Healthcare exhibitors: warning! Don’t believe the pitch that goes, “Well, we haven’t worked in healthcare up to this point, but healthcare exhibiting can’t be that different from [fill in the blank], right?” To exhibit houses and agencies with no experience in the industry, landing a healthcare account is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Dreaming of ambitious show schedules, multiple product launches at congresses across a wide variety of therapeutic areas, and massive budgets, these agencies, all too often, blunder big time in their approach to healthcare exhibitors.
Healthcare exhibiting has a language and processes all its own. The question healthcare exhibitors have to ask is, how much time can you allow to enable a learning curve for agencies that have no experience in the industry?
Then there’s another school of thought that advocates working with an inexperienced supplier. It goes, “Working with an agency that delivers mostly healthcare exhibiting solutions results in a tired presence on the exhibit floor, while working with an agency outside healthcare exposes you to best practices in other industries that you can adopt to healthcare.” (Hint: if you want to learn what characterizes exhibits in another industry, go to one of the shows in the industry.)
Not all healthcare exhibits are knock-offs of one another. By working with an agency that knows healthcare and setting out your expectations, you don’t end up teaching the untutored group about your industry.There is a perception that creativity plays second fiddle to compliance. But in the words of Tim Hawkey, managing director and executive creative director at healthcare agency Area 23, “Creativity is creativity, and when we use pharma or healthcare as a modifier for our creative work, then we’re lowering the bar to meet us where we are. Instead, let’s leave the bar where it is and stretch ourselves to meet it.”
You can’t afford to trust your program to industry rookies.When it comes to your exhibit program, there are many reasons to choose to work with a healthcare-savvy agency. Here are five of them.
Lexicon. Knowing the language unique to the healthcare industry is critical. A solid reputation and experience in the industry mean that an agency talks the talk. This is not only important for discussions about the exhibit itself. Language plays an important role in the relationships between agencies and product managers, between exhibit houses and procurement. There are no glossaries provided at these meetings. When a compliance officer questions how you plan to show the ISI, there are no cue cards to explain the term.
Compliance. So much has been written about compliance issues in healthcare exhibiting that many people believe that somewhere the healthcare industry keeps a playbook of the “you can do this but not that” variety. The misconception is incredibly widespread. The truth is that the interpretation of guidelines—and most of the compliance decisions are about interpreting guidelines, not following rules—is the function of the internal compliance and regulatory departments at any given company. You know that. And savvy healthcare agencies understand approval from these departments necessitates adequate timelines and will help you build those out.
Program management. You can’t fake this part. While other industries might have two or three shows a year bolstered by activations, users’ groups, and other events, healthcare companies target healthcare professionals (HCPs) across many markets. The markets might be therapeutic or geographical. They might be specialty or primary care. Planning a healthcare program involves planning for a scalable presence at a number of shows—often a large number; presenting the correct brand hierarchy; and ensuring consistency in the representation of brand and corporate identity. Messaging at each show involves awareness of the anticipated attendance of the target market, which also has budget implications. Is the 40’ x 40’ exhibit right for this show—or should we use the 10’x 20’ inline? Your partner’s experience is invaluable when making these decisions.
Government agencies. Up-to-date knowledge of the rules coming from various government agencies—from federal to state—is a sine qua non when choosing a partner. These rules cover what types of conversations can take place on the show floor, in promotional or commercial exhibits as well as in medical spaces. There are rules that cover giveaways and reporting of value, and some states have their own laws that are in play both for HCPs from that state and at medical meetings held in the state. Relying on people who not only know what these rules are but also have experience in how things can go wrong—or right—saves multiple headaches, headaches which can include massive fines.
Collaboration. Last but not least, exhibit partners experienced in healthcare know how to collaborate with other agencies. They understand that they will be working with multiple agencies and have learned to play nicely in the sandbox. As a corporate exhibit manager, this is important to you. Your goal is to build a successful program that helps the bottom line—not to referee turf wars. Moreover, pooling knowledge that results in efficient graphics scaling and multi-use media streamlines processes and provides budget flexibility.
On a personal level, working with a team of experts elevates your role in the company. You are a marketing strategist, not the person who is in charge of ordering carpet. Your career possibilities are enhanced when you choose to work with a smart partner. Assembling the right team gives you the freedom to work on initiatives that show how your program contributes to revenue. Your program shouldn’t be training day for inexperienced partners. Healthcare really is different!