The End of Quid Pro Quo

Mar 01, 2009
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

Steve Mapes
For years, quid pro quo has been the unspoken basis for physician–exhibitor interactions at conventions. But in 2009, new PhRMA guidelines will change the convention experience. Some of these guidelines, paralleling the growing momentum in state reporting laws for physicians, will require a change of strategy, tactics, and behavior for both attendees and exhibitors at healthcare conventions.

One of the more impactful new PhRMA guidelines is the elimination of most gifts or premiums, commonly referred to as tchotchkes. Many are holding their breaths to see how physicians react when they discover that all they're getting at conventions is information. Marketers who judge the performance of their exhibit by the lines of physicians waiting to pick up a personalized journal, a laser pointer, or even a latte will have to look for other ways to measure success, because the unspoken quid pro quo (listen to my detail and you'll get something for your time) is officially dead.

No Nothing

Specifically, the new guidelines eliminate all "gifts" and promotional giveaways to physicians that do not provide educational value to physician or patient, including reminder items like paper pads, USB drives, coffee mugs, and pens. This also includes gifts that aid in patient treatment, such as stethoscopes, thermometers, scales, and tongue depressors. (The complete PhRMA Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals can be found at Look for some disorientation on the part of both physician attendees and exhibitors at this year's conventions. It will take time for physicians to understand that when the detail is finished, that's it—no laser pointer, no latte, no nothing.

Unfortunately, the coming disorientation is marketers' fault because, in the effort to maximize the number of attendees at our booths, we've given physicians a sense of tchotchke entitlement. For example, when word leaked that a booth had just opened a box of travel mugs, highly educated and well-paid physicians could be seen jostling for a place in line.

Conventions Strategies '09: The Experience is the Message
This behavioral phenomenon was described by Gustave Le Bon in his 1896 work, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind: "No matter their occupation or character or intelligence, when in a crowd [individuals] are transformed into a collective mind. They feel, think, and act in a manner quite different from how they would individually." In other words, somehow that travel mug seems more valuable at the convention than when one gets back to the hotel room.

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