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Fishing for High-caliber Attendees
And the lures that "reel" them in
by Scott Williams, MC˛ Chicago Division President
TGFA! (Thank Goodness for Associations!) Associations are here to represent the needs of our industries and professions. They monitor, promote and lobby for issues that benefit our industries. And they seek to influence key opinion leaders in policy and industries.
Each year, most associations host a conference and trade fair, and attendee members are a qualified and important audience for exhibitors. Using data from the Healthcare Convention and Exhibitors Association and association Web sites, I estimate that many associations attract approximately 30 percent of their membership to annual meetings. Yet how many of these attendees are the professional decision-makers exhibitors want to reach -- warranting your participation in the event?
C H A L L E N G E S . . . S O L U T I O N S
MC˛ staffer helps AFITC attendee.
The Challenge: Set up and manage the Air Force Information Technology Conference and Expo (AFITC) in a brand-new, untested conference facility that will host more than 5,000 attendees and 300 exhibits.
The Solution: MC˛ management team and expertise.
See how the Air Force flew without a test flight.
My view from the floor
In the past nine months, I've attended more than a dozen medical conferences and numerous seminars covering what's important to physicians and medical professionals. While there, I've spent significant time on the exhibit hall floor and observed what works and what needs enhancement. The following observations apply to any association conference and trade fair in any industry category.
First of all, you need to face the fact that professional member attendees have many competing interests when attending an association conference. Their time is extremely valuable, and getting them to invest quality hours on the exhibit hall floor is a challenge. Yet, finding effective ways to attract professional members to the conference and then spending a meaningful amount of time in the exhibit hall are critical to the success of the conference, the hosting association and the exhibitors.
So, as an exhibitor, when you evaluate which association conferences to participate in, consider what attracts the highest-caliber attendees. For example:
- Who are the conference keynoters? Are they among the top in their industries? Top-ranking speakers boost attendance.
- What are the show hours? Is there sufficient time before, between and after breakout sessions to engage attendees on the show floor?
- How many of your own staff can you bring on the show floor? Limiting staff can limit engagement of attendees.
- What are the sponsorship opportunities? Some conferences permit you to be a sponsor without buying exhibit space. Consequently, a sponsorship can be a good way to keep your company's name in front of attendees while evaluating the event for the future, without a huge investment in resources.
- The number of attendees is crucial; the kind of attendees is equally important. Associations that attract decision-makers to their conferences are more valuable than those who don't -- or can't.
Some associations have implemented intriguing solutions to upgrade their conferences and tradeshows. These amenities ratchet up the caliber of the event and can serve to attract attendees. When you're selecting which event(s) you want to participate in, watch for items like these:
- An inviting area with private and semiprivate meeting rooms for networking with colleagues and catching up with emails and other work-related activities. A relaxing environment, including comfortable furniture and computers with Internet access, can be a big attraction for attendees.
- Self-service kiosks. Located in the front of the exhibit hall, these kiosks identify where the exhibitors are located and help determine the best route to take to visit targeted exhibitors.
- Information centers. Positioned in the registration area, these centers are staffed with personnel who can answer questions about the conference and provide recommendations for evening events. (At a few of the larger exhibit halls, a trolley system was utilized to transport attendees on the show floor!)
- Innovation center. Designed to showcase exhibitors' new products and services, this private presentation area is set up on the exhibit floor with a comfortable theater environment and audiovisual equipment for an engaging presentation. A schedule of products and companies presenting is provided to all attendees and updated on display screens.
- A reduced amount of literature in the exhibit hall. To keep things green, most exhibitors and associations now provide more information on thumb drives and/or in emails to attendees' offices.
Association conferences and trade fairs can be great opportunities for exhibitors to make their companies and products known to their target audiences. But not every meeting warrants your participation. Look at each conference and trade fair through potential attendees' eyes. Is it something you'd want to attend if you were an association member? Has it been designed with you in mind? Does the exhibit area have amenities that would interest you sufficiently for you to stop by and possibly spend some time there? If the event has enough of these lures, it should be able to reel in some "big fish," making it something you may want to consider participating in.
Scott Williams, MC˛ Chicago division president, has played a key role in the global event programs for numerous companies including Bristol-Myers Squibb, AAFP and Novartis. For many years, he has participated on a variety of committees with the Healthcare Convention and Exhibitors Association.
Williams has a solid blend of client relations, operations and global exhibiting experience. During the past 12 years, he has served as a divisional president for three national exhibit companies. Earlier in his career, he held a variety of senior positions for companies in the electronic assembly and chemical businesses. Williams has a bachelor's degree from Bentley College and an MBA from the University of Hartford and is a CPA. He was a member of the faculty at Bentley College, where he taught operations management.