of every event our attendees are walking out with tangible information. No one is coming to the event without the intent to learn and overcome challenges. It could be anything from a clinical data conference to medical affairs, biotech business development, or a due diligence conference. Our attendees are coming to these events to absorb information, hear what colleagues in different organizations are doing, benchmark metrics, and learn. That’s what special about our events—they are so educational.
MD: At many conferences, most attendees are there to meet with each other and you don’t learn very much at the sessions. Is ExL more focused on education or do they also provide opportunities to network?
SG: The interesting thing about our events is that, based on what is going on in the industry marketplace, the topics that we focus on and their educational content drive networking during the breaks. It’s almost like partnering and conversations happen naturally when you create an environment that is education-based. You have these sessions and people asking questions – it kind of just happens organically and that’s the way that we design the conversations. There are meetings and sponsorships at certain events at that partnering level, but it is an organic conversation between the buyers and sellers—not in a session room, the exhibit hall, or at a booth. Our mission is to bring people together to create conversation. And because of that they actually create contacts and we find that a lot of our clients stay in touch year over year.
MD: How are your attendance levels? Are the events growing in size?
SG: Because the events are education-based versus partnering-based, people come for the education and we are looking to grow these type of events. For example, we launched a Business Development & Licensing event earlier this year in San Francisco. It is a biotech/pharma-based conference focused not just on M&A-it took the conversation two to three steps further and focused on the licensing aspect and went into greater detail than the usual partnering events where people are mostly looking to meet each other.
MD: It’s good to have a broader understanding of the industry and trends.
SG: Yes and that’s something we are very proud of. We have a broad portfolio of events. For example, we have a delegate that has attended a spectrum of events trying to absorb what the next steps in her career might be. Our events cater to all types of professionals in the life sciences industry.
MD: Do you have any tips for an attendee ahead of an event such as how they might prepare or what they might expect?
SG: We get many types of attendees. Our goal is for them to understand that they are coming to an educational event. It’s good to map out your goals, the takeaways you hope to have, who you want to meet, such as a particular speaker, the sessions you want to attend, etc. Also, it’s good to take advantage of getting involved in breakout sessions and discussions, asking questions and not being afraid to go up to speakers after a session and express yourself—whether you agree or disagree with what they said. We also recommend checking out the service providers. They are there not there to just sell a product but to showcase new tools, services or solutions that might be needed in the future. They might offer ideas that the attendee had not thought of prior to the event.
MD: Do you follow-up after an event or look to channel business to other Questex platforms?
SG: Yes, we do. In addition to our relationship with the FierceMarkets brand, we also collaborate with the Questex hotel division on a pharmaceutical meeting planner event.
MD: So it’s an opportunity for the greater organization to attract more clients but you don’t make a big push at the conferences?
SG: Our attendees are coming to one of our events to learn and get more involved in the industry. We don’t see this as a venue for a sales pitch about other Questex products. The events are really to help attendees grow their careers or help them solve a problem.
MD: What is the mix of attendees at one of your events?
SG: It varies from event to event. For example, in our medical affairs portfolio of events it’s mostly sponsors and service providers, but when you look at our clinical or data management events we are seeing more academics. At our BD&L Summit and M&A events we get a good showing of academics who are developing products or who have labs or partnerships with sponsors and are looking for business development advice.
MD: It sounds like ExL is a kind of university for the industry—in this case the life sciences industry—and people who are thinking about careers in it. These are courses that are not readily available to graduate students—they are more real-world type courses.
SG: That is spot-on. At Questex we think of it as a platform. The platform could be media, it could be face-to-face, it could be events. It’s an education-based platform that helps professionals solve problems, gain information, learn trends, but also have an opportunity to partner with service providers—that buyer /seller market. It’s a pure B2B environment designed on an educational platform.
MD: Thank you.