As a 25-year veteran of the pharmaceutical meetings industry, Carol Krugman, CMP, CMM, is familiar with the perception that many meeting professionals have of— that it's about glitz and parties and that it's not their bailiwick. That may have been true a few years ago, she says, but not anymore.
“Event marketing is our world now,” she says. “It is definitely our world in the future. If we don't embrace it and adapt to the extraordinary changes going on in the meetings industry, we'll become superfluous.”
It quite literally is Krugman's world now, as she left her independent meeting planning practice last year to join event marketing firm George P. Johnson, North Easton, Mass., as director of client services. In February, GPJ and the Meeting Professionals International Foundation released EventView 2006: Healthcare/Pharmaceutical Report — a new survey of marketing trends in the pharmaceutical meetings industry. The results were culled from the worldwide study, which polled 900 marketers from a variety of industries; 19 percent of the respondents work in the healthcare field. This is the first time GPJ has done an analysis in the healthcare niche, and the study shows that pharmaceutical marketers view meetings and events quite differently than those in other industries.
Not for Party Planners
But before diving into the results, it's important to understand what event marketing is. It is often referred to in a variety of ways, which some find confusing. Face-to-face marketing, experiential marketing, exhibit marketing, and conference marketing are all subcategories of event marketing. “Event marketing is any face-to-face interaction in which the sponsor is looking to drive people closer to the company and brand,” explains David Rich, vice president, program strategy at George P. Johnson. The field includes consumer-oriented promotions such as street and guerilla marketing, as well as conferences and exhibitions, events that are much more familiar to theprofessional.
“A lot of meeting professionals tend to think of the words event and marketing as something that is not meetings-related — that it's just something for people planning parties,” says Krugman. “But it is absolutely meetings-related. A meeting is an event. A different kind of event, perhaps, in the case of pharmaceutical meetings, a more circumscribed event than the typical special event, which has more of an entertainment edge, but still an event.” And as such, she adds, it's related to event marketing, regardless of where meetings fall within the corporate structure. “I don't think there's anything that goes on in any corporation that is not related to marketing in some way.” Thus, event marketing in the healthcare industry includes investigator, key opinion leader, advisory board, and speaker training meetings, as well as sales and marketing meetings, explains Krugman.
More Money for Meetings
The good news is that pharmaceutical companies value event marketing as much as other industries. Forty-eight percent of pharmaceutical respondents view events as either a primary or crucial part of their marketing plans, as do 47 percent of total respondents. And healthcare marketers allocate more of their budgets to meetings, and less to trade shows, than do other marketers. Pharmaceutical respondents spend 52 percent of their external event marketing budgets on trade shows and 41 percent on conferences and seminars. Conversely, respondents to the worldwide EventView survey invest 59 percent in trade shows and 35 percent in conferences and seminars.
Why? The medical sector's marketing approach is different than other industries. “Given the regulatory atmosphere and requirements, there is now a different kind of face-to-face interaction at meetings,” says Krugman. Healthcare events are more focused on education and science and less on entertainment and sales. “In the past, there was a component of party and glitz similar to what you might see at a consumer event, but all of that now is history with healthcare,” Krugman says. So, while the goal of marketers is still the same — raise brand awareness, convey a message, and influence an audience — the way they go about it is different. And meeting professionals play a key role.
Without the “wow factor” to send a message, “it raises the bar, quite frankly, for all of us in the [medical meetings] profession because we are down to the bare bones of communication,” says Krugman. “If you don't have the smoke and the mirrors and the glitz to divert, in some cases, or embellish on the basic objectives of the meeting, then it holds us to a much higher standard.” So, adds Rich, meeting professionals have to be even more proficient at logistics, and have to ensure that the presentation of content is high quality. That means choosing the right media for presentations, setting up the meeting room properly, and paying attention to seemingly mundane details such as the lighting or the microphone. While flawless execution creates confidence in the company, logistical and creative miscues can have a negative effect on the experience, even if the content is superior, he says. That, in turn, reflects on the brand.
Healthcare marketers may funnel more money into conferences than their counterparts in other industries, but overall, they allocate fewer dollars and have less faith in event marketing. Event marketing makes up 24 percent of the pharma respondents' overall marketing budget, which is slightly less than the 26 percent in the worldwide survey.
Given the fact that healthcare companies invest less in event marketing, it may not be surprising that healthcare marketers have less confidence that event marketing will generate the best return on investment. According to the worldwide survey, 24 percent of marketers say that event marketing delivers the highest, outpacing all other channels in effectiveness. But in the healthcare survey, just 17 percent say that event marketing delivers the highest ROI, placing it second behind sales promotions, chosen by 18 percent of respondents. Direct mail (14 percent), public relations (14 percent), and print advertising (12 percent) are next.
Healthcare marketers have less confidence in events because they are attended by physicians and not consumers, so they are viewed as more of an “indirect route” to the end user, surmises Rich. Medical meetings focus on influencing attendees to prescribe certain drugs to their patients and to recommend them to their organizations. Therefore, it's difficult for marketers to track sales and isolate a return on investment for a particular event.
