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Best Practices: Healthcare Convention Marketing in a Changing

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Whether it is observational or primary research one can plainly see that along with everything else we are exposed to in today’s ever modulating environment, healthcare exhibiting is changing.  What can we learn from this uncertain environment?  There are some best practices that standout and should be noted in planning your next convention.

  1. What prompts visitors to take time out of their convention schedule to come to (a) the exhibition floor in general and (b) to stop and visit your exhibit, specifically.  Understanding HCP’s motivation is critical.
  2. It takes proactive engagement to get visitors to become involved in your exhibit’s interactives and exhibit elements.,
  3. Interactives that are unstaffed don’t work no matter how high-tech.
  4. Unqualified interactions are merely information dumps with no lasting impact on the attendee or the exhibitor.  No behavior change will occur.
  5. In order to affect change in use, prescribing, purchasing or recommending there has to be new learning.
  6. Graphics that are audience focused and benefits driven, generate attention and booth visitation
  7. Sponsorships that have attendee interaction have higher memorability than passive ones.
  8. Educational &  medically relevant promotional products that are taken and not given, yield nothing, but increased exhibiting expense
  9. Promotional products that are over-attracting and nonselective create clutter and congestion in the exhibit.
  10. Set prearranged appointments at your events – you start the conversation before they arrive at the meeting.
  11. Events combined with convention exhibiting extend your strategic reach.

A. What prompts visitors to stop at your exhibit – understand their motivation?


The top five reasons why HCP’s stop at healthcare exhibits are: (1) happenstance – the visitors are walking around the hall, seeing who is there and stop by chance. They see something of interest – a graphic – an interactive, a rep engagement, a challenge, a demonstration that attracts them as they walk by the exhibit. (2) To see what is new – they are on a mission to take in what is new and plan their stops depending on who promotes new products or offerings in their exhibit. (3) Name recognition – they recognize your name and stop to see what you are offering that might be new or different from the past since they are already familiar with your brand, your company or even your offerings. (4) Product interest  - they have an interest in your product or service and have it on their agenda to stop to learn more about it.  And, (5) they have specific questions about specific products or want to see a demo of the product. 

You need to know why attendees visit your exhibit so you can plan the exhibit more strategically.  If you understand their agenda, you can focus your exhibit and the interactives to selectively attract those visitors you really want to see. 

    Best Practices

  • Give attendees a reason to stop
    • Put your demo out in front and make it visible
    • Create a design and configuration that makes your selling stations and booth elements easily recognizable and accessible.
  • Determine what type of communication(s) resonates with your audience so you can deliver a “call for action” to which they will respond. 
  • Use your hierarchy of graphics to communicate, who you are, what you do and what are you offering so that attendees will self-qualify themselves.

B. It takes proactive engagement to begin the process


Shortly the world of healthcare exhibiting will be changing with the new PhRMA Guidelines.  No longer will exhibitors have the “neat and nifty” promotional products that have been a “crutch” for reps to engage visitors over the years.  Some startling statistics will frame this most critical element:

  • 70-96% of attendees are engaged by a rep immediately up entering an exhibit.  Some initiate the dialogue with a rep.

  • 7-14% are acknowledged, but not engaged

  • 2-10% are ignored

Nothing in an exhibit happens unless an attendee is engaged.  That engagement starts 15-30 feet away.  It starts with the attendee looking at the exhibit – the exhibit’s #1 role is to attract visitor’s attention.  Then the staff’s eye-to-eye contact that shows interest or at least acknowledgement, a smile that communicates openness, a nice firm, warm handshake that is not a bone-crusher that delivers the message of confidence and finally a verbal welcome that initiates the conversation.

Best Practices

  • Start the preparation weeks before the show, not just the night before the show.
  • Select staff that have good exhibiting skills. If you don’t select the staff, provide a checklist of characteristics you are seeking to those that are doing the selecting.
  • Set the expectation during your preshow briefing regarding engagement.
  • During the preshow briefing provide hints, tips and techniques to help the staff overcome staff reluctance to engage by becoming more comfortable in this unique medium.
  • Include a booth walk-through before the show opens so that everyone is familiar with the exhibit elements that will create a positive attendee experience.
  • When the exhibit floor traffic slows, engage even more actively. Even though the seminar programs are in session, there are qualified prospects and current customers on the convention floor.  Many attendees chose to come to the exhibit floor when it is less crowded. Take advantage of this opportunity.
  • Reward positive engagements.  Starbuck cards are great rewards. 

