Despite the drubbing healthcare exhibit halls have taken as rules around what exhibiting pharmaceutical companies can—and increasingly cannot—do have tightened, docs still find them an important way to see everything related to their specialty in one place, at one time. This according to a study released at the 2010 Healthcare Convention & Exhibitors Association Healthcare Convention Marketing Summit, which drew 218 attendees to Philadelphia this January.

The study, undertaken by Shugoll Research, Bethesda, Md., on HCEA’s behalf, asked four focus groups of residents and practicing physicians about what they expect from exhibitions, how their expectations mesh with their experience, and what an ideal exhibit hall would be like.

It turns out they expect to learn new information from exhibitors, particularly about new products and drugs, and new information about existing drugs. They also expected the show floor to offer a good networking opportunity, although they do find the number and size of booths to be an overwhelming, yet simultaneously invigorating, environment in which to network. Some also said they felt obligated to visit the exhibitors because they knew the importance of exhibitors to the show’s financial health, though this was less common among the focus groups’ younger members.

From Real to Ideal

Because they find today’s exhibit halls to be hard to navigate, all four focus groups said they would organize the hall by therapeutic or product area. They also want Wi-Fi access, lots of refreshment and lounge areas, information kiosks, clear signage, and extended morning and evening hours.

Their ideal exhibitor would staff the booth with knowledge experts, not just sales reps, and use an educational approach instead of focusing on the hard sell. They also wanted to be able do a hands-on or simulated try out of a product.

While today’s expo hall may not yet meet their ideal in some cases, all four focus groups said they valued the social time it allows, and the break it gives them from sitting in a dark ballroom staring at PowerPoints.

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