An anchor exhibitor at large medical conventions provided some straight talk at the Survey Shows Growth, Trends, and Threats in the Exhibition Industry 2012 Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum on what his company wants as an exhibitor, highlighting a creative and successful partnership with the American College of Cardiology.

The last four years have been a challenging environment for exhibitors as budgets have shrunk or stayed the same, while exhibiting costs have gone up, said Jeffrey Masters, senior manager, global healthcare events at Phillips Healthcare, Andover, Mass., speaking to an audience of 200 exhibition organizers at ECEF. Consequently, the amount of exhibit space that Phillips takes at the 500 events it exhibits at annually, 53 as anchors, has gone down too.

Phillips is more selective about which shows it chooses to exhibit at or sponsor. The company looks at a variety of factors when considering events, including performance metrics. But it doesn’t measure return on investment because it is very difficult to calculate for a specific event, said Masters. Rather, each show is measured for its ability to create “pipeline” sales opportunities. “It’s not my job to close those deals; I have no control over that,” said Masters. “Measure me on the opportunity we created.” For every dollar that Phillips spends on exhibits, it wants to get $20 to $24 back in opportunity. Events that cannot be measured effectively will likely be downsized or removed from event portfolios, he said.

It’s important for event organizers to know what an exhibitor wants out of the show so they can customize a package that fits those needs. As one of the largest medical device manufacturers, Phillips is not looking to create brand awareness. “You’re not going to see us buying bus wraps or things for visibility,” he said. What Phillips focuses on is creating preference, attracting and retaining accounts, and establishing long-term relationships. To do that, Phillips wants to produce compelling experiences for attendees that go beyond a booth on a slab of concrete—and it wants show organizers to help them achieve that goal.

One of Phillips’ most successful partnerships is with the American College or Cardiology. For the past three years at the ACC annual meeting, Phillips created an educational experience called “The Heart of Innovation Learning Destination” that explored the past, present, and future of two conditions: coronary artery disease and heart failure. “These are heart doctors who are extremely and extraordinarily interested in being in sessions,” said Masters. “They have come to this meeting to learn, learn, learn, not to be just hawked at out in the exhibit hall.”

The ACC, in conjunction with Phillips, built a non-accredited learning environment that brought physicians to the show floor to learn about and experience innovative new products in multiple exhibits that included a hybrid operating room. Phillips also built a “Thought Leader Theater” where attendees could listen to panels and expert presentations on the topic area. More than 2,500 healthcare professionals visited the exhibit and stayed for an average of 29 minutes. “We’re trying to make face-to-face meaningful beyond the overt selling of products,” said Masters. “I can’t thank the ACC enough for being terrific partners on this adventure.”