C. Unstaffed Interactions

  No matter how high tech the interaction, unless staffed they don’t resonate with attendees.  Adults learn best when they have an experience.  Whether it is an e-detail, an electronic quiz or challenge, interactive case studies, or a product demonstration, it cannot exist on its own.  It needs rep assistance to meet and greet, identify the attendee’s agenda, and the use the experience to engage the attendee in the solution. 

Best Practices

  • Answer the question:  What is the role of the interactive?
  • Have enough staff to cover all the interactives all the time.
  • Train the staff to use the interactives so they can communicate at a higher level or to uncover attendee agendas.
  • Make the interactive “edu-taining” so they learn at the same time they are having fun.

D. Unqualified Interactions

  Unless you have qualified the attendee with whom you are speaking, you are just conducting an “information dump” on someone who cannot help you achieve your exhibiting objectives and will waste your time.  16-37% of attendees have no role in the purchasing process.

Best Practices:
  • Understand the prospect profile – whom are you seeking among the net attendees at a convention.
  • Know what characteristics make an attendee qualified and determine if they possess them before entering into an extended dialogue.  It OK to be cordial and friendly, but to spend an extended period of time with someone who is unqualified to meet your objectives, doesn’t pay in the end. 
  • If the attendees are not qualified or at least qualifiable, disengage positively and look for a qualified prospect.

E. Graphics need to be benefit oriented

  The role of graphics is to be the magnet for attracting visitors’ attention to an exhibit.  Graphics need to be attendee focused so that the expo visitors can relate to them, deliver information about who the exhibitor is, what they do and what they offer.  When they do this, then graphics help self qualify attendees so they engage in the process of getting one step closer to commitment. 

Best Practices
  • Attendees only notice exhibit graphics that are benefit oriented – the messages are focused on them and not the exhibitors.
  • Create graphics that are designed for exhibits, not for print or other media and then adapted to your exhibit. They don’t work in this medium.
  • Graphics need to be:
    • A call for action
    • Leave a lingering question the attendee wants answered therefore visits the exhibit
    • Self-qualifying
    • Large enough fonts to be read from the aisle
  • The goal in creating a graphic is to make every other graphic in the hall look second best.  This will create longer term memorability.

F. Learning something new

  From healthcare convention research, we know that in order to affect change, attendees need to learn something new – a new message related to results from a trial or about a new indication.  We know that 62% of pharma convention attendees and 73% of device convention attendees learned something new. Depending on the convention and the therapeutic area, the new learning has been reported as high as 90%. This means that the staff must  determine what is on an attendee’s agenda – why they stopped and what was their objective in visiting the exhibit. 

Best Practices

  • Teach your staff to communicate your differentiators in response to attendee qualification.  Attendees remember what is different and that becomes their basis for decision-making. 
  • During the precon make sure everyone is up-to-date on your competitive advantages – these form the basis of communicating with attendees.
  • Train your staff to determine the depth of the attendee’s understanding about your organization, products and services, and then relate to them something they don’t know.  Sometimes this may be something they learned or were exposed to in the past, but have forgotten.
  • Plan for what’s NEW – that is why they are attending.

G. Sponsorships that are interactive are memorable

  We live in a world of messaging that is chaotic and at times cluttered. The average adults receive between 1500-2000 messages a day.  Most of these messages are missed because adults tend to tune-out what is not of interest or immediately applicable.  This is true of convention sponsorships.  Banners & posters many times get overlooked. They blend into the background. When asked about sponsorships, 41% of pharma attendees noticed a sponsorship but only 15% indicated it influenced their decision to visit the sponsor’s exhibit.  But, those sponsorships where there is attendee interaction generate brand awareness and memorability.   Cyber Cafes are interactive and highly memorable.  The one exception seems to be bus wraps that are static, but memorable due to repetition of viewing and the fact they are moving vs. a static banner.

