The conventional wisdom is that, while health care events remain the bulwark of the tradeshow industry and once of its most promising sectors, concerns about restrictions on marketing and the Affordable Care Act have largely stalled revenue growth in recent years.
One association, however, the American Association of Cardiovascular & Pulmonary Rehabilitation (AACVPR), has seen its sponsorship revenue grow by more than 60 percent each of the last three years. The showfloor at its annual meeting has grown from 28 exhibitors in 2010 to 45 this year and typically attracts about 1,000 attendees.
Jessica Eustice, manager of the health care and scientific practice at, which manages the association and its events, is also development manager for AACVPR and
plays a similar role with another health care association.
Eustice spoke with Expo Executive Editor Michael Hart about what it takes to grow revenue in the health care events sector today.
EXPO: If there were one key to success at growing revenue with health care events today, what would it be?
Jessica Eustice: Understanding the guidelines and rules is all you really need to succeed in this realm.
About ’05 or ’06, the Sunshine Act was coming to light and the stricter guidelines were being pushed out—PhRMA Code, in particular. It really got very specific. So, I attended a meeting put on by a CEM group and started to educate myself on it.
We started at that time to create a firewall. Today, the AACVPR guidelines for commercial support, which follow closely the guidelines in the PhRMA Code, are really considered the gold standard that dictates what is and is not allowable.
EXPO: A firewall between what or whom?
Eustice: At pharma companies, for example, the individuals who are spending marketing dollars cannot be the same individuals giving educational grants. They can’t even be in the same room when funding is being discussed.
EXPO: What role do you play in this?
Eustice: I am responsible for sponsorships. For us, a sponsorship is anything that happens in the education realm. We really don’t even use the word sponsorship; we call them educational grants. Besides education at the annual meeting, that might include things like distance learning opportunities or webcasts.
The society is entirely responsible for the content development. We select speakers. At no point does a commercial sway us with the selection of a speaker or content development or a CE offering.
EXPO: So, the firewall at Smith Bucklin that you mentioned means what?
Eustice: At Smith Bucklin, we then have our exhibit sales team. They are selling the exhibit space, as well as advertising specific to the annual meeting, things like space in print programs, hotel key cards, things like that.
Those things are straight marketing. They can oftentimes be product-specific, which a sponsorship generally cannot be. A sponsorship would have a company name, not a drug brand.
While I do interact with the exhibit sales team—the left hand does know what the right hand is doing—we do not make decisions about solicitation based on what the other one is doing.
So, the exhibit sales folks really are driving the exhibit sales and I am doing the fundraising for the rest of the program at the annual meeting and throughout the rest of the year.
EXPO: In some industries other than health care, it’s hard to imagine sponsors accepting the idea they could have no impact on conference content. How and why is health care different?
Eustice: Health care really is unique in that way. No company wants to be perceived as not being interested in patient care. Six steps down the road from the purchase of their product—eventually, they have an impact on patient care.
EXPO: So, at AACVPR’s annual meeting, there’s no way outside of an exhibit booth to communicate about a company or its products?
Eustice: We do offer opportunities for vendors to present sessions where they select their own speakers and determine their own content. We just don’t offer them for continuing education.
Those are one-hour sessions that never take place concurrent with other breakout sessions. They’re over lunch or early morning breakout sessions.
EXPO: And enough of your potential sponsors find that acceptable?
Eustice: In the world of health care, everybody gets it, even if they are kind of on pins and needles about it. Certainly, nobody wants the public perception to ever be that they only want what’s in it for them.
EXPO: I know only a small number of your members or attendees are physicians. So, why do you still adhere so closely to the PhRMA Code?
Eustice: Because it’s the gold standard for this industry. Some of my smaller medical device companies, who focus more on nurses than physicians, aren’t completely aware of or educated on the guidelines. So I work with them to increase that understanding.
I say, “This is how we can work together and this is how we can’t.” I explain to them the firewall and put them in touch with our exhibit folks. It’s really just a matter of education and understanding.
EXPO: Are you finding some companies looking elsewhere to market their products than events because of the restrictions?
Eustice: With some companies, that is the case. Those companies tend to be the ones that have gotten hit with lawsuits and they’re the ones that are fearful of having too much of a presence at some meetings.
When that’s the case, it is harder, but there are ways. Make sure you have enough offerings so that their priorities align with their opportunities.
We’re offering more networking opportunities at our meetings. Pharma is certainly amenable to those things because they like being in the room with these folks. We provide those opportunities, but not up against education.
We say, “Yes, we will offer a networking breakfast, but it will be at 6:30 a.m. because our education starts at 8 a.m.”