Focus on Branding
That's why branding is so important. When asked to rank marketing objectives for external events, healthcare marketing executives rank “increase awareness of your brand” as the most important. In contrast, respondents to the worldwide survey rank “increase knowledge of products and enhance customer relationships” as the top priorities. “Since they are not in the position to directly drive a transaction, they [pharmaceutical marketers] know that brand awareness is their primary weapon in the marketplace,” says Rich.
For external meetings, it's about “branding from the outside in,” says Rich — getting the right message out to the right people at events — those who influence sales. According to the survey, 31 percent of marketers say trade shows deliver the best ROI (compared to 40 percent in the worldwide survey), while 23 percent put conferences/seminars at the top (compared to 21 percent in the worldwide survey).
Conversely, the objective of internal meetings is “branding from the inside out,” says Rich — that is, educating employees about the benefits of the product so they become the “ambassadors” and “take that message out into the marketplace.” The ambassadors could be sales and marketing staff, detail personnel, or staff scientists who interact with the healthcare community. Among internal events, 35 percent of healthcare marketers rank education/training meetings as delivering the highest ROI, followed by sales or marketing meetings (27 percent), and employee events (22 percent) — which include any meetings that are strictly for company personnel only.
While marketers say it's not always easy to determine the ROI of an event, that doesn't mean they don't measure its effectiveness. Indeed, 73 percent of healthcare marketers do some form of post-event measurement, compared to 71 percent in the worldwide survey. Also, healthcare marketers invested 12 percent of their budgets in measurement tools and practices in 2006, up from 8 percent in 2005.
Since brand awareness ranked as the No. 1 objective of event marketing, it's not surprising that overall communications effectiveness (message recall) is the metric that pharmaceutical marketers measure the most. Thirty-nine percent of healthcare marketers rank it as the most important metric, compared to 31 percent in the worldwide survey. Also, 33 percent rank sales increases as the most important metric, followed by the number of qualified leads (30 percent). Only 10 percent of healthcare marketers say ROI is the most important metric.
At trade shows, exhibitors increasingly are pressuring event organizers for data that will allow them to measure the effectiveness of their participation, says Rich. While exhibitors can measure their own traffic, they can't measure it compared to other exhibitors. More and more, they are asking event organizers for a comparison of their traffic against a random sample — not against a specific competitor. Or, they are requesting surveys of attendees that ask questions such as: What are you getting out of this event? How are you using it? Will you make any new decisions as a result? Knowing more about how attendees value the show will help exhibitors gauge the value of their own involvement, says Rich.
Organizers are not always comfortable with providing that kind of data, but “their willingness to do it directly correlates to the pressure they are getting from the exhibitors,” he says. Otherwise, they could lose exhibitors.
Your Role in Marketing
At a time when more meeting departments are reporting to procurement, finance, and travel — as opposed to marketing — many meeting professionals wonder why event marketing matters at all. Krugman says that's the wrong way to look at it.
“You don't have to report to the marketing department to have what you're doing be part of the marketing mix,” she says. Just ask yourself: Why is the company investing in the event? The answer is, most likely, to influence an audience in some way, she says.
“It's not about where you sit organizationally,” explains Rich. “It's about the purpose of these meetings and events. It's about understanding why the company is investing dollars in an activity and what you can do as a meeting professional to make sure that its value comes to life.” In an era of, he concludes, planners who make event marketing part of their job will be considered more strategic — and less expendable.
Experiential Marketing Takes Off
A growing area of event marketing is experiential marketing, which uses experiences or hands-on activities to engage participants. According to EventView 2006: Healthcare/Pharmaceutical Report, a new survey of marketing trends in the pharmaceutical meetings industry, 85 percent of healthcare marketers have used this approach, compared to 81 percent of respondents in a cross-section of industries. The survey was co-sponsored by George P. Johnson, North Easton, Mass., and the Meeting Professionals International Foundation.
Why the growth in popularity? One reason is that younger generations have a strong preference for interactive experiences, as opposed to lectures. But more importantly, from a marketing standpoint, it's an effective way to stand out in the crowd. “Marketers are realizing that it is harder and harder to differentiate themselves from the competition,” says David Rich, vice president, program strategy at George P. Johnson. To give the audience a deeper understanding of the company or product, “you have to find a way to bring the brand attributes to life.”
As an example, if the goal of a meeting is to show that the company is the preeminent thought leader in a particular therapeutic area, then the company might publish white papers and have the authors distribute the papers and interact with attendees. An experiential session could also involve bringing in a patient to field questions about a treatment or letting attendees try out a new medical device.
“We say that experience marketing is all about the opportunity for attendees to look the brand in the eye and make a judgment,” says Rich.
Next Stop: Pharma Forum
Pharmaceutical meetings industry leaders will share their views on event marketing during a keynote session at the Third Annual Pharmaceutical Meeting Planners Forum. Speakers include Betsy Bondurant, associate director, meeting planning and trade shows, Amgen; Phil Dunphy, director, global travel, Pfizer Inc.; Marianne Demko-Lange, director, medical meetings, meeting planning and travel, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals; and Lynn Ridzon, director, global meeting management, Bristol-Myers Squibb. Carol Krugman, CMP, CMM; and David Rich, of George P. Johnson, will moderate the session and present more findings from EventView 2006: Healthcare/Pharmaceutical Report.
Co-organized by Medical Meetings magazine and the Center for Business Intelligence, the forum will be held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, March 26 to 27.