How can pharmaceutical brands make the most of their exhibits?

Minimum opportunity, maximum engagement: Building brand opportunities at pharmaceutical events

Topic: Insight / / by Paul Denny

To say compliance at pharmaceutical exhibitions is restrictive would be an understatement. Where once they were bountiful forests of free gifts and enticing offers for delegates, exhibits are now comparative deserts: the odd cup of coffee is as close to a free iPad as you’ll get.

Product managers and exhibition organisers today face the same battle: how to create something compelling when you’re restricted in the discussions you can have with delegates; unable to give away branded goods, and unable to wax lyrical about the treatments teams have spent millions of pounds and man-hours developing without stifling restrictions.


What if those regulations were the best thing about pharma? (Apart from the chance to promote life-saving and life-enabling treatments.)

The regulations surrounding medical promotion are a golden opportunity for creativity. Pharmaceutical brands must think laterally; fix their message; find their audience; then reap the rewards.


Know your message

Pharmaceutical exhibitions suffer from an issue of aesthetics. While automotive or tech brands can wow an audience with the beauty of their product, a pill or a pile of powder doesn’t resonate in quite the same way, emotionally.

To counter this, product managers, congress managers and event agencies alike need to approach their event from a new angle, and focus on the message. A coherent brand message should be cogent and impactful, and complement wider marketing or branding activity. Without it, the stand, and product, won’t strike the right chord with visitors.

The message doesn’t come from the product; it starts with understanding the audience you want to engage. Consider the decision-makers you want to attract to your exhibit. Ask yourself: what do they do? Why should they care about your product? How should they respond to your exhibit?

Your personas should be specific and detailed, and form the basis of your brief to your event agency. You may have one target persona, or there may be more depending on the audience you’re trying to reach is: for example, Key Opinion Leaders would have different drivers, concerns and needs than marketers, or doctors. For more information on crafting personas, click here.


The medium is the message

All elements of an exhibit must pull together to deliver your message – from comms materials presented to delegates to scripts followed by event hosts. Your exhibit architecture should form part of the same narrative.

Your event stand offers the best and biggest opportunity to engage delegates, forming the stage on which all other elements of your exhibit play. Seek to tell a story with yours, offering a clear narrative around your treatment and its effects on patients.

When Daiichi Sankyo asked us to help launch Edoxaban – a breakthrough cardiac treatment – at the European Society of Cardiology Congress, we developed a striking event presence that begged to be explored. Delegates at the ESC hall in Rome were confronted with a dazzling pink cube housing a plush business lounge, charging stations and refreshments. When Amgen engaged us to promote Repatha at the 2016 series of the event, we went one step further – building an exhibit that functioned as a walk-through human artery – to express the benefits of the cholesterol treatment.

In both cases, our exhibit architecture did more than invite delegates to engage. Each stand involved their audience at a deeper level, boosting the chances of remembering Daiichi Sankyo and Amgen’s brand messages.


Technology is dead (and coffee is king)

When legislation around pharmaceutical promotion tightened a decade ago, many brands turned to display technology to replace giveaway products. In 2010, iPad brochures and signup forms were striking additions to exhibits, attracting delegates for their own sake. Today, delegates are snowblind even to augmented reality, thanks to Pokémon Go. Virtual reality is available on PlayStations. The ubiquitous iPad will not attract delegates – no matter how hard your event agency tries to persuade you otherwise.

Brands must seek to engage with delegates at a human level. And there exists no better way to spark a conversation at events than with good coffee. Invest in seating, a real coffee maker and your favourite natural Ethiopian blend. Delegates are always looking for a chance to rest their feet – and the lure of good coffee never fails.


The bottom line

Pharmaceutical brands shouldn’t give up hope. Tight regulation is an opportunity – and organisations that think laterally can engage at a much more human level than those who try to fill the space with gadgets and gimmicks.

Success isn’t achieved when a delegate remembers how attractive a branded exhibit is – even if the stand is stunning. Instead; winning is when a delegate can recall the key messages the host brand sought to communicate. (Avoiding common organisational pitfalls also helps.)

Know your message; craft your medium, and choose the right props for your next exhibit. Your goal is to have delegates repeat your brand message to others on your behalf.

The stakes are high.

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About the author

Paul Denny
A Board Director since 2004, Paul specialises in client service and currently leads the exhibition division of the agency following 20 years’ experience across the turnkey delivery of high profile, face to face communications. These include launch events, exhibits, conferences and internal communication deliveries in the financial, automotive, technology, medical, infrastructure, and aerospace, defence and security sectors. A business communications thinker with diverse experience, Paul confidently directs in-house and external teams to develop, articulate core value propositions and promote tactical campaigns. A gregarious natural leader and motivator, Paul is recognised in the industry for an excellent track record in delivery, innovation and ensuring the team has fun at all times. Paul is adept at pairing the right people with the right tasks – securing a reputation for excellence delivered, every time. He also once appeared on Magnum PI.

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