In a world where face-to-face interactions are regularly replaced by electronic communication, today’s healthcare exhibit manager is being asked to reduce costs, reduce headcount and become more efficient. The result is a significant oversight of the convention opportunity: the in-person meetings with healthcare professionals who are next to impossible to reach in the field. Rather than explore the potential of the opportunity, the exhibit manager faces
- Considerable time spent managing multiple suppliers.
- Complicated processes.
- The internal perception that exhibit managers are tactical, that they offer product teams too little strategic insight, and that they don’t always grasp real business objectives.
- The sacrifice of innovation to lower cost solutions.
- Product teams soliciting ideas wherever they can get them instead of tying these ideas to measurable objectives.
- Big picture initiatives that fail to gather steam.
Exhibit strategy takes a back seat to the struggle to add to or prove the value of conventions as a powerful marketing channel, one deserving of adequate funding among the other channels vying for resources. With product managers essentially driving programs, the intrinsic value of the exhibit program is not properly understood, the department becomes vulnerable to major budget cuts, and the exhibit manager has no say in areas that would benefit from streamlined, cost-effective processes such as sourcing and distributing digital content, data collection, virtual engagement, and measurement.
A new direction for the future
In the future, exhibit managers will assume their rightful role in marketing, becoming advocates for innovation, efficiency and that rare opportunity to speak to healthcare professionals face to face. In the future, the healthcare exhibit manager will build and engage in strategic multi-tiered relationships internally, establish relationships above the day-to-day execution stream, and enhance the product team’s perception of (and confidence in) the exhibit initiative, while garnering early buy-in from senior leadership for important initiatives.
The healthcare exhibit will be perceived internally as a significant force in the revenue stream, a business opportunity, a cost-effective means of reaching key influencers when compared to other media, a channel that meets the challenges of shifting markets head on. The exhibit manager will become a strategist with an agenda that includes
- the process of identifying and reaching the target audience at each show
- developing the right presence for that audience
- executing and measuring success, including contribution to revenue
Unlike the current focus and ongoing insistence on cost savings that puts nearly all the emphasis on execution and ignores the strategic agenda, the exhibit program of the future will combine the efforts of the product teams and their vendors with the strategic capabilities of the exhibit team and its partners to develop fresh ideas The sharing of strategic resources will make it possible to create scalable solutions that result in noticeable cost savings.
The future includes global solutions
As markets become global, exhibit programs will need to become increasingly scalable to adapt to the needs of new markets and to preserve brand integrity. The defining reality for the near future is that budget and headcount pressure will soon demand that creative development and execution happen on a global (versus product or domestic) level, driven by economies of scale and the enormous potential for cost savings.
Globally, data collection and measurement will become critical elements for unifying exhibit programs around the world with an eye toward establishing common performance benchmarks and building a global customer database. This essentially demands a “de-siloing” of the creative development process and emphasis on solutions that are the result of collaborative, strategic vision.
Refocusing the exhibit function
Future solutions will refocus the exhibit function to include core issues and a centralized strategy. When measurement and evaluation systems are in place, the corporate exhibit department can adopt a closed-loop system. Hard data can demonstrate, among other things,
- whether a particular approach works on the show floor:
- the ratio of cost to return
- effective drawing power
- the educational value of the initiatives
- how well an attendee recalls the key messages.
- measure the success of the exhibit program
- satisfy senior leadership’s demand for data
- shape the organization
- give insight into the market’s needs and expectations
- streamline creative development
- provide another platform on which to globalize the program.
Meanwhile, the exhibit manager will drive strategy based on an understanding of the product group’s business realities and competitive environment.
Refocusing creative development
With increased credibility and strategic direction coming from the exhibit team, creative development for each show will be much more focused. By insisting on a measurable business objectives as the endpoint, the creative process is less likely to be swayed by random ideas or the loudest voice in the room.
The goal is simple: To facilitate communication across all marketing channels and product groups and to deliver to the company’s business goals. This goal will be reached by driving show-specific strategic and creative development and on-site execution as well as critical program-wide initiatives like measurement, digital media, sponsorship opportunities, technology summits and the exhibit build. The future will depend on consistent teamwork relentlessly driving innovation and building relationships of trust in order to execute on strategy, on time and on budget – every time.
Refocusing channel marketing
The development of an integrated media communications strategy will leverage media investments across channels to capture more attention on and off the trade show floor. This will be the new model for marketing live events and communication, connecting audiences and brands with relevant, one-to-one communication, and leveraging all assets to create cost savings initiatives. In this spirit, digital media will put a fresh face on content, draw traffic and engages attendees.
The repetition of the brand promise across channels will drive preference and influence prescribing/buying behavior. And that is because development of digital media can, from the outset, be multi-purpose with development costs shared across departments. Plus with some necessary changes, repurposing media for use outside the US can be very cost-effective.
Success from one convention to another is quickly forgotten in the corporate environment, and frankly, the situation calls out for self-promotion in order to build for the future. This can be achieved with
- Better external reporting in the form of a simple, periodic newsletter highlighting key trade show successes and performance metrics.
- Better accessibility to creative concepts, both used and unused, to act as creative sparks that may hasten the creative process for all parties. Not every initiative requires an original approach.
- Better financial reporting to convey to senior leadership the role of the conventions department and the value of the convention medium.
Healthcare conventions will become a multi-faceted channel for communicating key messages to target audiences face to face. Assuming a singular focus and consistency of message across all channels, a unified team of strategists will enable efficiency, knowledge sharing, global innovations and broader value creation.