Exhibiting at Scientific Meetings

Conferences play an essential role in fostering communication among life scientists.  The most important role of conferences is to provide a forum for presenting cutting-edge research and important scientific developments.  In addition, conferences offer scientists numerous opportunities for career advancement, networking, new collaborations and education.

The rapid advances in life science have led to an explosion in the number of conferences organized each year.  Organizing such conferences can also be a lucrative business endeavor for professional societies and commercial companies alike—further contributing to the proliferation of conferences on virtually every topic imaginable.  Conference attendees also represent an “affinity group” of potential customers who share similar needs for products and services.  For this reason, suppliers of product and services consider conferences to be valuable opportunities to interact with prospective and current customers in specific markets.

Since it’s neither physically or financially possible for a researcher or clinician to attend every conference held in his or her field, choices must be made.  Similarly, the high cost of exhibiting at scientific conferences makes it impossible for vendors to attend every conference related to their target markets, and again, choices must be made.

We have recently completed extensive research that seeks to understand what researchers find most valuable in those conferences they choose to attend.  This information can then be used by marketing executives to decide what role exhibiting should play in their marketing mix, where to exhibit and how to maximize the promotional impact of their presence at scientific and medical conferences.

Just a few years ago, some were predicting the demise of scientific conferences.  The explosion of scientific and medical information available—particularly on the Web—seemed to make the idea of conferences as a communications medium a throwback to another era.

Both of these assumptions proved wrong.  With at least 6,000 scientific scheduled for 2008, scientists still believe attending conferences is one of the best ways to increase their knowledge, obtain certifications and educational credits, meet with their colleagues and have the opportunity to meet face-to-face with their vendors.

The nature of conferences, however, has changed in at least one distinct way—they are more serious than ever before.  The notion of a scientific conference as an annual social event has been replaced by one of education and professionalism.  While conferences continue to be held in favorable locales, and often in opulent surroundings, the majority of scientists who attend are there first and foremost to expand their knowledge.  Indeed, when asked to select the factors that influence their decision to attend a particular conference, the top answer selected by the respondents was “{the} list of speakers and presenters”.  In another question respondents estimated that only about 20% of their time at a conference was devoted to either free time or social activities.

Shifts in attitudes, financial considerations and time limitations are forcing scientists to be more discerning in choosing which conferences to attend.  As a result, weekend and regional conferences are becoming more common.  Anecdotal evidence suggests some scientists are electing to participate in annual conferences only every other year, and for longer conferences (4+ days), many attendees leave before the conclusion of the conference.

As attendees become more serious about the professional aspects of their conference participation, it is incumbent upon vendors to be more aware of the attendee’s learning objectives and sensitive to their time restrictions.  This awareness and sensitivity will pay dividends when deciding what role conferences are to play in their marketing strategy, and how best to implement this important component of their marketing mix.