The opening reception at the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Development was held last night in the exhibit hall with all of the folks who have the challenging job of marketing to marketers.
In some ways, at least, marketing professionals know that it's part of the deal--the vendors are there help subsidize the cost of the event and to market their products and services. (And at least they give away free goodies, also known as "swag.")
The deal is understood: You get a tomato-shaped stress ball from advertising firm Storandt Pann Margolis and Larry Margolis and Kate Harken, the president & chief marketing officer and the director of client development, respectively, get to pitch the agency's services (and show off the agency's snazzy new design and tagline).
Besides the swag, though, there's another benefit of a visit to the exhibit hall for the hospital and health system marketers attending the Washington, DC, conference. They can pick the brains of consultants and vendors and pick up a few lessons on how to successfully market at a live events (think recruitment and health fairs) and in print or online advertising (think magazine ads and microsites). The best (and most crowded) booths were interactive and exuded a sense of the sponsor.
Custom publishing company McMurry, set their booth up like a game show. A host asked contestants a series of multiple-choice questions, such as how long the average consumer spends reading a magazine, for the chance to win prizes ranging from a dollar bill to a TV. The player could ask the audience or an expert for help. The experts, of course, were McMurry's own staffers. Creative VP Beth Tomkiw, who once worked for Hugh Hefner, helped with the question about magazine readership. Marc Oxborrow, design director (who was sitting before a photograph of himself lying in bed with a giant "S"), helped answer a question about fonts.
It was definitely an interactive, engaging booth that positioned McMurry not only as experts in their field but as a company with a sense of humor.
Interactive doesn't have to mean elaborate and expensive, however. A booth staffed by people with friendly faces, who draw people in and make eye contact and know how to carry on natural conversation can be a success as well. At the best booths, staffers don't just talk about themselves and their own products and services--they listen to the customer and focus on their needs and wants.
And there's the lesson to take away from the exhibit hall. As service providers, we have to remember that it's not about us so much as it is about what we can do for our customers.
That was the strategy behind Aloysius Butler & Clark's exhibit at the conference. In a quiet spot apart from the main hall, they sponsored a lounge with comfortable chairs, a television, high-top tables, laptops and wireless Internet access.
It not only fit with the "connections" theme of the conference but it also allowed them to differentiate themselves from their competitors and illustrate how their firm helps clients stand out in a crowd, too. You don't accomplish that by handing out branded pens like everybody else.
"I think people are sick of being sold to, quite frankly. It's really a struggle sometimes to stand out and be true to who you are," says Donna-Marie King, AB&C's director of strategic communications. "This is a busy conference. It's very noisy and very hectic . . . We just wanted to offer a few moments of peace, quiet, and tranquility."
The free lattes they were serving didn't hurt, either. OK, let's admit it--the swag is fun. As I write this, I'm looking at my own haul: a rubber duck with a red, white, and blue cap from SHSMD, a T-shirt from Book Wear, a water bottle from the American Hospital Association, lip balm and a small bottle of hand sanitizer from Robertson Marketing, a squishy stress ball that looked like an orange from The Image Group. And, of course, I have gathered a small army of branded pens.
Want to report on your own experience at the conference or in the exhibit hall? Send me an e-mail at the address below and I'll post some of your responses. Also, stay tuned to this page for more reports from our editors, who will continue to cover the conference through Friday.
Gienna Shaw is an editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.