Compared to other industries, the health-care sector has specific challenges regarding staffing and attendees' information requirements. What current trends are affecting these two challenges, and how can I make sure that our exhibit meets attendees' needs?
Health-care exhibiting plays by a whole different set of rules than most industries. Sure, all exhibitors have to manage logistics and booth properties, generate traffic and leads, meet marketing and sales objectives, and so on. But health-care exhibitors must do all of that within the confines of special rules, including everything from the PhRma Codes (issued by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America) to the Physician Payments Sunshine Act (part of the health-care reform bill). Plus, they're regulated by enough state- and specialty-specific rules to make your head spin faster than a laboratory centrifuge.
What's more, some of the lines on this uneven playing field have recently been redrawn. Shifting trends in the health-care industry and increasingly limited field accessibility to prescribers, along with subtle changes in how and when physicians interact with industry providers, mean that exhibitors also need to adjust their strategies. So to help you stay balanced atop these shifting sands, here's a quick rundown of some of the most noticeable industry changes currently affecting health-care exhibitors, along with suggestions on how to deal with them.
Just a few years back, health-care exhibitors heavily relied on trade shows to launch new products, and launch events drew hordes of attendees to their booths. But now, the majority of physicians stay abreast of new developments online, rather than by talking with reps in an exhibit, or even in their offices.
What does this mean for exhibitors? You can still create a big splash with an in-exhibit launch as long as your product is truly new as opposed to something that's been discussed online for months. But now you also need to focus on providing in-depth information. Your attendees want scientific insights, they want to understand how your offerings compare to other options, and they're wondering, for example, if your new gadget is portable or stationary. The ability to meet attendees' needs requires booth staffers who can provide a deep dive into product knowledge. So along with sales reps, booth staffers should include engineer and developer types who can speak to things such as your product's mechanism of action, class of drug, clinical history, etc.
Plus, everyone needs the proper training to answer tough questions without breaking any rules in the process. For example, talking about a product head-to-head against a competitor's version is frowned upon by most companies' legal and regulatory teams. But there are ways to answer tricky questions that will still get your point across and keep the health-care Gestapo off your back. So carefully select and train your staff to meet the demands of today's info-rich customers.
Diminished Face-to-Face Time
Another industry shift deals with the amount of access health-care industry sales reps are granted to physicians and health-care practitioners off the show floor. Simply put, face time is draining away faster than blood from a severed artery. More and more health-care providers are choosing to obtain information online at their leisure as opposed to trying to fit a sales-rep's visit into an already packed-to-the-hilt day at the clinic.
This trend means that the only face-to-face experience most of your target market has with your product or brand is in your exhibit. That's great news to help you defend the value of your program. But that also means you've got to make the most of every single minute in the exhibit. You need not only to distill the proper information but also to instill confidence in your brand, attempt to develop a personal connection (as a rep might during a clinic visit), and maybe even woo that potential customer with hospitality the way free golf balls and expensive pen sets did back in the day. Plus, that experience must be relevant to their needs and memorable enough to stick with them long after the show.
To do all of that, first and foremost you need good booth-staff training. When you only have one face-to-face interaction with physicians and practitioners during the entire year, staffers can't afford to miss the mark. They need to be spot on with the information presented and the manner in which they approach people.
You also need some type of planned interaction to make people stay in your space for as long as possible. Surely, regulation-friendly traffic builders and activities centered around product-information distribution are a good start. But what seems to be particularly effective lately is an activity or giveaway based around patient-focused initiatives. That is, consider activities that provide attendees with a tool or information that they can pass along to their patients or use to improve patient compliance (i.e., the patient's willingness to follow doctor's orders). For example, you could give physicians pamphlets featuring tasty menu suggestions for diabetic patients, or maybe distribute web keys that direct patients or doctors to specific product or disease information.
Given the expanding global market, many health-care associations often market to international audiences to boost show revenues. While a packed show floor sounds like a good thing, international attendees are actually problematic to those exhibiting companies that only have the rights to market in the United States.
Many products are only approved in certain countries, and others have indications (i.e., approved uses) in one country but not in another. For example, a company could be approved to market its drug for psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis relief in the United States, but in France that approval may only include psoriasis. If a Food and Drug Administration rep overheard a booth staffer talking about your product to a visitor from a country in which your product or indicator is not approved, you risk a serious fine. And we're talking tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.
So exhibitors without the proper global rights need to develop an effective plan for dealing with international attendees. You could simply train staff to tell international attendees that you can't provide them with information due to government regulations. But if you want a softer approach, consider providing a special international desk with a multilingual host to explain the situation to attendees and maybe offer them a bit of hospitality as an appeasement. Or, if you give out a web key with information, you certainly need not prevent international attendees from taking one. The point is, however, that you need a plan, and staffers need to fully understand the ramifications of talking with international attendees.
As you can see, the world of health-care exhibiting is ever evolving, and both the availability of digital information and the increasing global economy are making waves across the industry. But by simply being aware of some of the newest challenges and taking a few steps toward meeting them, you'll ensure that your exhibit is both compliant and effective.
— Pat Friedlander, owner, Word Up, Chicago