Josh Haynie, national sales manager with Freeman’s Washington National Office, told a standing-room-only crowd at the ASAE and The Center for Association Leadership’s Annual Conference, held this week in Toronto, that the economic downturn that’s affecting all market segments right now, coupled with all the new pharma codes and regulations, will make medical shows the least likely of all markets to return to the heyday they enjoyed in 2005 any time in the near future. Exhibitors are going to continue to reduce booth size, he said.

But, Haynie said, “I’m not Decorator Little running around saying, ‘The sky is falling! The sky is falling!’” In fact, educational theaters are becoming more popular and could go a long way toward offsetting the revenue hit from reduced booth space.

“You have to understand that you only get 20 cents on every dollar [exhibitors] spend on their exhibits,” he said. But with educational theaters, which don’t require all the shipping, drayage, and other exhibition costs a typical booth entails, you get pretty much all the money they spend on it, without incurring any extra costs other than AV, lighting, signage, and other general overhead costs. "Pharma companies love them because whatever they’re spending with you [on the theater] is their total cost, and they still get leads if you scan everyone who attends." While you may get the same $5,000 for a booth or an exhibit, he further clarified, that booth actually could cost three times as much to the exhibitor once all the other fees and services are added to the cost of the booth itself.

Educational theaters generally are used for a company’s product demonstrations or promotional discussions, are usually held in special sections of the show floor, and are completely separate from the accredited CME activities. Pam Ballinger, CMP, vice president of meetings and exhibits with Association Headquarters Inc., an AMC whose clientele is more than half medical-related organizations, emphasized that these theaters are not accredited CME and so do not fall under Accreditation Council for CME’s standards. “They’re basically 30-minute ads, but they are supposed to be 30-minute ads, not CME,” she said.

While physicians have said they still value exhibits, even without the giveaways all the new rules and regs now prohibit, city officials aren’t so sure. Beth Stehley, vice president, sales and convention services with the Boston CVB, explained at the same session how that city’s hospitality community rallied around to lobby against the Massachusetts Pharmaceutical and Medical Device Manufacturer Code of Conduct and, when they were overruled and the law went into effect, how they put together information and FAQs at the BostonUSA Web site.

For more on health care exhibition trends, see:

Exhibitions See Declines in 2009

Healthcare Exhibitions Grow Slightly in 2008