11 Sep 2012

Medical Exhibitor Delivers Straight Talk on Exhibiting Challenges

An anchor exhibitor at large medical conventions provided some straight talk at the Survey Shows Growth, Trends, and Threats in the Exhibition Industry 2012 Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum on what his company wants as an exhibitor, highlighting a creative and successful partnership with the American College of Cardiology.

The last four years have been a challenging environment for exhibitors as budgets have shrunk or stayed the same, while exhibiting costs have gone up, said Jeffrey Masters, senior manager, global healthcare events at Phillips Healthcare, Andover, Mass., speaking to an audience of 200 exhibition organizers at ECEF. Consequently, the amount of exhibit space that Phillips takes at the 500 events it exhibits at annually, 53 as anchors, has gone down too.

 Phillips is more selective about which shows it chooses to exhibit at or sponsor. The company looks at a variety of factors when considering events, including performance metrics. But it doesn’t measure return on investment because it is very difficult to calculate for a specific event, said Masters. Rather, each show is measured for its ability to create “pipeline” sales opportunities. “It’s not my job to close those deals; I have no control over that,” said Masters. “Measure me on the opportunity we created.” For every dollar that Phillips spends on exhibits, it wants to get $20 to $24 back in opportunity. Events that cannot be measured effectively will likely be downsized or removed from event portfolios, he said.

It’s important for event organizers to know what an exhibitor wants out of the show so they can customize a package that fits those needs. As one of the largest medical device manufacturers, Phillips is not looking to create brand awareness. “You’re not going to see us buying bus wraps or things for visibility,” he said. What Phillips focuses on is creating preference, attracting and retaining accounts, and establishing long-term relationships. To do that, Phillips wants to produce compelling experiences for attendees that go beyond a booth on a slab of concrete—and it wants show organizers to help them achieve that goal.

One of Phillips’ most successful partnerships is with the American College or Cardiology. For the past three years at the ACC annual meeting, Phillips created an educational experience called “The Heart of Innovation Learning Destination” that explored the past, present, and future of two conditions: coronary artery disease and heart failure. “These are heart doctors who are extremely and extraordinarily interested in being in sessions,” said Masters. “They have come to this meeting to learn, learn, learn, not to be just hawked at out in the exhibit hall.”

The ACC, in conjunction with Phillips, built a non-accredited learning environment that brought physicians to the show floor to learn about and experience innovative new products in multiple exhibits that included a hybrid operating room. Phillips also built a “Thought Leader Theater” where attendees could listen to panels and expert presentations on the topic area. More than 2,500 healthcare professionals visited the exhibit and stayed for an average of 29 minutes. “We’re trying to make face-to-face meaningful beyond the overt selling of products,” said Masters. “I can’t thank the ACC enough for being terrific partners on this adventure.”

Why You Must Measure

Masters also talked about a few things he requires as an anchor exhibitor—and a few things he doesn’t want to see.

One requirement is on-demand authentication of attendees’ registration data at the time of the swipe. “I need to see the name, I need to be able to validate the address, phone number, and e-mail if they want to give it to me.” He doesn’t want to get the records after the show from the association because the information might not be updated. He also encourages organizers to have the most advanced swipe technology so data can be captured in real time.

One of Masters’ pet peeves is being asked to contract for booth space more than one year out. He’s had some show organizers come to him a month before their current year’s show and ask for a contract for the following year. “That doesn’t allow me to measure, it doesn’t allow me to change up—it causes a lot of problems internally for us.”

Another concern is housing deposits. “I don’t have a budget for those deposits, so I have to set up revolving accounts, and anyone who works with an accountant knows that accountants really hate revolving accounts.”

The producer must allow him to use his proprietary measurement and swipe-gathering systems. “As a large anchor exhibitor, I’m not going to use the show’s preferred lead system; it’s just not going to happen,” he said. He needs organizers to help him measure the show the way he needs to measure it.

Measurement is a major challenge. For years, event professionals at companies have gone to the marketing table with little in the way of hard data while other marketers come armed with charts and graphs showing ROI. “We’ve got the largest below–the-line budget with the least amount of metrics to go with it,” said Masters. “If we can’t validate what we’re doing with metrics, we’re going to lose because there is huge pressure to move those dollars to other places to do work where it can be measured.”