Our latest blog post is from Lauren Kane, Morressier’s Chief Strategy Officer, with how a well-designed RFP can help you find the perfect platform partner for your next virtual conference - and save you time and money in the process.
Choosing the right platform to host your virtual or hybrid conference is a critical decision – especially in these times. Societies, institutions, and other conference organizers are looking not just for software, but for a trusted partner who understands their specific needs and priorities.
In Spring 2020, most organizations needed to act very quickly to launch virtual meetings to replace their cancelled counterparts. Now, there is more time to make considered decisions about future events and engage in competitive evaluations. Given this, it’s no surprise that we’ve seen a large increase in requests for proposals, quotes, and public tenders. These inquiries reflect not just desired features and functionality, but act as a way for organizers to assess their long-term priorities. Is their meeting program primarily designed for scientific presentations? Scholarly exchange? Networking and social aspects? A way to generate revenue via sponsors and exhibitors? A good RFP gets to the heart of what’s most important to preserve in a virtual conference environment.
In order to ensure an RFP that will deliver the perfect platform partner for your organization, here are some tips, trends, and questions to consider:
While we sometimes receive RFPs for a single annual meeting, it is increasingly common for organizers to search for a partner for their entire portfolio, including smaller regional meetings, symposia, and more. A long term approach is more efficient, allowing staff to learn a single system and reap benefits from aggregating content on a single platform. This also can lead to economies of scale from your chosen partner.
While you may be looking for an end-to-end solution, you may also have aspects of the conference workflow (abstract management, registration, member database) firmly in hand. That’s perfectly fine - your platform doesn’t need to do everything, it just needs to play well with others. Your RFP should make clear both what you do and don’t need from a partner, and ensure that seamless integration with existing systems (such as SSO and API potential) is available. The same is true with hybrid - a good virtual platform will knit seamlessly with an in-person approach, enhancing the experience instead of creating two disjointed meetings.
For each event in your portfolio, provide the estimated number of attendees, speakers/presenters, poster authors, and exhibitors. It is also helpful to break down your vision for the program (or to provide an example from the previous year) such as number of live-streamed sessions, pre-recorded or on-demand sessions, networking and breakout rooms, etc.
List specific technological requirements in an Excel sheet under “must have;” “nice to have;” and “optional” headings, with a column for partner responses. This format allows for easy comparison across platforms and helps when weighing relative costs for certain premium elements. Requirements can include specific features and functionality, as well as security, bandwidth, and privacy issues. They can also include more opaque concerns; sometimes it’s better to describe a precise problem to be solved or opportunity to be seized instead of prematurely requesting a specific feature.
A meeting designed for scientific researchers and a virtual music festival in Poland (yes, we’ve received that RFP) requires a completely different user experience and interface. If you are serving an academic association or institution, then scientific rigour should be at the forefront of your considerations. Whatever your focus, a simple, elegantly-designed UI creates for a superior user experience, more attendee engagement, and less organizer headaches.
Some platforms are designed to be ‘out of the box’ solutions for expert organizers, while some offer comprehensive service and support. Understanding the availability and limitations of your internal team is an important precursor to an RFP – what will you manage and what do you expect a partner to manage? Is support provided at all stages or just during setup? ‘Dress rehearsals’ or early platform access can be an important requirement in ensuring your event is ready for prime time. Similarly, having a partner that provides support not just to conference organizers but to speakers, authors, and attendees can go a long way to ensuring a fantastic event and less pressure on a small internal team.
It’s easier to compare platform proposals when you require pricing in a certain format – say, per attendee, per poster, per session, etc. It is also helpful to provide your prospective partners with insights on how you will fund this expense. For instance, if a meeting is primarily funded via sponsorships and exhibitions, this can be weighed more heavily in pricing. It’s also helpful to request as much granularity in pricing as possible; sometimes premium elements that were “must haves” become less attractive when considering their respective price tag.
As with many big decisions, due diligence is key. Make sure to ask for references – ideally for organizations of a similar size and scope – that you can connect with to ensure that expectations and reality align. Trusted individuals that can speak to what it was like to actually work with a partner can be your best source of guidance, especially in finalist rounds. And, don’t be afraid to go off book. If you know someone that works with your prospective partner, ask what their experience has been. These direct testimonials can provide key insights and also provide advice for how to shape a positive working relationship.
Image courtesy of Scott Graham