The deposit is paid for your first major medical convention. Now what!?
There is a lot to plan for even as a sponsor at a medical convention. Breaking this down step by step could be easy…if you have somewhere to start. As an experienced Marketer, Public Speaker and Event Coordinator, I have seen the shit hit-the-fan behind the scenes too many times. It seems like every time I know what will go wrong and when it will land like a SPLAT. As a sponsor, you have the unique opportunity to be a pleasure to work with, assuming you know these three things going into your next major convention. If you already have determined your budget for the booth, travel and materials, take these next steps and lodge them directly into your Cerebral Cortex.
#1 BE THE EARLY BIRD
There is such a thing as a poorly run convention. Usually it’s not the event staff, but the resources not coming together at the right time. For example, your booth display might not arrive on time, or perhaps the printer goofed on your logo colors and it looks more like you are trying to serve pasta dinner than decode DNA. Whatever can go wrong, WILL go wrong during a convention. Shit always hits the fan.
Hotels, travel, pickup and drop-off from airports/trains can easily be handled by a business group travel concierge. But if it’s not in the budget…relax! You might not get all the perks of having a concierge service, but you can plan ahead and book travel early. If you are traveling internationally, immediately check on Passport expirations and look up Visas. Also take a gander at any shots you may need updated, just in case.
Traveling within the US or your home country? Even better, you can relax because that’s one less headache for your organization. Try buying a refundable ticket, just in case you need to change arrival dates. I once had to arrive 5 hours earlier to setup the booth and incurred a $150 change fee. Never again. Now I can make changes on the fly.
Printed Material (Business cards, flyers, banners) and Giveaways should always either be in your hand on the airplane. Worst case scenario get them to arrive at the hotel 2 days early. Between crazy weather, problems with the printer, to missing mail, you’ll want to rest easy there.
Speaking of printed material, do not wait to go to print. Take advantage of Early Bird Specials. It’s better to have things printed out two weeks ahead of time. Got a lazy photographer or graphics designer? Tell them you just need ONE good high resolution shot and go with it. There is no reason to delay this, since printing legitimately takes time. If you are using the official printer for the convention for your booth, they can usually make last minute changes, but don’t always count on that. I prefer to print everything I can locally, for example my local printer is Creative Approach. They take good care of me because when I spot something wrong (which is rare) they fix it for free. If you go with a larger printer like Uprint, then you could be looking at a customer service nightmare. Stick with local as best as you can, they will take care of you and can ship most of the stuff out as soon as it’s done printing.
And finally, show up early for setup day. Better to finish your setup first and relax at the local coffee shop, prepping for social media, email blasts and last minute details, than to be racing around trying to order screens and finalize that amazing display you worked the last 3 months to perfect.
#2 HAVE A CALL TO ACTION
Why are you even attending this convention to begin with? Are you looking for beta testers? Customers? Investors? Sales? Whatever you are looking for, make sure everyone knows it! There is nothing wrong with telling people you are not interested in what they offer (Investment, manufacturing, development).
Be clear and specific. If your product or service is not FDA cleared or is still in Beta, you can still collect contact info. Start a Beta program of REALLY interested parties. If someone wants to go above and beyond that, then perhaps invite them to dinner during the convention to develop the relationship further. At least schedule a follow up call to tie up any loose ends or to loop in other interested parties or members of your organization. With this, you need a really good CRM system to track manage and follow up. I suggest something like Salesforce if you plan on having more than 100 customers. Under that? Use Mailchimp. It’s free and easy enough to email out.
When it comes to driving traffic, success is less about the size of your booth, and all about what you do with it – Linda Armstrong Best Practices for Small Booth Exhibits
For example, I was recently at a Hand Surgery Convention and we had Doctors and Surgery Center CEO’s lining up to learn about our product. Since we are not cleared by the FDA, we could not discuss price or availability, but we could talk about Beta programs and collect information and log it into our CRM. Now, months later, when the product is closer to launch, we can begin to drip additional information to keep them hyped and interested in the next greatest medical invention. The next step is where most companies drop the ball. When the convention is over, that is the most critical time for following through.
#3 FOLLOW THROUGH WITH YOUR FOLLOW UP SYSTEM
This is literally the #1 mistake people make. I do not care how large or small your company is. Have a system created where you follow up with everyone who showed interest. You never know who is best friends with the Chief of Medicine at a major hospital. My suggestion is to identify the VIP’s and call them directly a few days after the convention. Thank them for stopping by and offer to answer any additional questions. Make sure you send out an email to EVERYONE no less than 5 days after the event. In fact 2 days after is safe because chances are, you will be forgotten in the sea of work related junk. At Least this way you have a chance of them remembering your product or service.
Follow up Again. That’s right, shoot them another email in two weeks. Try for a soft sell like a general PR email with something that your organization has been up to recently. You can always announce something big at your company which will raise eyebrows (receiving FDA clearance, signing on new executives or receiving major funding is always nice to tout) But make it have an impact that changes their perception about your company. That way, they will read the article and share it with a colleague and reference that fact that they saw and met your team at a recent convention.
If you fail to do this, and 3 months down the road you finally get the email out or make the call or send the letter…it’s too late. Of course, go ahead and do it anyway if you haven’t yet (if you are reading this post convention) Just make it happen. Get it done. The follow up is the #1 method of failure to delight those who stopped by your booth. In fact, sometimes we post photos of people who stopped by because they go on to share it. Making the email viral (a pretty rare sight), and generating conversation about your product or service. No matter what your call to action was, whether scheduling a demo or getting people to pay you cash in hand for medical supplies; follow up and follow through.
There is no perfect formula for being a sponsor at a convention. You can always be a pleasure to work with. Most event hosts give preferential treatment to BIG sponsors, and even the little ones who have their house in order. So to keep in line and not be a nuisance so that hosts can satiate the needs of the medical giant tech companies out there (Yeah you heard me Arthrax, Stryker, and Depuy!) Get your stuff in early. Make sure you have a clear call to action. Follow up and through with every single lead. You don’t need to call everyone, but thanking them for stopping by goes a long way and can open the door. You would be amazed at what a personal email from the CEO or CTO can do for your small company. Best of luck at your next convention!