The End of Quid Pro Quo - Pharmaceutical Executive

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The End of Quid Pro Quo

Pharmaceutical Executive


Tchotchke Economics

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 cannot.

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 exhibits.

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


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