How Bayer are using virtual events to activate their ecosystem

After two years of unprecedented disruption, Bayer wanted to engage its most valued suppliers in a redesign of how they would collaborate and grow together going forwards... with sustainability at the core.

Having worked with Supplier Day on its bi-annual Bayer Supplier Day in November 2021, Bayer is now restructuring its supply chain collaboration programme to feature more frequent virtual events, large and small, to capture the true power of its supplier community.


A new era of virtual events


Supplier events are long overdue for an overhaul. They’ve always been powerful tools for bringing a company closer to its suppliers, creating a sense of community and shared vision while embedding the host’s ‘customer of choice’ status. But the standard annual big bash format doesn’t work anymore: they’re expensive, lack any true purpose, and come with a whopping environmental footprint that is becoming difficult to justify

Of course, the pandemic accelerated a shift. Plans for physical events had to quickly adapt to a virtual event format and, as a result, we have plenty of learnings about what works and what doesn’t. Supplier Day are firm believers that the beauty of virtual is that the original constraints of physical events no longer exist, companies can think beyond an extravagant, one-off event, and instead host smaller events more frequently. This is far more effective for delivering consistent messaging that remains top of mind for suppliers.

Not to mention, with zero need to travel nor any limitations to capacity, it’s easier to get the right people there at the right time. This means that leaders can be present and participate in the select sessions that are relevant to them – the same applies to account managers, subject matter experts, and R&D specialists. Basically, by rethinking supplier days under a virtual model, these events can be utilised as a tactic within supplier engagement strategies. 

And Bayer is doing exactly that! In November 2021, Bayer partnered with Supplier Day to plan and execute their bi-annual Bayer Supplier Day event. The two-day event brought 1,346 people across 46 countries together to reflect, redesign and reignite collaboration at scale. Bayer’s transformation roadmap was shared openly with their supply chain, emphasising the opportunities for suppliers to engage with Bayer, participate in their transformation, and ultimately, grow. 


From Left to Right: Elisabeth Schlag-Lawrence (Head of Procurement Governance and Enabling at Bayer), Thomas Udesen (CPO of Bayer), and Caitlyn Lewis (CEO of Supplier Day). 


This event, which usually would be hosted physically near Bayer’s headquarters in Leverkusen, Germany, created the appetite for more virtual experiences. In his opening remarks, CPO Thomas Udesen shared that by hosting the event virtually, Bayer was able to save upwards of 460 tonnes of CO2 and that the Procurement team wanted to explore more opportunities to use virtual technology to engage their supply chain. 

“What we put in practice during this event will be a blueprint for how we work with our suppliers, both old and new, well into the future.” – Thomas Udesen, CPO

This has long been the intention at Supplier Day: to harness the potential of virtual events technology to deliver carbon and cost savings to our clients without compromising on the quality of engagement with suppliers. Indeed, the ability to host virtual events more frequently enables procurement teams to build ‘Drumbeat Communication’ – A steady stream of actions and stories delivered over time to reinforce a consistent idea or theme. 


Creating Bayer’s Drumbeat


And with that, Igniting Networks LIVE was born.

From Left to Right: Caitlyn Lewis (CEO of Supplier Day), Andre Guillaume (, William Jolly (Global Procurement at Bayer Crop Science), Cristina Alonso (Head of Sustainability, Safety, Health and Environment at Bayer), Deena Razik (GEP Worldwide), and Malik Akhtar (Head of Procurement Consumer Health Product Supply at Bayer) at Igniting Networks LIVE

Supplier Day further collaborated with Bayer to design an event series that met their core objectives:

  1. To reinforce the messages from Bayer Supplier Day 2021
  2. To give suppliers a greater voice within Bayer’s procurement community
  3. To build a stronger connection between what Bayer delivers to its customers and the work they do with their suppliers.

Alongside these objectives, we reviewed feedback from the November event to ensure we designed an experience that put the audience first. We replaced the leadership panel discussion with a round of quickfire questions and closed the event with a live Rap Up from entertainer Baba Brinkman. Igniting Networks LIVE also saw the introduction of Supplier Advisory Councils: exclusive think tanks that saw Bayer engage with strategic suppliers on key elements of their procurement strategy – Risk Management, Sustainability, and Supplier Management. 


How Bayer won the hearts and minds of their suppliers


The most powerful session of the day was Bayer’s Customer Connect session. The session was hosted by Johnathan Duddleston, founder of the Factor Endurance Network, a consumer of Bayer’s pharmaceutical medications that aid in the management of bleeding disorders such as haemophilia. Sharing his experience with all in attendance, Johnathan accredited this medication as the reason he is still able to compete in endurance sports. His testimony on the transformation of his life, as a direct result of Bayer’s development in pharmaceuticals, reminded Bayer’s suppliers of the important role they play in making a big difference in the lives of many. This was a session that truly won the hearts and minds of Bayer’s procurement community and its suppliers. 

Johnathan Duddleston, Founder of Factor Endurance Network, spoke about the positive impact Bayer Pharmaceutical has had on his life as an individual with haemophilia.

By piloting this new event format, Bayer is demonstrating to their suppliers that they want to create an environment for collaboration that suits the virtual medium. By hosting them more frequently, Bayer is able to address current affairs and challenges quickly and at scale, features highly responsive and relevant content made by suppliers, and that maps progress at the company in real-time. Nearly 75% of attendees indicated that the event was extremely important in helping them to build stronger relationships with Bayer. Moreover, the mix of strategy, insight, and entertainment helped to drive greater supplier alignment to key goals. 

This is what we mean when we talk about the drumbeat of communication. The reason it works so well is that the odds that a message delivered once will break through is incredibly low. We’re all so busy running from one demand to the next, and so over-stimulated that we’ve become too effective at filtering out information. But if we build up those small messages in different avenues over time, there is a better chance that the message will be heard and catalyse action.