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New Challenges, New Opportunities: What’s Trending Now

Pat Friedlander

The theme for the 2016 HCEA Marketing Summit in January was “Healthcare Conventions: New Challenges, New Opportunities.” In a slower paced universe, we could assume January’s challenges have evolved into a consistent environment for finding solutions. But we don’t live in that universe.

What were those early 2016 concerns?

At the Summit, we first considered the role healthcare conventions play in the overall integration of marketing channels—and how exhibiting must take its rightful place among other channels in demonstrating a positive ROI. Because conventions are a very large—if not the largest—line item in the marketing budget, they are subject to scrutiny and budget cuts. ROI is important but so is uploading data collected at conventions to an enterprise CRM system. Or as our speaker Michael Kelly put it: “Take the data with you—and then put it back.” Until our data collection becomes as sophisticated as that of other channels, until we understand that appending convention data to that of other measurable initiatives, and until we abandon the outdated system of decile targeting, conventions remain marketing’s unexplained budgetary black hole.

The changing customer

Then Michael Young of Klick Health reviewed the changing customers for healthcare convention marketing. As the Affordable Care Act makes patient-focus as important as physician-focus, our convention programs need to provide accessible information for all categories of customers. Another new customer is the payor. The reality of post-ACA healthcare is that the prescribing of branded products–while these products are the primary focus of exhibition marketing, edetailing, and DTC advertising–is discouraged in practices and ACOs across the country. New categories of therapies, whether immunotherapy or genomic sequencing capabilities, make the dissemination of information and the education of overworked HCPs at conventions more important than ever. Whether we talk about the cancer moon shot, the 21st century cures act, or meaningful use, the conversations at conventions are decidedly different from the days of head to head comparisons–or for those of us who are truly ancient, from checking to see when Joan Lunden was going to show up in the Schering-Plough booth.

The challenges never end

Since January, we have witnessed additional challenges, and as convention marketers, we can’t bury our heads in the metaphorical sand and pretend that they don’t affect us.

  • The presidential election. One thing is unequivocal about the candidates. They are all negative about the healthcare industry. How many times a day do we hear or read about drug pricing? Or banning DTC advertising?
  • The dismissal and/or government investigations of healthcare CEOs Martin Shkreli of Turing and Michael Pearson at Valeant. Or Elizabeth Holmes at Theranos. If this level of transparency is demanded from the C-suite, you can bet that it will be demanded of convention marketing. The financial hit these companies are taking will, of course, be felt throughout the ranks.
  • The Amarin decision. In March, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that Amarin may engage in “truthful and non-misleading speech” promoting the off-label use of Vascepa, enjoining the FDA from prosecuting the company. This landmark first amendment lawsuit over off-label drug promotion established a legal precedent that the FDA can no longer prosecute a pharmaceutical manufacturer for a truthful and non-misleading off-label promotion to health care professionals. What does this mean for the future of convention marketing when one of our few remaining immutables, if there are such things, is now on shaky ground?
  • The blocking of the Pfizer-Allergan merger: As someone who, for years, worked with Forest Pharmaceuticals, one of the first of then-Actavis’ newsworthy acquisitions, I have watched closely as people’s careers wax and wane, as the M&A activity across the healthcare industry continues. There are way too many of you reading this–exhibitors, associations, and suppliers– who have felt the earth move under your feet for me to have to say much more.
  • The increasing power of procurement. As pricing issues become the cause célèbre, the shoring up of services and reducing the number of vendors becomes a reality we have to accept whether that includes more vendor reviews or, on the supplier side, better integration of services with partner agencies.

But wait—there’s more

As if these arguably cosmic forces aren’t enough, we also need to be mindful of the efficiencies of exhibiting, the learning styles of our attendees, and the challenges of global marketing in an increasingly granular regulatory world. We continue to dispute the concept of drayage, as we heard in the afternoon session at the Summit, and wonder how to build a program that encompasses digital media, sponsorships, and perhaps recognition for the people staffing our exhibit. And vendors are finding that the shrinking numbers of overworked exhibit managers do not have the bandwidth to return calls or respond to emails, much less the time for informational face-to-face presentations.

Looking for the safe, simple life? Healthcare exhibiting probably isn’t for you. But if you need something new and challenging on a regular basis, you’re in the right place.