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Exhibitor: OrthoBanc LLC
Creative/Production: Graphic Impressions Inc., Chattanooga, TN, 423-622-0005, www.giprinting.com;
Skyline Exhibitor Source, LaVergne, TN, 615-287-9800, www.esourcetn.com
Show: American Association of Orthodontists Annual Session, 2011
Budget: $100,000
 Increase the value of contracts closed at the show by 100 percent compared to 2010.
 Reach out to existing customers to deepen their relationship with OrthoBanc.
 Boost presentation attendance by encouraging pre-show reservations.
 Raised the value of closed contracts by more than 100 percent.
 Received 20 "OrthoBanc team" photos from existing clients before the show, and photographed another 40 groups wearing OrthoBanc gear during the event.
 Obtained 150 pre-show reservations from attendees for at-show presentations.
eing a peewee player among major-league exhibitors means every swing of the marketing bat needs to be a home run if your company wants to get noticed. Preparing for the 2011 American Association of Orthodontists Annual Session, OrthoBanc LLC knew this all too well; the small payment-management company had been swallowed amid massive displays at shows before, and it felt only a grand slam of an integrated marketing effort would draw a crowd to its 20-by-30-foot booth.

To make its task more daunting, however, OrthoBanc decided it didn't want to leave the show with leads; it wanted closed sales, and it wanted to increase its at-show sales by 100 percent over the previous year's event. Moreover, it wanted to do so on virtually the same budget as 2010. It was a move as bold as Babe Ruth calling his shot over the Wrigley Field fence in the 1932 World Series, and strikingly apropos since the 2011 AAO session would be just down the road at Chicago's McCormick Place.

Marla Merritt, OrthoBanc's director of sales and marketing, says the lofty goal was based on Chicago being a veritable field of dreams for exhibiting. "We knew we had a great venue, and that a lot of doctors would be there because flights in and out are plentiful and affordable," Merritt says.

In Washington, DC, at the 2010 AAO event, the company budgeted $80,000 for show expenses and closed enough in contracts to recoup all its exhibiting costs. With residual sales expected to roll in after the initial contract was inked, it was considered a good return on investment. Keeping the 2011 budget under $100,000 but setting the bar at a 100-percent increase in sales meant OrthoBanc's presence had to be nothing short of brilliant, touching every base on the way to the hearts - and billfolds - of an unprecedented number of orthodontists.

And what better way to their hearts, Merritt decided, than with an exhibit themed after America's favorite pastime: baseball. Entrenched in the annals of major league history, Chicago was the perfect backdrop for a baseball-inspired booth.

Payoff Pitch

OrthoBanc first approached existing customers by e-mail a couple of months before the show, offering those attending AAO a free baseball shirt and an appointment for a team photo in the OrthoBanc exhibit. The company also asked clients, whether attending or not, to send in a photo of their staff holding up a sign that played off of baseball terminology, such as "We scored big with OrthoBanc" or "OrthoBanc helped us hit a homerun!" Merritt took the 20 or so photos she received and created a slide show that would be played in the booth.

Next, she sent a pre-show mailer to people listed in OrthoBanc's prospect database, in its client database, and in AAO's pre-show attendee list. The 4-by-8-inch card, designed by Graphic Impressions Inc., featured a large baseball graphic and the invitation to "Score Big with OrthoBanc." The card's front also encouraged attendees to ask OrthoBanc staffers at the show about how to get free box seats to a White Sox game, and offered them a chance to win a $100 Visa gift card.

On the reverse side, clever word-play abounded. "OrthoBanc will be hitting it out of the park in Chicago," the mailer read. "Celebrate with us in Chicago Baseball Style, complete with concessions and bleachers. You don't want to miss this opportunity to Score Big for your practice's payment management needs." Readers were invited to preregister for a "Cover Your Bases" event - an in-booth presentation scheduled five times daily that would introduce visitors to the OrthoBanc product. Those who signed up in advance for the events were eligible to win a Visa gift card via a drawing held at the end of each presentation.

