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Jerry Samuels, CTSM, manager of conventions for Bayer HealthCare, has more than 13 years of convention management and marketing experience in a wide range of industries including pharmaceuticals and manufacturing. He joined Bayer in 2006 and is responsible for planning and executing the convention program.
or the Radiology and Intervention division of Bayer HealthCare, generating attention at trade shows is like Condi Rice trolling for attention at the Playboy Mansion. Its products - contrast agents that are injected into patients prior to X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs to enhance the diagnostic information captured in the resulting images - are often no match for the comparatively sexy MRI and CT machines displayed by other exhibitors.

So when responsibility for the company's presence at the 2011 Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) show fell to Jerry Samuels, CTSM, manager of conventions at Wayne, NJ-based Bayer HealthCare (a subsidiary of Bayer AG), he immediately knew he'd have to come up with a killer strategy to combat the lure of those siren-like machines. Samuels, who has been assigned to the company's Oncology, Neurology, and General-Medicine business units since 2006, stepped in to head up the RSNA exhibit for the company's Radiology and Intervention business unit after its previous exhibit manager unexpectedly resigned. In doing so, Samuels inherited a ton of challenges, including everything from low lead counts and an out-of-date booth to a looming product launch that had company executives on red alert.

But in true All-Star Award-winner form, Samuels faced the challenge head on, and created a successful integrated program centered on high-speed water-drop photography. Samuels' watershed moment not only captivated radiologists and stole the spotlight from other exhibitors' alluring apparatus, but it also generated a 442-percent uptick in leads and no doubt satiated edgy execs.

Facing a Drought

Hailed by judges as "brilliant, strategic, and immaculately executed," Samuels' award-winning program is perhaps even more impressive if you consider the multiple challenges he, a newcomer to the business unit, faced straight out of the gate. In addition to the aforementioned hurdles the product typically faces at this show, Bayer's soggy performance at RSNA 2010 had everyone on edge, and expectant of radically improved results in 2011.

"The lead count for RSNA 2010 was a disappointment," Samuels says. "The minimal results were attributed to a poor location in the exhibit hall, little to no marketing support outside of the booth, and the lack of a new product to generate attention." Granted, Bayer was launching Gadavist, a new contrast agent, which meant Samuels had something around which to build marketing momentum. But the launch also meant he had to devise an integrated, product-centric program that was clever enough to attract attention and educate attendees at the same time.

For Samuels, the pressure to succeed was nearing critical levels. "I only had one opportunity to launch this product to RSNA attendees, so the concept and execution had to be spot on," he says. Plus, no matter what he did, Samuels needed solid measurement tactics to prove to management that those dismal numbers from 2010 were indeed a thing of the past.

Samuels also hoped that the theme of his program would work to support both the show theme, Celebrate the Image, and a company mandate. "Bayer's mission statement identifies the company as an inventor and trend setter," he says. "So Bayer needed to be portrayed as a forward-thinking, innovative company on the show floor."

That last objective would prove particularly challenging since Samuels inherited a 7-year-old booth that was showing its age. While the prior team had refurbished the exhibit several times, the color and design were outdated, diminishing the company's presence in the exhibit hall. According to Samuels, "Rather than standing out, we blended in."

A Fresh Water Idea

Clutching a to-do list that was sprouting like kudzu, Samuels enlisted the help of live-communications firm Impact Unlimited Inc. of Dayton, NJ, and immediately issued two mandates: 1) devise a clever theme and in-booth activity around which to organize the entire campaign, and 2) build a new, high-tech exhibit that would appeal to attendees and feature the Gadavist brand's striking pink hue.

Diving into the challenge, Impact Unlimited, led by creative director Paul Spadafora, immediately began working on numerous in-booth concepts to present to Bayer. "We were researching a notion centered on a running-water sculpture when we ran across the work of Martin Waugh," Spadafora says. Using high-speed photography, Waugh creates striking images of liquids in motion. In essence, each of his "liquid sculptures" is a droplet caught in mid splash.

