Pharma meetings go experiential (or at least, do the best they can)

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Remember the media stunt promoting W Hotels "Boxers vs. Briefs" campaign, where models clad in boxers or briefs staged a series of fake matches outside the W Hotel near Lake Shore Drive in Chicago? While you won t see anything remotely like that promoting pharmaceutical meetings, the agency behind that stunt, The Experiential Agency, with offices in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, recently became the event marketing agency of record for ER Communications, whose conference planning division provides medical conference services to major pharmaceutical companies as well as medical societies.

XA, which had already worked with the company on the events and production side, knew going in that the regulatory environment surrounding pharma meetings these days makes it a whole different boxing match than what hotels and clothing companies face. The contenders duking it out in this ring are interactive, engaging education versus restrictions and calls for austerity. "We have to adhere to the new rules," says XA president Marcy Manley, "but there s still lots we can do that people aren t doing by using the same ingredients but using them differently. It s like a peanut butter sandwich cut off the crusts and cut it in half, you have a canape, and even the regulations can t argue you can t do that."

Among the canapes XA has made out of standard meeting fare is to move meetings from the typical hotel ballroom to new, unusual venues that engage participants more fully. One example she cites is a physician-participant meeting where they rented a sound stage at Universal Studios. "We created different pods, each with its own color scheme, for interactive small-group breakouts, then they came back together and shared results on the main stage. The unusual environment really made it work," she says, adding that the use of interactive technology like audience response systems also help to engage the audience.

And an engaged audience spreads the word, gaining the client company a reputation for great meetings. "We re constantly looking to see what we can do to put a different spin on the same old thing," says Manley. "We ve found that a reputation for having something different is a great tool when marketing to doctors. It s getting harder and harder to get the docs in the door. The more creative you can get with the tools you still have to work with, the more they re going to talk about it with their peers, and the more they re going to want to attend your investigator meetings for both the education and the experience.

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