Virtual Events & Webinars: How are they different?

Virtual Events and Webinars - Two popular forms of online events hosted by organisations and their Procurement functions, but how are they different and which will deliver higher levels of supplier alignment and buy-in?

Recognising the limitations of their previous webinars, PharmaCo - one of the world’s large pharmaceutical organisations - hosted a virtual supplier summit in a strategic effort to communicate their sustainability targets to their suppliers and foster a two-way dialogue. Their goal was to move their supplier away from simply advocating sustainable practices to actively making impactful changes.
Virtual Event & Webinars


Creating long-lasting relationships with audience members is the sign of a well-executed event. Lately, to develop these relationships, organisations have been hosting regular online events.  

Producing better event ROI, reducing costs, and creating overall increased impact for participants, a professional and slick online event can improve and inspire new and existing connections exponentially. 

As with physical events, virtual ones have varying formats that organisations can adopt depending on their audience, agenda, and event purpose. The two most prominent are Webinars and Virtual events. 

What to host an online supplier event? Get in touch with our Advisory Team to find out how Supplier Day can help you get started. 




Webinars are likely the most common and well-known virtual event format. Akin to an open seminar, large-scale presentations or workshops, webinars address a core topic – often by a singular spokesperson –  and provide audience members with advice,  information or instructions. Due to the short and focused nature of webinars, the content and agenda cannot cater to a breadth of topics, so instead, it focuses on select key points in-depth.  

Webinars do allow a large number of audience members to dial in from various global locations. This is particularly beneficial for Procurement functions as it allows them to connect with their supply chain representatives from around the world. 

Unfortunately, there is little opportunity for this vast audience to engage during the event owing mainly to the basic and under-utilised interactive tools available via webinar platforms. Standardly, webinar platforms would provide


  • A Chat Box that connects audience members with speakers and each other
  • A Q&A box which allows for direct lines of questions to the speaker 
  • And polls that allow the audience to share their standpoints. 


To develop audience interactions, speakers/host should encourage audience participation via the available functions. However, due to webinars’ short and one-directional nature, speakers cannot encourage sufficient audience participation within the given timeframe. This is a severe loss of opportunity for organisations hoping to establish a platform for collaborative communication. 


Virtual Events:


Alternatively, there are virtual events. A more comprehensive online gathering, virtual events mimic the format of physical events, executing elements including keynote speeches, breakout sessions, Q&A sessions, and networking opportunities online and live.

As a standard, virtual events have a broader content scope and can be leveraged to communicate a range of information from multiple sources/speakers within a singular event.

The length and agenda of these events often provide audience members with a choice of which sessions they would like to attend, helping to avoid the onset of audience fatigue – read more about the dangers of messaging fatigue here: Breaking Through Messaging Fatigue

Similarly, organisations can opt to host an event series, wherein multiple events are hosted under a singular event banner. This is an excellent way for organisations to maintain event momentum and increase audience buy-in towards their project/initiative over an extended period of time. 

Virtual events are designed to provide more natural opportunities for audience interactions and will often host a dedicated Q&A session where speakers can address audience questions live. This is the most crucial session within a virtual event as it brings audience members’ thoughts to the forefront of discussions and encourages candid answers from speakers. 

This sets a precedent for 2-way communication between speakers and audience members, further bolstered via the audience interaction in the Q&A and Chat boxes. With regular prompts and speaker encouragements, audience members can leverage these functions to create a personal hub for communication, inquiries and questions throughout the event. 

For audience members, these engagement functions allow them to speak during the event and be heard by those in leadership positions. For organisations, these functions are a crucial resource to refer to post-event, as it helps them discern the most frequently asked questions and understand how audience interaction unfolded throughout the event. This feedback informs organisations of their next steps, ranging anywhere from providing follow-up communications to planning their next virtual event. 


Audience Engagement in Action: 


Currently, Procurement functions looking to realign and refocus their relationships with their strategic suppliers find virtual events invaluable. They enable meaningful conversations to develop during and after the event, instilling positive impressions on audience members regarding the event’s core purpose and the role suppliers play in it all. This significantly strengthens suppliers’ relationships with their customers and increases Procurement’s chances of becoming a Customer of Choice. 

Many organisations that have relied on webinars in the past now realise that to attain higher levels of supplier alignment towards their initiatives, they need to alter their engagement methods fundamentally, i.e. switching from webinars to hosting virtual events.  

This stance was similarly adopted by one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, famously known for developing one of the COVID-19 vaccinations, hereby referred to as ‘PharmaCo’. 

PharmaCo had already executed several webinars for their suppliers promoting their sustainability initiatives, but there was a distinct lack of supplier alignment and buy-in. To attain high engagement numbers and firmly break away from a top-down communication method, they decided to change their approach. They opted to host a virtual supplier summit that invited their strategic suppliers to join them on their journey towards sustainability. 

