Avoiding Convention Chaos: Digital Marketing Strategies to Make Your Efforts Count

March 13, 2014

Ahh, Convention Season:  a veritable mixture of networking, learning, airports, too much food/drink, and hectic days.  If you’re like most, you are never as well-prepared as you wish, and the Convention Chaos ensues.  This results in a hastily formulated marketing strategy, poorly planned portfolio of materials, lack of consistent presentation by booth representatives, and more.  Each year, you declare that next year, you will do Convention Planning sooner and do it better.  Am I right?

This year, wouldn’t you like to be better prepared for ISPOR, AMCP, and other major meetings so you really make an impact and stand out from the crowd?   Instead of repeating what you did last year, or just “phoning it in”, let’s step it up and make those (tens of) thousands of dollars count!  Here’s a checklist for how to turbocharge your Convention experience, using some free, simple, yet effective tools available in our digital world.

But first, I must ask: are you ready to set aside your old way of doing things?  Can you shrug off the feeling that HEOR just isn’t suited for social media?  Other industries have been doing these things for several years; it’s time Pharma caught up and used digital promotion, before, during, and after our major industry meetings.

Don’t Just Shout Your Marketing Message (aka Company Name and Tagline) – Give Them a Reason to Care!

As HEOR specialists, our lives are involved in “creating a value story”.  So, Marketers, you should do the same.  Create a “value proposition” for your company, and lead with this at the meetings.  Don’t just assume that a (big) booth and a few researchers “chatting up the occasional key client” will do the trick.  Oh sure, a good bottle of Bordeaux and a nice dinner helps.  But truthfully, you can’t do that with every potential client and at every meeting.

So, let’s focus on your marketing materials and your booth.  Every single piece of your marketing strategy should relate to and support this value story of why someone should hire your company to do their next project.  What does this mean?

  • Go beyond announcing that you will be at ISPOR.  Of course you’ll be there.  What interesting contributions are you making to the meeting?  What is a key learning that you will impart?  Give us a taste of this, and make us want to attend.
  • Do not tell me your company booth number.  Who cares?  The Exhibit Hall booths aren’t numbered in an obvious way, so the booth number is irrelevant.  Make me WANT to find you.  Is there a reason I should stop by?
  • Go beyond announcing the title of your Presentation, Poster, or Symposium.  Engage me in the content, in the controversy, in the meaning of this work.  Make me want to come to learn “how the story ends”.
  • Start a conversation with me.  Reinforce the value proposition.  Differentiate.  Remind me why I care.  Then, I’ll remember you.
  • Have fun with me.  I’m a person, not just a potential client.  Engage with me using fun contests, connect with me as a visitor to a city, recognize me as an exhausted conventioneer.  Make me laugh.
  • Use examples:  don’t tell them you specialize in market access, budget impact models, HTA, pricing, etc.  Everyone does that.  SHOW them.

Let’s get specific.  For some ways to achieve these objectives using digital and social media strategies, read on.

Use Social Media To Start a Buzz (and Keep the Buzz Going)

Don’t roll your eyes (you rolled them a little, didn’t you?).  Quite simply, if you don’t use social media in your convention strategy, you’re missing out on an effective, inexpensive, fun way to maximize your company’s meeting experience.  Social Media is like a support system that “holds” your customer during all stages of the sales process.  It reaches them repetitively, when they are in an information-gathering mode, and keeps your brand top-of-mind.  If you personalize your social media strategy and really reach out to those individuals, then you keep that conversation going with multiple people at one time, very cost-effectively!

Your potential clients are savvy and tech-literate, of varied ages and exposures, and if my recent experience at ISPOR is any indication, your audience is constantly on their smart-phones.   So, be where they are!  Yes, meet them where they hang out:  the big 3 of Twitter, LinkedIn, and increasingly Facebook.  So, how best to target clients in these 3 locations?

Think Before – During – After:  Your trade-show is not just a 3-4 day event; don’t squander the “before” and “after” meeting timeframe.  Most of you send pre-meeting eBlasts or use the provided labels of attendees to send a flyer via snail mail.  This tells me that you recognize the importance of building pre-meeting awareness.  And, most of you follow-up with an email to those you met at the booth.  So you recognize the post-meeting follow-up value.  Let’s just add another digital medium to that mix of before/during/after conversation:  social media.  Turn that 5 minute conversation at the booth into a long-term relationship built on creating a dialog.

On-line activity and real-life events should work together:  real-life provides content for on-line activity, and on-line activity can create excitement or follow-through for real-life events.

Build that Pre-meeting Buzz by teasing attendees with “content hors d’ouerves”:   titillate them with a peek at the best things at the event in general, and that you – as a company – are providing.