"When we came across Waugh's work, we had an 'aha' moment," Spadafora says. "His magnificent, eye-catching imagery has a close connection to Bayer's product. When radiologists are scanning and imaging, they are primarily taking pictures of the body's internal fluids enhanced by contrast agents like Gadavist. So Waugh's art was the perfect embodiment of radiology, as it's all about water and captured images."

After stumbling upon this stroke of genius like a hidden stream in the Sahara, Spadafora and Samuels quickly began organizing an integrated campaign around Waugh's artwork. Using stunning water-droplet images, the company could generate attention in the booth and in pre- and post-show marketing materials. The duo also planned to integrate the act of creating that photography into the exhibit, ultimately allowing attendees to snap pictures of their own water droplets in motion.

With a unique, product-centric theme fleshed out, Impact Unlimited turned its attention to Bayer's exhibit design. Meanwhile, the company's creative communications team and Samuels focused on pre-, at-, and post-show tactics.

Pre-Show Precipitation

Instead of the typical cascade of direct mailers and e-blasts, the team developed two pre-show maneuvers Samuels had never tried before: a show-specific microsite with appointment-scheduling capabilities and a photo-naming contest, along with a "leave-behind card." The latter tactic - a card Bayer salespeople "left behind" after routine sales calls - saved money compared to direct mailers, which enlist the U.S. Postal Service for delivery. Plus, that delivery added a personal touch that no mailer could ever duplicate.

Starting roughly one month before RSNA, salespeople began asking physicians if they planned to attend the show. They gave potential attendees a leave-behind card and personally invited them to Bayer's booth. More like an art-gallery invitation than a direct mailer, the double-sided, 5-by-7-inch card prominently featured a water-drop image on both sides. Text on one side read: "You are cordially invited to a special viewing of Captured Images, Liquids in Motion." Text went on to explain that Bayer would be presenting a gallery of Waugh's liquid-sculpture images. The card's opposite side read, "Drop in and see the splash we're making" and invited attendees to visit the booth and help Bayer "celebrate the image." Text also explained that attendees could meet Waugh and capture their own liquid sculptures in booth 4803.

In addition, Bayer targeted clients and prospects via two pre-show emails that coordinated with a microsite. The company sent the first email 16 days before the show's opening. Featuring a water-drop image, the email invited attendees to a special viewing of Waugh's photography in Bayer's booth and to make an appointment to meet the artist. To do so, attendees clicked on a link that directed them to the company's RSNA microsite, created just for this purpose.

Leveraging Waugh's images once again, the microsite included biographical information on the artist along with an interactive show-hall map prominently featuring Bayer's booth. Visitors could also sign up to meet Waugh via an appointment page, which was a clever way for Samuels to collect attendees' names and contact info.

The second e-blast, sent 10 days before the show, highlighted a naming contest. "Martin Waugh comes up with some highly creative names for his photographs, such as 'Gooseasaurus 2,' 'Ouch,' and 'The Amazing Juggling Nipple,'" Samuels says. "So I thought it would be fun to allow health-care professionals to name one of Martin's photos." Thus, Samuels devised the Name This Image contest.

Again, recipients could click on a link in the email to visit the microsite. But this time, they could also access the Name This Image contest page. Here, they discovered an untitled water-drop photograph and an entry form. After supplying their contact information, visitors suggested a name for the photo, including everything from "Splashcicle" to "Intestine with Mesentery." The page also explained that the name of the winner and the winning photo title - ultimately "Phantom of the DROPera" - would be featured alongside the as of yet unnamed image in Bayer's booth.

A Splash of Pink

When attendees finally hit the show floor at RSNA 2011, held Nov. 27 to Dec. 1 in Chicago, Bayer's new 50-by-50-foot booth immediately made a statement, courtesy of Gadavist's couldn't-miss pink hue. Although various graphics and lighting effects offered eye-catching splashes of the striking color, the exhibit's fuchsia hardwood floor practically screamed, "Look at me!"

