Making critical research accessible via virtual
Every year, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) brings together the best and brightest minds in research and medicine from institutions all over the world to share the latest discoveries in cancer research.
The annual meeting provides critical exchange of information, key collaboration opportunities, and new data that is valued by the entire cancer research community.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continued to grow more serious, it became clear that the in-person event would have to be cancelled. But AACR knew that it was crucial to distribute the research and provide a forum for reliable information, while also increasing the membership base and building brand relevance for the organization.
Freeman and AACR have partnered together for over 30 years for in-person events. When the event needed to pivot quickly, Freeman stepped up to utilize the expertise of its team to deliver the first-ever virtual AACR annual meeting in record time.
The typically six-day event was broken into two smaller virtual events, one planned for April, and the other planned for June. The April event offered two full days of content, starting with opening plenaries and three concurrent sessions.
Freeman recommended that AACR intersperse mostly on-demand presentations with pre-recorded content, to help ensure a smooth experience without glitches.
Freeman delivered custom-branding on the virtual platform with graphics and content provided by AACR, creating an engaging online location that offered learning modules for posters and sessions, interactive networking features to help attendees communicate, and an area to highlight the 25 partners, with tiered sponsorship opportunities.
Freeman producers worked closely alongside AACR’s producer to help translate the event content from the real world to the digital one. They partnered together to develop, edit, and produce the pre-recorded sessions and prepare for the livestreams.
A broadcast studio was set up in Dallas that allowed Freeman to manage the multiple livestreams, edit content, prepare speakers in a virtual green room, and provide online support throughout the event.
A rehearsal was conducted the day before the event with speakers and presenters to help iron out any last-minute changes. The virtual green room helped speakers sync their presentations and check their audio visual settings one last time, and then, the Freeman team seamlessly switched over their individual stream to the live session “stage.”
AACR’s typical registrations usually top out at around 23,000 for the live event. Early on, they expected around 30,000 for the virtual event, but by the day before the event, that had almost tripled. 68,000 people registered for the free event, with 24,000 registrants viewing concurrent sessions at peak times.
Despite registration and attendance being much higher than originally planned, the virtual event platform was rock-solid for the duration of the event, handling the massive audience without glitches, audio issues, or slowdowns. More than 7.6 million minutes of livestreamed content were viewed, complemented by more than 700,000 minutes viewed of pre-recorded content.
“This is unprecedented. I could not have predicted that this would happen,” said Antoni Ribas, MD, PhD, program chair for the AACR Annual Meeting 2020 and AACR President-Elect. “We were just trying to make sure that important clinical and scientific information was rapidly disseminated, and find the best platform for it to release data that could not wait for a later replacement meeting. It was all done in a short period of time, and we were thrilled that the platform held up to the massive audience.”
The first meeting went so well that AACR is working with Freeman to add an additional event in July, focused on COVID-19 and cancer, and a special conference on lymphoma in August, as well as expanding content for the second meeting in June. The virtual event in June will once more be free, and will feature more concurrent sessions; a longer opening session; and more exhibitors, sponsors, and over 4,000 posters. AACR is expecting registration numbers to be similar to the April event, or possibly higher, given the results from the first meeting.
“Freeman has been extremely supportive, helpful, and educational — they have some amazing staff who jumped in and really helped us go through the process,” said Pamela Ballinger, Senior Director, Meetings and Exhibits at AACR. “They have been a great partner for AACR. In this case, even with the challenges we had, they continued to support us, help us, and get us through our fear of the unknown. This was an extremely positive experience for us and I anticipate that the June meeting will be even better!”