DES Spotlight: Carola Van Der Hoeff, Senior COO & Congress Director, International Pharmaceutical Federation

Digital Event Strategist Spotlight: Carola Van Der Hoeff

It is no secret that COVID-19 has upended the business events industry. As digital events are taking a prominent place in recovery, event planners are left at the proverbial crossroads. Adapt or fall to obscurity. Carola Ven Der Hoeff found herself at this crossroads and took the path towards being certified as a Digital Events Strategist. This is her story.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your organization.

I’m the Chief Operating Officer and Congress Director at International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP). We are a global organization representing pharmacists, pharmaceutical scientists, and educators. Our mission is to support global health by enabling the advancement of pharmaceutical practice, sciences, and education.

My background is primarily as a professional conference organizer. 11 years ago, I went from a PCO (professional conference organizer) to the association side and have grown to be the Chief Operating Officer. Now, I’m overseeing the organization’s daily operation, finances, membership, marketing and our congresses.

In March 2020, we were faced with a global pandemic, and quickly found out how ill-prepared we were. We as an organization reached a tipping point. With a staff member in charge of webinars leaving, we had more questions than answers. “What do we do? Are we going to postpone? Should we cancel?”

We had to figure it out.

Luckily, a colleague converted herself as an avid learner and guru of digital events. And as her manager, I felt I needed to not only understand what we were talking about with digital events but I needed to learn with her. I started researching education programs on virtual events and came into contact with the colleagues at the Singapore Convention Bureau, who introduced the DES course offered by PCMA. I was really impressed with the content. I generally learn by doing, but at the same time it was incredibly helpful to hear all the different views from the Subject Matter Experts in different modules. For example, we learned about having interactive polls as an important feature in digital events, which validated and confirmed the ideas I had in the first place.

The future will be digital, and we as events professionals must know what’s going on. If you don’t go with the flow, it’s a missed opportunity. Having this certification is very important for me as an investment in myself.

Knowing the why will not only make you a better colleague, but also equip you with the knowledge to have strategic conversations with key stakeholders. Are you planning on having strategic meetings going forward about digital events?

Absolutely. In January 2021, we’re going to discuss how our future will look like for our events, and how do events fit in the organizational strategy. We’re also going to discuss important questions about revenue streams because not having our congresses in person is not sustainable for our association, so we do have to look for other income streams.

The DES course helped me to think strategically, how can we do better?

What key learnings from the DES course have you implemented in the events you produced or are producing for the future?

The revenue module was very important for me. It’s a crucial part under our organization strategy of how one moves forward. Associations are overwhelmed, and we’re all wondering, “What are we going to do? And how are we going to do it?” The DES course pointed me to look at the bright side, that is: digital events can increase our membership, which can be a new way of generating revenue.

If a friend or colleague is on the fence about taking the DES course, what’s your advice?

If you’re in our industry, you need to understand what’s going on, and you need to continue to invest in yourself. I’m very happy that I took the DES course from PCMA, a professional organization that I speak of highly.


The Digital Event Strategist Spotlight series features Digital Event Strategists and how they are making an impact in their work through digital and hybrid events.

For inquiries about the Digital Event Strategist certification, please complete this form.

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