Best Practices

  • Cyber Cafes work where the brand is at eye level, on a screen saver, on the screenie and on a note pad, as well as part of the overhead location signage
  • You Are Here Maps, although static required attendee interaction to use. Branding should be at eye-level since the attendees are focused on the map. Overhead branding is not in the attendee’s line of sight and is often missed.
  • All attendees in all the convention activities see conference bags.  Studies have shown where there is sponsor’s logo on one side and the convention organizer’s logo on the other side, 47% of the time your brand will be facing out making it a walking billboard. 
  • If you are trying to drive traffic to your exhibit, find another vehicle.  Sponsorships build awareness, but don’t necessarily prompt visitors to stop at an exhibit. 
  • What types of sponsorships are most recalled ?
    • Conference bag ins
    • Show daily advertising
    • Door drops
    • Bus wraps
    • Conference bags
    • Signage and banners

H  Promotional products

  Times they are a changing.  With the new PhRMA Guidelines on promotional products, we will see a completely different environment.  Fewer and fewer domestically based attendees are visiting exhibits solely to receive the promotion. They stop due to product interest, ask and get answers to specific product questions, see demonstrations, learn about what’s new.  With the guidelines requiring promotions to be “medically relevant” we will see a shift in the exhibit’s emphasis – maybe more scientific and less commercial. 

Best Practices

  • Get ready for 2014 – have medically relevant “thank you’s” for stopping to participate in your exhibit
  • Give it, don’t let it be taken.  It has little to no value when taken
  • Keep it under control. If out for the taking, it has little value
  • Something useful and functional makes it a desired promotion
  • Select promotions that have a high-perceived value – they will keep it and use it.
  • Make your selection based on a connection to your company or brand and “medically relevant”.
  • Try a “post show deferred thank you”. Select those attendees where you want enhanced memorability and send them a “medically relevant” promotion after the event. 

I. Events give you strategic reach beyond your exhibit


47% of exhibitors (GPJCo/MPI) participate or hold events that are in support of their exhibiting strategy.  Why?  They are a controlled environment where the content, the attendees and the brand messaging is controlled by the sponsor.  They can be a hospitality or an educational event. They increase the depth of person-to-person relationships that accelerates the sales cycle by providing more points of contact between you and those that control your top line – Sales.

Best Practices

  • Hold an event in conjunction with your convention exhibit
  • Extend your stay for one day to include a users meeting, focus group, private demo or field trip.
  • Focus on a narrow set of objectives for your event
  • Include both customers and prospects
  • Prepare your staff for the event – different skill sets are needed for events
  • Come prepared to (1) be interested in other people and (2) have something interesting to say
  • Focus on the attendees and their personal interests
  • Be prepared to talk about vacations, books read, movies seen, articles read
  • Stay away from politics, religion or sex
  • Take notes – have a 3x5 card available to jot down notes of what was learned in each dialogue after disengaging, so that at then end of the event, you can summarize what the potential return on the investment on the event was by summarizing what was learned.
  • Include both current and potential customers – events are a great place for peer-to-peer communications where your customers will sell your prospects. 

Trade shows and conventions work when you plan completely. That means asking yourself four key questions:  (1) why are you exhibiting, (2) who is your target audience, (3) what do you want to communicate to those qualified attendees and (4) what is your measure of success?  They work when you execute aggressively and enthusiastically. That means working the convention every moment it is open even if the traffic is slow.  You never know where the next opportunity will occur.  And, you have to stay up, fresh and alert since every attendee thinks they are the first visitor you have talked to all day long.  They work when you follow-up thoroughly.  Every qualified opportunity you uncover at a trade show or convention deserves to be followed, but you need to assure that there is enough information captured from the interchange for whomever is following up on the contact so they can pick up the conversation from where the booth rep left it.  Trade shows and conventions are very efficient, effective ways of interacting with both current and potential customers when following some of these best practices. 

© 2013 by Marc Goldberg