Importance of Client Agency Relationship: So Your Agency has Multiple Clients at the Same Show?


The client-agency relationship revolves around trust and the belief that each party wants what’s right for the other. Although the marriage metaphor has been used way too often to describe this bonding, nevertheless every client wants to feel special. The nagging thought, conscious or not, that another client is getting preferential treatment is like background music.

Note: we are using the term “agency” to include key partners who are responsible for commercialization execution, especially in healthcare.

Think about it this way, working with an agency that has multiple clients going to the same show, can have distinct advantages that aren’t on the radar of the people who are trying to convince you to move your account. What are some of these?

You are working with an agency that obviously knows the industry.

Particularly in healthcare, knowing not only the industry but also the therapeutic area is important for client-agency relationships because it adds a strategic advantage and shortens the learning curve—which, among other things, results in fewer (billable) hours spent in download meetings.

There is a perception that will not fade away that healthcare exhibiting ‘just can’t be that different’ from other industries. Wrong! Just ask anyone whose career milestones are likely to be marked by the guidance issued by various governing bodies in the healthcare industry. Or better, ask someone who has presented a totally inappropriate engagement activity to a product manager or compliance officer. The difference is real, and if a denial of this reality is part of an agency pitch, let it be a red flag that you are heading into treacherous waters with potentially unpleasant consequences (like serious fines).

Knowing and understanding the healthcare industry—not only compliance issues but also the competitive landscape from both a therapeutic and a promotional angle—is critical for positioning a product. Everything from brand hierarchy to picking the right metaphor for an onsite engagement activity needs to be considered, particularly in crowded therapeutic areas.

Moreover, an agency that knows the industry will help you make good decisions about sponsorships and potential off the floor initiatives such as corporate social responsibility (CSR) or health-focused activities (like 5ks) that will strengthen your overall effort and your brand.

You are benefiting from economies of scale.

The following advantages depict the importance of client-agency relationships in regard to benefiting from economies of sale.

  • When your agency is sending shipments for multiple clients to show site, you will find that your freight bill is lower than you anticipated because of shipment consolidation—and this advantage is passed on to you.
  • Show floor labor can be scheduled among the agency’s multiple exhibits so that there is little downtime. You and your colleagues can plan on being able to check all the boxes that ensure your presence at the show is how you have envisioned it. Intelligent labor scheduling also eliminates something we’ll call ‘late-night scrambling.’
  • The agency has access to equipment that can facilitate set-up among its various clients.
  • With multiple clients at the show, agencies have expanded buying power when it comes to furniture, flooring, electronics, and other pieces of equipment.
  • Where buying power is not relevant, the agency with multiple clients will be able to negotiate friendly terms with third party suppliers such as caterers or data matching services.
  • The agency has a lot at stake, so you can be assured that they have developed amicable working relationships with not only the carpenter’s or stage hand’s unions that generally set up the exhibits, but also with electricians, plumbers, and freight handlers. In the case where the agency and the general contractor for the show are not the same company, relations between the two entities is genial to make sure the exhibitor experience is worry-free.

You are reaping the rewards of an agency that has a solid relationship with the association or show management.

An unspoken but assumed advantage of working with an agency with multiple clients at a show is that there is a solid relationship with the sponsoring association or show management company. Finessing these relationships is a skill—and added value—that not every partner has. What is involved?

First, let’s explore the differences between associations (non-profit) and for-profit shows, particularly as played out in the medical field.

Medical associations, on the face of it, do not exist to host exhibitors. On the face of it. The reality is that many of the associations’ traditional sources of revenue, such as publishing programs, are drying up. Associations depend on membership dues and on exhibit and sponsorship sales for their lifeblood.

Associations are member-driven entities, so in the case of the traditional medical meeting or congress, the leadership of the association is a healthcare professional (HCP), usually well known, whose job it is to keep the boat afloat. The association employs staff to do things like tending the website and managing the exhibit program. You probably won’t have access to the association leadership, but the people in charge of the exhibits are accessible and want to hear from you.

And because your agency has been working with the association staff for an extended period, they will introduce you to the right people, usually with the title “exhibits manager,” who can help with your exhibit program or who can give you the green light to implement some of your ideas. These exhibit managers are the gatekeepers to the management team at the general contractor and other third-party contractors involved in making the meeting happen.

For-profit shows—in medical, what comes immediately to mind are the Pri-Med meetings—the structure is different. Space, sponsorships, and other promotional opportunities are sold to exhibitors by salespeople who work directly for the show organizer. The P&L for these shows is such that the attendee (HCPs) benefit from the exhibitors’ investments by enjoying a very affordable entry price and access to education that earns them CMEs. Admittedly, the relationship with the agency, in this case, is secondary to their relationship with you and your company. Still with, multiple clients at the show, your agency will get to know the right people to help you make strategic decisions about things like space selection, booth size, and floor position.

This last scenario is very prevalent in the exhibiting world outside of healthcare, but when you realize your agency has a good relationship with the personnel from the general contractor and various union stewards in the venue, you understand the importance of having a client-agency relationship with an agency with multiple clients at the show. You benefit not only from their knowledge but also from their relationships.

And finally, remember it’s safe to assume that agencies with multiple clients at a show are in that situation because, well, because they know what they’re doing and they deliver.

Want to stand out at your next show? Download our free guide: 28 Questions to Ask Before You Plan Your Exhibit Program.

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