Among other findings, the study shows that for healthcare professionals, the most valued face-to-face interactions are symposia
or CME live sessions. Not only are these interactions highly valued, they are also the way by which many of these professionals
get information about specific pharmaceutical products. In fact, 35 percent of all study participants say they typically get
product information from symposia or CME sessions, and 26 percent get product information at medical conventions.
Why do medical convention attendees visit exhibits? Data showed that a majority of visitors come to learn about products,
or to see what's new. Nearly two-thirds of the study participants identified these as primary reasons they visit exhibits.
Other Marketech studies have shown that learning from in-booth theater-style presentations, e-details, and interactives—along
with easy-to-read graphics and spaces that are easy to navigate—are important factors that make an exhibit memorable once
the visitor is there.
When asked directly about whether "Giving out promotional incentives unduly pressures doctors and other healthcare professionals
to prescribe or recommend the represented product," nearly 70 percent expressed disagreement. (See sidebar). Responses also
showed that promotional items have only a minimal impact on exhibit hall visitation.
Prior to the implementation of PhRMA code changes, 75 percent of all physicians who participated in the study predicted that
the changes would not affect their exhibit hall visitation.
With the new code in effect, nearly 86 percent of all survey participants say the changes have not influenced their decision
to visit the hall.
Maximizing Marketing Opportunities
Most convention attendees will continue to visit the exhibit hall, but exhibitors must make some adjustments to ensure they
get the most from their exhibiting efforts. The question is where to start.
The PhRMA code stipulates that items must be educational and medically relevant. Findings from the Marketech study indicate
that textbooks, disease state materials, and anatomical charts or models are all at the top of the list.
Furthermore, the study shows that attendees prefer to receive these items on a CD, DVD, or flash drive rather than in a paper
Convention sponsorships have been another effective, albeit expensive, traffic-building tactic. When queried about sponsorships,
most participants indicated that sponsorships didn't influence decisions to visit specific exhibits. They may, however, build
or add to brand positioning.
With or without the new PhRMA code, convention managers need to approach their exhibiting program with discipline and purpose.
Effective planning, training, and measurement are the cornerstones of effective healthcare convention exhibiting, regardless
of the size of the company or its convention marketing budget. These provide a critical foundation for continuous improvement
for all exhibiting activities.
However, 85 percent of exhibiting success is tied to the performance of the convention exhibiting sales staff. Effective performance
is often a challenge since the skills needed in a convention environment are very different from the ones used in sales calls.
The absence of promotional products to entice visitors to stop at the exhibit makes it even more important for the staff to
know how to perform well in the exhibit hall. Training is often necessary to make sure the staff is operating inside their
comfort zone. Training can teach them how to effectively engage visitors who pass by the exhibit. Once the visitor is engaged,
training can show them how to successfully probe, identify opportunities for learning, deliver relevant messages, and then
transition the visitor to other appropriate areas in the exhibit.
An outside specialist in exhibit-based marketing—someone who can conduct live training for groups onsite—may need to be consulted
as part of a staff meeting at a healthcare convention or as part of a regional or annual meeting. Training also can be accomplished
for groups or individuals through various customized or off-the-shelf computer-based options. The specific approach chosen
is guided by company goals, infrastructure, and budget.
Trained staffers are then ready to measure and manage results. Performance measurement is the only way exhibitors gain access
to information they need to make critical, fact-based decisions about their program. As with training, convention managers
don't always have the time, knowledge, or resources to manage such activities on their own, and this is another area where
pharmaceutical companies can benefit from outside help.
Different tools that can be used to capture important performance data (see accompanying story "Two Views From Inside The
Exhibition Booth") include visual competitive audits, exit interviews, customer journey analysis, and other types of quantitative
analysis. With the intelligence gleaned from these types of measurement activities, pharmaceutical executives are in a much
better position to make good decisions on a macro level—such as which conventions to include in the program and the appropriate
size and budget for each—as well as on a micro level, such as the value and effectiveness of specific in-booth activities,
demonstrations, sponsorships, and other components of the program.
Marc Goldberg, CME, is founder and partner at Marketech, Inc., a specialist in exhibit staff training, performance measurement, and consulting.
He can be reached at email@example.com