Merritt and her staff assembled 50 Chicago-style care packages for consultants, media reps, conference speakers, and partners who were an important link in the referral chain for OrthoBanc. Each package included a note card with information about the baseball-themed booth and a plethora of gifts including an OrthoBanc-branded baseball shirt and hat. "We wanted to put ourselves in the minds of all these companies so they were more likely to mention us and increase our visibility via word-of-mouth buzz," Merritt says.

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

When attendees arrived at the show, they found a baseball-shaped insert from OrthoBanc in their conference bag that again entreated them to come ask about White Sox box seats, and invited them to RSVP for one of the Cover Your Bases presentations. Those who texted their RSVP to the number provided were also eligible for the Visa card giveaway if they attended that presentation. "The reservations began pouring in once people started looking through their bag inserts," Merritt says. "We averaged 10 registrations per event, so about 150 RSVPs in all. The promotions caused people to come looking for our booth rather than us just hoping they would wander by."

But even for those not actively seeking out the booth, it was a sight likely to make them stop and take it all in just the same. What greeted passersby was a miniature baseball stadium courtesy of Skyline Exhibitor Source in LaVergne, TN, emblazoned with an overhead sign that read, "Score Big with OrthoBanc. We cover your bases."

A green baseball diamond became the focal point in the center of the island exhibit, which boasted bleachers large enough for 15 people on one end. Opposite the bleachers, a roughly 8-foot-tall graphic depicted a stadium with typical ballpark billboard ads emblazoned with OrthoBanc's name and even a blimp floating in the graphic blue sky beyond. On the remaining two sides of the carpeted baseball diamond, benches similar to those found in a dugout accommodated additional visitors, and areas off to the side of the diamond were set up for taking team photos and meeting with prospects one-on-one.

"The way they focused on getting people to sign contracts at the show was genius," said one judge. "Talk about a great example of a well-integrated program."
About 40 groups took advantage of the photo op, creating a follow-up opportunity for OrthoBanc, which promised to send participants their team photos via a post-show e-mail.

Behind the graphic wall, a concession stand served hot dogs, coffee, and lemonade, and baseball-uniform-clad staffers invited visitors to take a seat in the bleachers for the next presentation. Staffers also handed guests an information card to fill out while they waited, allowing Merritt to collect contact and lead information from all who attended. The striking visual appearance of the exhibit - along with the tie-in of baseball uniforms and ballpark snacks - drew a crowd throughout the show, and the booth was often standing-room only.

Five times each day, a speaker stood on the pitcher's mound, gave the audience an overview of OrthoBanc's services, and showed a video montage of the baseball photos and quotes sent in by existing customers on a large screen mounted on the booth's back wall. After the drawing for the Visa gift card, the lead forms/information cards were collected, and attendees were given baseball caps with OrthoBanc's name as a thank-you for viewing the presentation. Staffers, who had been watching for note taking or other signs of interest in the crowd, approached those who seemed particularly attentive to see if they had any questions.

The six staffers at AAO had throngs of people wanting to ask questions after each show, and OrthoBanc's challenge was to turn those curious prospects into clients on the spot. "It is very easy for a doctor to say 'I want to do this. Contact me when I'm back in the office next week,'" Merritt says. "But we have found that it can easily take one to three months for those leads to translate into actual sign-ups, and many who express genuine interest never sign up at all."

Hitting a Grand Slam

Merritt used the lure of the VIP box seats at the White Sox game to close sales, offering two tickets to any firm that signed on the dotted line for a payment-management contract at the show. The strategy resulted in a more than 100-percent increase in new contracts compared to the previous year's show. Sizzle Awards judges loved the integrated approach OrthoBanc took, and the fact that it managed to create at-show, in-the-booth sales. "The way they focused on getting people to sign contracts at the show was genius," said one judge. "Talk about a great example of a well-integrated program."

Indeed, not only did OrthoBanc have a small-budget booth, but it also spent less on the show than it had initially budgeted. Thanks to sharply focused marketing and careful planning, the entire tab for the AAO campaign came in at $6,200 below the $100,000 budget.

OrthoBanc increased sales right then and there, but it also gave the marketing team a concrete, measurable method of illustrating the success and effectiveness of exhibiting in a way that even players in the C-level bullpen could understand. Needless to say, OrthoBanc really hit this one out of the
park. E

Cynthya Porter, staff writer; cporter@exhibitormagazine.com

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