  • Have your speakers produce teaser content, simple video, or a blog posting, press releases, or a podcast to instill some excitement into what will be unveiled.
  • Really want to engage?  Then consider mirroring the South by Southwest event with their Panel Picker, turning over 30% of the programming selection to potential attendees. While the program as a whole can’t be affected, your particular presentation/poster/symposia (or even booth give-away) may have some “wiggle room”, and perhaps attendees can provide some input via social media crowd-sourcing. In fact, Crowd Campaign offers a mechanism for participants to suggest content and for others to vote on it.  Or, you could simply use Twtpoll or PollDaddy.  HealthEconomics.Com can run a poll for you on the website or in a newsletter or eBlast.
  • Contests work very well and we all enjoy images.  Facebook, in particular, benefits from images, and these start more conversations than text-only posts. HealthEconomics.Com plans to use images with a photo caption contest, with plans to post an interesting/ funny photo on our Facebook page and invite our followers to caption the photo. The best caption wins!  Easy as that!
  • Questions engage and start a dialogue.  Stick with simple “fill in the blank” and use social media to ask a question that relates to your upcoming presentation, booth/company, and have attendees Tweet/Facebook/share on a LinkedIn group the answer, with one of the people recognized for the correct answer on social media, at a presentation, or at your booth with a small gift.
  • Or, ask for retweets about the upcoming presentation, with a tie-in gift card to a randomly chosen person from the retweets.  Start now by beginning to ask all of your clients for their Twitter handles, and encourage them to like your company on Facebook and LinkedIn.
  • Invite submissions.  Have you or a company representative been attending ISPOR for decades?  Can you find an old picture of them and ask “Who is this?”, maybe tying into Throwback Thursday or some other social media trend already ongoing?
  • Prior to the meeting, usually the week before, attendees are scrambling for dinner reservations and more.  How can you help with this, sharing your “finds” via social media and maybe even raffling off a few dinner reservations at hard-to-book restaurants.
  • Use all possible free sources to “Announce” your attendance at meetings, including LinkedIn calendars (your company page, as well as all employees), Facebook events, the HE Business Directory calendar, the HealthEconomics.Com Conference website, and more.
  • During the meeting, make sure that all of your company representatives are engaging with social media using their own accounts but also using your company Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn contact information.
  • Have them share about what they are learning, intriguing conversations, and what their convention experience means for their own company/clients.  Every company representative is another face of your corporation.
  • Another great tool to use during the meeting is to consolidate trends based on social media, and share this by your company.  Social Media is great as a “storytelling” device:  it shows a stream of experiences, and if you can “listen” to this stream, and consolidate the responses into a cohesive story, then you are adding value.  A great tool for this is Storify, a social network service that lets the user create stories or timelines using social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.  This may be particularly useful during a Plenary session or a Symposium on a controversial topic, and serves to amplify the message that your company listens.  In fact, there is a weekly CNN column entitled “Apparently This Matters”, by Jarrett Bellini, and he writes about whatever happens to be trending in social media at the time.  It is both funny, irreverent, and reflective of what is important in our digital world.  Wouldn’t that be useful at your Convention?  (HealthEconomics.Com has a stable of writers who can follow these Twitter feeds and provide you with a summary.)
  • Think about your own experience: what are some common meeting challenges that you encounter, and how can you help others address this?  What about letting attendees know about the coffee shop with the shortest lines, or some telephone numbers for local cab companies, or that special restaurant with local food that’s not on any tourist list?   These are great ways to engage.
  • Ensure there is a reason to stop by your booth:  a Jeopardy game experience (with questions fed via social media), a reason to get something “stamped” each day, or a new contest to enter.  Remind people to keep coming back.
  • With iPhones, it’s very simple to film high-quality video and turn it into Vine or YouTube videos.  Conduct short Q&As with attendees on topical issues, experiences, or trends.  Upload to major social networks and share your company interacting with attendees.
  • At your booth, make sure that every item that can be accessed by potential clients has a QR code on it.  Ensure that you make things easy for them to engage with your company and brand, in every way possible.

After the meeting, close the loop with everyone you met, not just with emails, but with a continued engagement about the convention and what you spoke about.

  • Ask their permission to put them on a mailing list to get your materials and company updates, and ensure that you take the time to connect with them using the big 3 of LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.
  • Make a note to engage them via these methods a few weeks after the event, just to check in on how they are doing.
  • Ensure that your presence in the social media sphere is consistent and useful.  Don’t be a splash-in-the-pan.


Bonus Tips

Remember this:  Social Media is not a garden hose for spraying your message.  It’s a storytelling tool, where you listen to your clients and they (hopefully) listen to you.

  • Take some time to invest in your personal brand online, by interacting and maintaining a consistent presence.
  • Think “how can I promote others” rather than “how can I promote myself”.  I personally view our HealthEconomics.Com social media as if I’m the host of a dinner party, greeting each guest and introducing them to each other for mutual shared conversation.
  • Make sure that you monitor performance and impact.
  • Above all, keep it simple and offer value.

I hope this gives you some ideas on how to take the Chaos out of your Convention, and to use all the tools available to turbocharge your next event.  With a bit of pre-planning and pushing the limits of how you’ve always done things, I bet you’ll see some results.  HealthEconomics.Com has been a Top Influencer at ISPOR based on social media for the past 3 years at all North American and European meetings.  We have thousands of followers on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, G+, Pinterest, YouTube, and Vimeo.   If we can help turbocharge your next meeting, please let us know.  And, watch for us at ISPOR.  In fact, I suspect you can’t miss us.


HealthEconomics.Com was founded in 1994 by Patti Peeples, Ph.D., R.Ph., a health economist and pharmacist with more than 25 years of experience in the pharma and healthcare communications industries.  At the forefront of the health outcomes and market access movement in the United States, she is considered a pioneer in using the internet for communication and marketing in the health economics field.

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