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March 7, 2023 // Alexandria Iacobelli  //       //  Opinion

HLTH, CES, ViVE, SXSW, Oh My! How to Choose the Best Speaking Engagements to Build Your Health Brand

Health tech companies continue to weather strong economic headwinds, layoffs across the industry and aging populations, making an effective public relations strategy more important than ever. These brands must be visible to succeed. But some teams focus so strongly on garnering media attention for their products and services that they forget a critical component of PR altogether: speaking engagements. 

Speaking engagements have so many benefits – from sharing a company’s story and position on a specialized topic, establishing executives as healthcare thought leaders, increasing brand recognition among relevant audiences, and differentiating a company from its industry competitors. And more often than not, reporters attend and closely cover these conferences and events in hopes of landing the first story on breaking M&A news, new technology launches, exciting data insights and looking for opportunities to sit down with C-suite executives to hear their perspectives on the industry’s hottest topics. 

In addition to quality earned media coverage, speaking engagements offer our clients diverse digital content that can be repurposed for their brands (think, recordings of their sessions to share on social media or content developed by the event organizers that mentions the executive or company and has broad reach). Not to mention the networking opportunities on the ground. Events are an effective way to amplify a company’s existing communications efforts.  

But how do you decide which events to apply for and attend? When is it worth going the sponsored route (as budgets get tighter)? When should you stick with organic opportunities? And how do you make your submission stand out? 

Given all of the questions our healthcare clients have around speaking opportunities, here are our top learnings, which also apply to many other industries:

The future is hybrid: Be prepared to take advantage

The COVID-19 pandemic forever changed in-person events. Virtual events filled a much-needed gap and largely succeeded in widening event speakers’ reach to those attending from the comfort of their own homes. But it was difficult to execute impactful programs at the same scale as in-person events, especially when it comes to the energy and networking of those pre-pandemic conferences. This year kicked off with professionals eager for the opportunity to attend large, in-person events again and get away from the Zoom and webinar fatigue. Events are exciting, fulfilling, and allow for deep personal and business connections. This is crucial in healthcare, where we’re in the business of saving lives and always ultimately working on behalf of patients, regardless of whether offerings are B2B or B2C.

But in the post-pandemic world (a controversial statement in and of itself), it’s not as simple as getting rid of virtual events all together. A hybrid option is likely here to stay, with a blend of virtual and in-person events becoming the norm so everyone can choose their own level of comfort in attending. Adding a virtual option also allows for more people to attend these events given the lack of travel costs and opens up events to more diverse audiences. HLTH and CES, which had its largest digital health program to date in 2023, both had in-person and digital passes available. Reuter’s is back with in-person events, but it also offers webinar opportunities to reach the at-home audiences. 

Although a hybrid roster of events is more challenging to navigate for all parties involved, ultimately it creates more opportunities for speaking engagements and a layer of flexibility around events that did not exist pre-pandemic. 

Elevate by making unexpected choices

Today, the list of high-level healthcare-related speaking events continues to grow, with more events creating health-specific tracks for attendees to join. The focus of these conferences range from health tech, pharma, policy, business, technology and more. While it would be easy to stick to the traditional industry conferences by going to “outside-industry” events, companies can stand out and make new connections. 

For example, one of our industry-leading medtech clients continues to elevate its thought leadership initiatives by attending a wide variety of events, both within health and outside of health. There are medical and disease-specific conferences where it continues to be a leading voice. Then there’s the broader healthcare industry events, such as the J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference and HLTH. Those events are a chance to collaborate with other major  players across the entire health ecosystem. 

Lastly, SXSW and CES are examples where in years past healthcare companies were few and far between. Now, our medtech and pharma clients join main stage presentations and the conferences have begun to create health-specific tracks given the huge impact of healthcare. This creates opportunities to be at the center of innovation and cultural relevance – critical in today’s environment, where patients are now consumers and showcasing outcomes and demonstrating differentiation is key to survival.

Focus on quality over quantity

On to the logistics – the first step to securing a speaking opportunity is to identify and pursue the events where you’ll see the strongest return on your investment. There is value in quality over quantity. Research and find the strongest events that match the company’s target audiences and topics. 

For example, those focused on leading the dialogue around and development of a better health ecosystem should speak at HLTH and those focused on the technology transforming healthcare should apply for the sister event, ViVE. When mapped to the right event, executive submissions stand out, and organizers can more clearly see the value of adding them to a panel that attendees will come running to attend.

Remember that submitting a speaking nomination is a chance to flex storytelling capabilities and allow event organizers to see the unique perspectives a company has to offer, both to the field more broadly and the specific event agenda. It’s also important to note that as these events continue to adapt to this new environment, everyone wants to “get back out there,” resulting in strapped event organizers (many of whom are new to the events) managing complicated planning processes. Submissions must be incredibly strong to break through the noise and engage these busy organizers. With that in mind, think about what you can talk about that others won’t. If you can make a breakthrough medical or product announcement, do it the week of the conference and tease that in your submission.

A few other pro tips consider: submit early, make sure executives are actually available (and remain available by placing a calendar hold), and seek out event organizers and moderators to start discussions with them early, rather than relying on a form submission. Once an opportunity is secured, it’s time to make the most of each executive team member’s expertise. Prep calls are needed, along with a post-show strategy to maximize on the content from the event. Many healthcare executives are active via social media, making this a great place to continue repurposing recorded event content on LinkedIn or Twitter for others who may not have been able to join the event live. And even if a speaking role doesn’t come to fruition, there often is value in someone from your team attending the event to garner insights for next year’s submission period and network with potential customers and peers. 

Engage with your audience

When it comes time to pitch relevant reporters (remember, events often pay media dividends), ask the event organizers for an attendee media list, then start early and continue pitching through the end of the conference. If you can’t get the current year’s media list, work from the previous year’s, or soft-sound the reporters you think are likely to attend. Craft personalized pitches to healthcare trade reporters, who are particularly overburdened and often cover multiple beats at events. Let reporters know you’re interested in getting their insight and feedback from the event, which can help position your company as a source for their upcoming stories. 

Securing speaking engagements at high-profile events in a crowded landscape is challenging, but diving into how to tell each unique brand’s story in a fresh way is a surefire way to stand out and is vital within health tech. By having the right tools and an established, personalized communication plan exclusive to each client and persistence, companies will see the benefits come to play. 

As we head into another year of exciting and evolving events, such as SXSW, ViVE, Fortune Conferences, WSJ Live and more, the A+P team would love to help support your events strategy. 

To learn more about how our team can support your earned-speaking engagement plan, please reach out to

Alexandria Iacobelli is an account executive based in Chicago, where she supports Allison+Partners Health clients with thought leadership development, content strategy and  media relations efforts. 


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