Return on Opportunity

Investment in Convention Marketing
Sep 01, 2005

Is convention marketing the opportunity that will make up for the decline in office time? A few years ago, the Healthcare Convention Exhibitors Association (HCEA) conducted a before-and-after survey of physicians who attended a large medical meeting. The research produced some striking findings:

  • Forty-nine percent said they were more likely to recommend/prescribe a company's drugs after visiting the exhibit hall.
  • Eighty percent said they learned something new as a result of visiting exhibits. And these doctors are experienced—the survey sample had an average of 19 years of experience in the healthcare field.
  • Physicians spent about 2.6 hours over the course of the meeting in detail time—compared with about 2.2 hours spent in detailing over the course of a month in their offices.
  • Company and brand awareness increased an average of seven percent among physicians polled.

Healthcare professionals at conventions acknowledge that they are looking for answers and solutions to their needs, as well as searching for new therapies and products. Conventions and meetings provide the optimal situation to present face-to-face, away from the target customer's normal working environment. Plus, this opportunity capitalizes on an atmosphere supportive to research, open discussion, and acquisition of new learning—all part of the motivation to attend conventions and meetings in the first place. It is likewise an atmosphere that fosters collegiality—in peer discussions of products presented on the convention floor.

Consider as well that the cost of detailing a healthcare professional at a convention is thirty percent less than the cost of a field sales call; convention marketing is a serious contender for the optimal selling opportunity.

Nonetheless, conventions don't rank high on the list of things marketers pay attention to. That's unfortunate. Maybe the situation could be helped if product and brand managers adopted a new way of thinking—both qualitatively and quantitatively—about the benefits that conventions can provide.

A Changing Environment

The selling environment is in a state of flux. While it used to be a given that reps would be seen in the doctors' offices, that simply is no longer a valid assumption. Managed care has redefined the nature of the time the doctor spends in the office. Multiple surveys, although coming up with slight variations in numbers, indicate that doctors do not spend much time with reps who visit their offices. On average, a doctor will see approximately 15 reps a month, spending one to seven minutes with each.

Practices that once gave reps time with doctors outside the office—golf, sporting events, and the like—have disappeared with the dawn of the PhRMA guidelines and the OIG guidance.

Journal advertising has proven to be effective, but unlike the office visit, there is no face-to-face interaction.

Promotion aimed at patients has helped fill the gap. Consumers have been responsive to DTC advertising. And although doctors are not big fans of self-diagnosis on the part of patients, they tend to give their patients the products they ask for by name (if it's appropriate). But there is reason to wonder how long DTC will be effective. FDA is looking harder at what is being said and how it's being presented to the consumer. Surveys have shown that:

  • Forty-two percent of doctors polled say they feel a little or some pressure to prescribe a drug asked for by their patients
  • Seventy percent of US consumers do not ask for or demand drugs they see advertised on TV.

If, in fact, DTC advertising expenditures hover in the $3 billion range, as DDMAC claims, that is considerable money spent on an effort that is at best questionable. There is also the consideration that DTC practices have not always contributed to favorable public relations for pharma. Some pharma companies are voluntarily suspending DTC advertising in the wake of intensified political pressures. DTC is an easy target for politicians when they are not focusing on practices that target healthcare professionals.

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