The good, the bad and the ugly: virtual event platforms under the spotlight

23rd April, 2020

It’s no secret that industry event cancellations in the life sciences industry is resulting in barriers when it comes to interacting with customers more intimately, whether that be through one-to-one meetings or the traffic that having a physical booth during a conference provides. Well at least you’re saving money on your events budget! 

When we think about events like CPhI Worldwide, DCAT, Bio and Outsourcing in Clinical Trials (to name a few) and the partnering, networking, relationship building and exposure they offer, it’s clear that commercial teams are now looking for a meaningful replacement for these interactions. 

With no clear understanding of when things will get back to normal, marketeers and commercial teams across the pharma and biotech outsourcing space are moving to virtual event platforms to create environments that replicate a conference set-up. With the life sciences space historically focusing on traditional events and relationship building when forming new partnerships, the need to act quickly and start interacting more meaningfully is greater than ever. 

Many of our clients across the drug development supply chain are looking at virtual events as a complementary, alternative channel to help demonstrate expertise, build and nurture the pipeline and interact with customers and prospects.. So, with that in mind, we’ve summarised the top platforms we’d recommend exploring, that our clients are using to host their own events. 

P.S. Huge legal disclaimer, this is based on our own research and insights only, we don’t have any affiliation with these platforms and are simply making comparisons based on what we understand. 

P.P.S. there really aren’t any ‘ugly’ platforms, we just needed a catchy title for this toolkit…

Webinar vs virtual event 

When comparing platforms, it’s really important to distinguish between webinars and virtual events. If you want to host a presentation where you can showcase your own company’s content, inviting people to sign up and participate – that’s a webinar. A virtual event is something more expansive, which could include roundtable discussions, presentation tracks, virtual booth space, virtual meeting places and hundreds of participants. 

The tools and what we think they’re great for


Zoom is by far the easiest platform to set up,  especially if it is already used as a teleconference system within your organisation. It is basically a webinar platform without too many fancy elements. If you’re looking to host something more geared towards a webinar set-up that is small, simple and cost effective – Zoom is probably the way to go. One thing to mention is Zoom’s security flaws, which has led to some bad press recently. We’d recommend getting your IT folks to look into the detail before zooming ahead with this option. As an example, Industry associations like Bionow use Zoom.

Microsoft Teams – live events 

Teams’ live events are considered the next version of Skype Meeting Broadcast and are great for existing Microsoft Teams’ users. Similar to LinkedIn live, using a third party streaming service is advised which adds on additional costs. The enterprise Content Delivery Network (eCDN) tool allows you to stream content, acting as an online hub with live interaction. If you’re looking for a simple tool that integrates with a system you’re already using, Microsoft seems like a sensible solution. We’d summarise this tool as a sophisticated webinar tool with additional features. The majority of big pharma (such as Lilly, Allergan and Merck) are using this platform.


INXPO is probably the most sophisticated platform if you’re looking to host a large event with lots of moving parts. If you think of a traditional event where you have virtual booths, sponsors, multiple talks going on at the same time and lots of attendees – INXPO does just that. It also allows the largest numbers of attendees if you’re looking to do something on a bigger scale. 3M uses this platform but it seems to be more suitable for marketing companies that use the tool as opposed to life sciences companies (Marketo and Microsoft). 


Similarly to INXPO, Ubivent allows you to create a completely customised experience, like that of a traditional conference. They have a great track record in the sector, working with companies like BASF and Roche. This tool was originally created to widen the reach of physical events by putting them online. They’ve adapted to be able to host virtual events but the system doesn’t seem as sophisticated as INXPO.


Arguably, Workcast has the strongest track record, having supplied over 8,000 events with a million attendees. Its cloud-based software is also barrier free for attendees which means no software downloads or plugins. Workcast features both webinars and webcasts to create the virtual environment, as opposed to live talks happening at specific times. GSK and the NHS use workcast as a live event solution. 


ON2 is geared towards the B2B environment and has a user friendly, engagement hub that’s built to engage visitors and generate leads (as it’s really ‘call to action’ heavy). ON24 is more like a branded content hub that you can host attendees on. It’s available all year round as well so you can update as you see fit. Roche, Pfizer and Merck are currently using ON24 for live webinars and events. 

LinkedIn live 

LinkedIn live is essentially a streaming tool rather than a virtual event alternative, but we wanted to feature it as so many clients are looking into it. It’s brilliant for attendee reach as it uses its own platform to promote the stream. That’s all it really does on its own though and you need to apply for access to then partner with another company to stream the content. It looks easy to use but not ideal for hosting a virtual event.

Download our toolkit feature comparison here: Virtual event platforms featured

So, what’s the summary?

It really all depends on what you’re looking to do. Zoom is great for a webinar environment to showcase speakers and content. If you’re looking for something similar but even more low-key, LinkedIn live is probably your best option. If you want to host a large scale virtual event, INXPO, Ubivent or Workcast are the best platforms to look into. Finally, if you want something in between we’d suggest speaking to the team at ON24.

Promoting your service, product or technology in the life science space is tricky and before you consider your virtual event platform, we’d recommend spending some time thinking about your strategy. What’s the purpose of your event? What meaningful content themes are you going to produce? Is there a market that cares enough to attend? The life sciences industry is saturated with Covid-19 content right now so we’d recommend you thinking it through before jumping straight in. A focused, targeted topic is generally better than a general one. Soon we’ll be launching our virtual events playbook to help you do just that.