Challenge: The Ontario Hospital Association’s (OHA) annual HealthAchieve is one of Canada’s largest health care trade shows and conferences. Last November’s show had about 6,500 attendees, a 31,000 net square foot showfloor with 312 exhibitors, and 200 conference speakers.
It also had a web site that, at that point, was three years old.
“Three years is a lifetime in technology,” says Craig Swatuk, OHA’s director of brand strategy and marketing. “We knew there were a lot of new things we could take advantage of, like responsive design across a variety of mobile devices.”
“HealthAchieve is a very comprehensive and large show,” Swatuk says. “There is certainly a wide variety of things for people to choose from and just trying to make it a simple format so they don’t miss out on anything was a driving force for the web site.”
Plan: Swatuk says he and program manager Lina Pallota first did an audit of competitive web sites, and then thought about what they really wanted to be able to do differently.
“The responsive design was a key part of the audit,” he says. “We needed to find out how other people out there were taking advantage of mobile technology for their events.”
OHA asked its web site developer for a couple of wireframe options. “One was more traditional, if you will,” Swatuk says. “One was perhaps a little more modern or progressive. Because we want to showcase the event in the most progressive, modern manner, we went with option B.”
The association also went with what Swatuk and Pallota considered the bolder design as well. “Things that would really sell the show and give the impression of a lot of energy and excitement,” he says. “We also wanted to give them a real robust calendar and full schedule that would make it easy for them to digest the information.”
Obstacles: As is often the case, the development phase took more time than they anticipated. One element, in particular, took a while: developing an event calendar.
“Development for the calendar was more extensive than we expected,” he says “perhaps a little more than we anticipated in the way in which people can choose their events.
“There are all kinds of categories and ways to best group those sessions into categories that are recognizable and digestible by the user. It has to make sense for us from the loading perspective as well.”
Results: …Are not quite in yet. OHA hopes to go live with the new web site in April, giving exhibitors and attendees six months to live with it before the Nov. 3-5 show at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
But Swatuk and Pallota know what they’re expecting.
“We want a better user experience,” Swatuk says. “It needs to be a user-friendly experience so that when they get onsite they’ll know exactly what they’re doing.”
Pallota says, “We’re trying to move away from paper, so the better the web site is at finding information and collecting information, we can move away from traditional ways of transmitting information.”
Advice: Swatuk: “You can’t be afraid of change. There’s always another event nipping at your heels to take your delegates away, so you’ve got to get people to participate more.”