While the booth included a medical-info section, a hospitality area, and a lounge for international visitors, its core comprised an image gallery of Waugh's work as well as an activity station where attendees could create their own masterpieces. Impact Unlimited displayed eight of Waugh's images in the gallery: Four large fabric panels measuring roughly 5.5-by-11 feet appeared along the aisles, and four more measuring 16-by-20 inches were matted, framed, and displayed on counters and walls throughout the gallery.

Throughout the exhibit, Impact Unlimited also scattered 10, 46-inch touchscreen monitors that played a loop featuring a slow-motion capture of a droplet hitting a pool of water and creating a series of ripples. Text within the video invited attendees to tour the gallery, capture their own water-drop photo, access a Gadavist brochure, review Bayer's contrast-media image library, and learn about upcoming Web conferences.

As attendees entered the space, staffers handed them a booth guide, which served multiple purposes. With measurement and increased lead counts as prime directives, Samuels couldn't just let attendees flow into and out of the exhibit like water escaping down a drain. His plan was to use the guide to capture contact information, deliver key messages, and educate attendees about Gadavist before they could partake in the water-drop photography activity.

The folded booth guide, then, featured one of the water-drop images on the front, along with the Bayer HealthCare logo. Inside, attendees discovered an illustrated exhibit map with numbers indicating the location of various activities within the space, including the Name This Image photo (featuring the contest winner and photo name), hospitality and medical-information areas, and photo activity. A separate quiz card, slipped inside the booth guide, posed four questions, such as "Gadavist has over _____ years of clinical experience," and "The winning title in the 'Name This Image' Contest is _____."

After handing attendees these two pieces, staffers instructed them to talk with sales representatives and peruse multiple areas of the booth to fill in the blanks on their quiz cards. Next, sales reps greeted and guided attendees to various areas to assist them in answering the quiz questions, and to point out key product benefits and messaging - furthering their relationships along the way. Once attendees completed the quiz cards, they made their way to the photo-activity station.

Visitors who'd made appointments via the microsite received special, individualized attention from staff and one-on-one time with Waugh. After these attendees identified themselves to staff, they were immediately directed to a specific sales rep. While appointment holders still had to complete the quiz cards, staffers made sure they felt like VIPs before they handed them off to Waugh. "I assigned attendees to reps who tried to make each person feel special," Samuels says. "They offered them coffee in the hospitality area, gave them a tour of the exhibit, and assisted them in completing their quiz cards before introducing them to Waugh."

The artist continued the special treatment, as he pulled out and discussed a selection of images that he'd taken over the years, explaining his passion for each particular piece. "The one-on-one appointments gave attendees immediate, personalized attention, and helped sales reps create or cement a connection with them," Samuels says.

Wet and Wonderful Activity

By the time attendees reached the photo-activity station, they'd clearly identified the link - both intuitively and via the drop- and splash-related text in pre-show communications and the booth's photo gallery - between Waugh's work and Bayer's liquid contrast agents. So now, it was time for them to create their own imaging artwork. But the booth experience wasn't nearly as effortless a creation as it might have appeared.

"Waugh's photo-taking apparatus is impressive, but it's designed for his personal use alone," Spadafora says. "So adapting it to the show floor meant we had to create a user-friendly interface that would enable a continuous flow of attendees to replicate his photo-taking process in real time, in a busy booth, and with high throughput for four days. Luckily Waugh, an accomplished programmer in his own right, worked with our programmers to create a touchscreen interface that not only was intriguing and user-friendly, but that also operated glitch free during the show."

