A Turn Around the Exhibit Floor
A recent visit to the exhibit hall at a healthcare conference in Chicago provided a glimpse of the various efforts on the
part of drug companies to attract prescribing physicians to their booths. The intent is to dispense information about their
medicines while complying with the new laws and restrictive regulations governing such interactions. Some companies were clearly
working to stay ahead of the curve by creating involving and educational models, while others seemed reluctant to try anything
new, continuing to exhibit very large, very attractive, very expensive, and very empty booths.
An in-between approach was to offer free cappuccino, cookies, and desserts—a tactic that effectively drew a steady stream
of healthcare professionals but offered little except a view of brand promotional messages while waiting in line, followed
by a sugar and caffeine high. One suspects that the return on investment was hardly enough to cover the cost of the booth.
And don't forget the PPACA (Patient Protection Affordable Care Act) with its rules that anything over $10 must be reported
(with a cap of $100 a year). Those cappuccinos can start to add up. And the onus is on companies to capture and track each
item given to HCPs; unless they do so, pharma companies run the risk of violation, including stiff fines.
Takeda Pharmaceuticals, on the other hand, opted for a more involved form of engagement. Its booth was a very large walk-in stomach. Entering the
stomach, participants encountered presenters stationed in front of interactive tables. A sophisticated touchscreen virtually
led the participants deep inside the walls of the stomach to the bridal cells to show how acid is emitted once something is
eaten. Then—presto!—a capsule of Dexilant was dropped into the stomach and participants were able to guide two waves of capsules
over the bridal cells to stop the acid production and reflux.
Restech Respiratory Technology, a startup company with a small booth, drew a steady crowd of healthcare professionals with their presentation of the Dx–pH
Measurement System that provided an accurate, real-time measurement of airway pH events. The display included a model of the
head and neck with a plastic catheter running through the nose and down to the airway. Because the device must be worn for
24 hours, the challenge was to gather the data without interrupting the patient's work or lifestyle. The display included
a photo of a patient with the catheter secured to her cheek with Tegaderm (thin, clear sterile dressing), and wrapped behind
her ear. There was no gimmick—just a real-life, effective demonstration of the product and how it worked.
Shire, a global specialty biopharmaceutical company, weighed in with a theater-style setup offering information from a key opinion
leader (KOL). Healthcare professionals watched a video of a physician presenting data on two medications. When finished, free
smoothies were offered along with an opportunity to speak with the presenting physician who was stationed at the exit.
Salix Pharmaceuticals offered one of the more curious exhibits—a glass-enclosed Money Booth. Participants were invited to step inside the booth
while money was blown around and they were urged to grab as much cash as they could. The money caught was donated to charity.
But what was the point: To make participants look foolish, if not greedy? Brand awareness? But wouldn't the participants be
more likely to forget the brand (which was Relistor, by the way) and instead remember the experience of scrambling for flying
AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals went with their tried-and-true, iconic booth, shaped in the form of a purple pill. Inside the pill was a sales representative
with a touchscreen presentation detailing the product—all told, the standard approach.
Johnson & Johnson had a very large booth with signage offering a free educational resource book and the opportunity to have
it personalized—with some caveats about to whom the book could and couldn't be given to (for example, no government employees).
Again, the company seemed to be going for brand awareness. In turn, crowd participation was thin.