By adopting the change from webinars to virtual events, PharmaCo were able to open a 2-way dialogue between their suppliers and leadership, provide clear collaborative opportunities, and leverage their supplier’s sustainability efforts to remain on track to becoming Net Zero by 2040. 


PharmaCo’s Engagement Strategy


PharmaCo hosted a focused 2-hour supplier summit consisting of 9 distinct sessions and 14 speakers. Despite the short timeframe, their event had a wide reach bringing in 1,200 unique visitors (a 76% turnout rate) from 62 different countries. There were also representatives from 600+ supplier organisations throughout the event. 

For PharmaCo, this event was their way of creating long-term impactful change towards their sustainability goals by energising their supplier ecosystem. The overall positive response from the event further drove PharamCo’s resolve to maintain their course towards Net Zero but this time with the help of their strategic suppliers. 


“Very slick effort, not been to a virtual event like that” – Anonymous 

“I enjoyed this summit and appreciate the priority that PharmaCo is giving to sustainability and the environment.” – Anonymous 


Audience Engagement: 


Throughout the event, to attain a higher level of audience engagement, PharmaCo consistently encouraged attendees to voice their opinion and use the engagement functions provided to them. Audience members were presented with a Chat box and Q&A function, as well as a mix of pre/post-event surveys, event booths, and session polls. All these methods allowed suppliers to engage with PharmaCo leadership and help develop a supplier forum.   

Over the course of 2 hours, PharmaCo successfully encouraged significant supplier engagement, including: 


  38 unique questions asked by audience members

  423 chats/comments within the event sessions

  139 unique visitors to the event booth

  And a total of 3552 emoji reactions across the event


This equated to approximately 18 chats/comments made every 5 minutes and 30 emojis reactions used per minute by attendees. 

There is an art to producing genuine event engagement. When executed well, organisations can help their suppliers develop an appetite for engagement, a hook that keeps audience members returning for more. 

Supplier Day are industry experts in producing state-of-the-art event engagement for any procurement audience group. Our comprehensive knowledge of our event platform allows us to deliver a bonafide engagement plan that encourages participants to engage with the event content/speakers and captivate their attention with a flawlessly executed virtual event.


Want to know more about what true audience engagement would look like for you? Contact our Advisory Team and find out how Supplier Day’s expertise in producing state-of-the-art event engagement can help you. 


Communication Strategy: 


The success of a virtual event is built on effective communication. Without something to communicate, events would not be held in the first place, and so everything from the event content and agenda to messaging and target audience should be selected with a specific communication strategy in mind.

When it comes to communication, virtual events aid in developing 2-way dialogues between attendees and speakers and encourage cross-attendee communication. In comparison, webinars maintain a one-directional communication style, making the experience similar to a lecture. By choosing to host virtual events with active communication at the forefront, organisations can move away from stagnant information exchange and instead focus on developing an ecosystem that thrives off the energy and enthusiasm of their target audience.

Supplier Day has helped companies across multiple sectors to curate bespoke event messaging, ensuring they hit the right note with their suppliers via our communication speciality, Strategic Empathy. 

For PharmaCo, they wanted their event messaging to relay their vision for Net Zero across their wider supply chain whilst setting clear expectations on what suppliers can expect from them and what they are looking for in their suppliers.

To achieve this, we started by developing their empathy mapping, working closely with PharmaCo to analyse their audience members’ mindset prior to the event and mapping the industry challenges/opportunities currently affecting them. From there, we used our expertise in content design to curate an event messaging and comms plan that ensures the suppliers are being met where they are. As a result, the event messaging communicated PharmaCo’s core sustainability priorities without sounding inconsiderate of existing supply chain struggles. 


Read more on how Supplier Day helped Logitech engage with their audience with the help of our Strategic Empathy


By the end of the event, as shown by their post-event survey, 100% of attendees ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ on whether they understood PharmaCo’s expectations from their suppliers to help support their sustainability goals. Similarly, 96% of attendees selected ‘agreed’ and ‘strongly agreed’ that their company is aligned and able to support PharmaCo’s vision and meet their expectations. 


As the industry experts in flawlessly executed virtual events, Supplier Day was able to help PharmaCo to curate a virtual supplier summit event that differentiated itself from their previously unimpactful webinars. This event stood as a gateway for PharmaCo to shift their suppliers away from simply advocating sustainable practices to actively making necessary changes in collaboration with them. Together, they are creating a collaborative supplier ecosystem that ensures PharmaCo can achieve their sustainability targets and maintain their company’s purpose of “Breakthroughs that change patient’s lives”.