So while developing the activity was quite complex, the elements attendees saw included little more than a simple touchscreen monitor and a high-tech photography station. Attendees turned in their completed Quiz Cards to Waugh's two assistants, and stepped up to a touchscreen monitor to input their contact info and email addresses. Next, attendees set four personal preferences for the water-drop image. Options included: 1) one or two drops of water, 2) light versus dark background shading, 3) early or late flash timing, and 4) one of six background gels that added color to the images.
Next, Waugh's assistants directed each visitor's attention to a table featuring a water tray surrounded by a tripod-mounted camera, flash-lighting equipment, and the water-drop apparatus devised by Waugh and Impact Unlimited. Spadafora notes that given this audience's preference for sexy, expensive machinery, the setup alone was often enough to lure them in off the aisles for a second look.

Finally, Waugh handed the attendee a photography "trigger." When the urge struck, the attendee pressed the trigger, which released a single water drop (or a single drop immediately followed by a second) into the tray while simultaneously activating the high-speed photography. The captured image appeared immediately on a large screen, and wide smiles ensued at the magic that had just happened. But the artistic experience didn't end there.

"Much like their everyday work," Spadafora says, "radiologists and medical-imaging professionals could see the image they'd created on a nearby monitor and could go back and tweak the process to improve the image quality. They could, for example, manipulate their preferences (flash timing, gel color, etc.) until they captured an image with which they were satisfied."

Each attendee's final, selected image was immediately loaded into a database for display via a 46-inch monitor positioned aisle side. Following the show, Bayer emailed each participant a link to his or her specific image(s), which had been loaded onto the company's microsite. Here, participants could also share their photos with family and friends, as well as browse the gallery of hundreds of breathtaking pictures captured by other attendees.
While the photo activity was clearly the star of Bayer's exhibit - and the star of the show according to Samuels and Spadafora - Samuels enlisted two other at-show promotions to generate attention for and memorability of the booth: a mobile billboard and custom chocolates.

"I hired a mobile billboard to drive around the convention center and various areas of Chicago throughout the four-day show," Samuels says. The truck, with a 10-by-20-foot, two-sided graphic on its bed, featured Waugh's imagery and invited RSNA attendees to drop by Bayer's booth and "Come see the splash we're making."

Samuels also used the imagery to adorn chocolates handed out in the booth as a memorable, and delicious, reminder of attendees' experience. Four wrappers, each featuring a different water-drop photo, adorned the chocolates. That enabled Bayer staffers to distribute chocolates featuring a new image every day of the show.

Good to the Last Drop

Following the show, Bayer sent the aforementioned email to activity participants, directing them to their unique images as well as to the company's contrast-image library where they could learn more about its products. In the meantime, Samuels launched a fact-finding mission to see if his hard work payed off. And simply put, his program was awash with success.

While Bayer separates its leads into domestic and international buckets, both totals soared compared to 2010 results. The number of U.S. leads increased by 350 percent, and the international scans skyrocketed to 658 percent over 2010 figures. Combined, U.S. and international leads saw a 442-percent increase that no doubt sent a ripple of relief through marketing and management. In addition, 710 attendees completed the Quiz Card activity, exceeding Bayer's goal by 42 percent and resulting in 1,361 captured images.

Bayer's pre- and post-show email efforts drew 671 unique visitors to the microsite, and 245 out of 5,000 leave-behind card recipients brought them to the exhibit. That last fact is astounding since the cards simply informed people about the in-booth activity and never instructed people to return them to Bayer's exhibit at the show. Granted, Samuels didn't set goals for the microsite or leave-behind cards because he'd never used those tactics before and didn't know what to expect. However, he was pleasantly surprised at how well they worked and plans to implement similar strategies in the future.

On top of all of that, Samuels took home a 2013 All-Star Award. In fact, judges lavished praise upon him, lauding his ability to take an obscure concept (water-drop photography) and create a successful campaign tied closely to Bayer's product.

Facing a severe drought in terms of leads, awareness, and overall attendee enthusiasm for the booth, Samuels generated a deluge of traffic and a flood of awareness for Gadavist. Plus, his creative integrated program turned Bayer's booth into a show-floor super model - and threw a bucket of cold water on competitors' so-called sexy machines. E

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