So here's where the underlying economic system breaks down. Call it "Tchotchke Economics." First, price ceilings set the value
for exhibitors' convention tchotchkes at about $20 (as a result of suggested but voluntary PhRMA guidelines). So the "quid"—our
nominal payment for the physician's time—has devalued the commercial exhibit experience, creating an environment that seemingly
equates the value of the "quo"—product information—to the value of a physician giveaway. Consequently, by participating in
the quid pro quo process, physicians are complicit in this valuation of their time spent in a booth.
Like many price controls, a disequilibrium eventually develops between supply and demand (think 1970s oil price controls and
long lines at the pump) because, as you can imagine, physicians place greater value on their time than $20 for a visit at
an exhibit, and exhibitors certainly value their investment in a convention more highly. The market wants to offer more but
Secondly, USB drives, travel mugs, and laser pointers make up the currency in Tchotchke Economics. Like any currency, on the
convention floor it is highly coveted, and resultant attendee behavior makes any product discussion only the means to an end.
Add in the herd mentality, and one can understand why some physicians avoid the exhibit floor and exhibitors scratch their
heads when analyzing their convention ROI. The new PhRMA guidelines could be the best thing that has happened to pharma conventions
in a long time. Because they eliminate premiums, the most valuable exhibitor offering is still available: information or the
real science as marketing that helps differentiate your product from the competition.
With the price ceiling removed in the post-tchotchke economy, exhibitors can focus exhibiting strategies and tactics on maximizing
real value to physicians. In the long run, physicians will return to the commercial exhibit floor when they discover that
the new currency is now valuable information—such as the outstanding efficacy or safety profile of a product. The competitive
landscape will most likely change, and physicians will gravitate to exhibits with the best presentation of information, not
because someone is giving out umbrellas in Seattle.
The New Convention Experience
Medical conventions are still the source of new medical information, and a key source of CME credits as well as unparalleled networking opportunities. Conventions
are the only marketing channel where prospects actually come to healthcare exhibitors. Conventions also offer the ability
to engage a physician in meaningful educational experiences in a relaxed environment with creative media and compelling interactive
tools for a duration longer than the average sales call. In fact, as exhibit marketers now focus more on their message and
less on where the tchotchke line goes, experiential learning will become an important way to communicate with physicians in
Compelling experiences transcend the moment and sink lasting anchors in the memory. A first person schizophrenic experience
in your booth, for example, may change how a psychologist interacts with his patient (and remembers your brand). In fact,
Exhibit Surveys, a trade show research company, finds that among eight measures, such as product interest and salespeople,
premiums are consistently the least effective way to make an attendee remember an exhibitor. This is the new quid that we
have to consider for the future of medical conventions.
Over the years, Tchotchke Economics and resultant herd mentality has obfuscated the real purpose of convention exhibits for
both exhibitors and attendees, and has taken some of the luster off this very valuable face-to-face marketing channel. In
2009, when calm breaks out at the commercial exhibits, disorientation should turn to satisfaction because both attendees and
exhibitors can get down to the real business of scientific information exchange.
Steve Mapes is vice president, creative services of Impact Unlimited. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org