Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

October 2013

How Big Media Does Medical Meetings

By Christopher Durso, Executive Editor

With health-care summits booming, we talk to meeting professionals from The Atlantic and The Economist magazines about theirs — and come away with prescriptions for organizers of medical association conferences, from creating a high-level blend of medicine and policy, to leveraging your organization’s brand, to standing out in a crowded marketplace.

‘Care for the Whole Person’ at the Atlantic Health Care Forum.

An unintended consequence of the Affordable Care Act since it was passed three years ago has been the seemingly viral spread of health-care summits. These high-profile events, often sponsored by a media organization or think tank, bring together a mix of policy makers, industry executives, researchers, and journalists for what is usually a one-day discussion spanning the state of the art and the shape of things to come in medical care — from public health and technology to government mandates and patient records.

The Affordable Care Act encompasses all of those topics and more, so perhaps it’s no surprise that the prognosis is so positive for big, ambitious health-care events. “It’s a competitive market space, without a doubt,” said David Cox, senior vice president and chief financial officer for the Americas at the Economist Group, which publishes The Economist magazine, and which on Nov. 12 will present the Economist Health Care Forum 2013 at the Seaport Boston Hotel. “There are probably, I would say, four or five health-care events going on every day somewhere in the U.S.”

They’re not medical meetings per se — no CME credits, no live surgical theaters, no pharma-dominated show floor. But still, they address issues that will affect medical meeting attendees sooner rather than later, and also offer valuable insights and lessons for medical meeting planners. In addition to Cox, we talked to two staff members with AtlanticLIVE, The Atlantic magazine’s events division, which this past May 1 presented the Atlantic Health Care Forum 2013 at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center in Washington, D.C — Director of Operations Lyndsay Polloway and Director of Programming and Content Development Suzanne Smalley.

Considered side by side, Cox’s, Polloway’s, and Smalley’s comments about their respective health-care forums suggest the infinite variety of live programming. Because while The Atlantic’s and The Economists health-care forums on the surface might seem quite similar, in planning and in practice each is its own unique experience.

The Economist's Healthcare in Asia summit, held in Malaysia this past March.


Economist/David Cox We run a number of health-care events around the world, but given all the changes going on in the health-care system [in the United States], and particularly around the Affordable Care Act, this is going to be our first event that we’re running here in the U.S. We are expecting somewhere over 200 senior-level executives from a broad range of health-care organizations, be it hospitals, insurance companies — anybody really who is impacted by the new legislation.

Atlantic/Lyndsay Polloway We do about 10 D.C. policy summits across the year, on sort of topical/vertical [subjects], such as energy, education, technology, and then, in this case, health care. Our Health Care Forum this year was the fifth annual time we have hosted it. It’s really been successful for us, year over year. The program has grown in scale, in audience, in general support, and just kind of the impact it is making in the D.C. policy community and more broadly. This year, we had roughly 200 guests join us across the full day of programming. They come from across the board in the same way that the magazine itself appeals to a wide range of readers. So, in our audiences we’re not just gathering practitioners, we’re not just gathering academics. We’re gathering those two groups along with high-level media and industry leaders and advocacy folks and individuals from the consulting and legal profession.


Economist/Cox We’re running it in Boston mainly as a result of the fact that, in terms of innovative thinking, Massachusetts — and Boston in particular — is the hub of that sort of thought leadership around health care as a whole.

Atlantic/Suzanne Smalley The Atlantic is based in Washington, and much of what we cover — while not exclusively focused on policy in Washington — we are very interested in the major issues of the day. So it makes sense for us to host our biggest intelligence series forums, which are focused on major bread-and-butter policy issues, in the capital.


Economist/Cox In terms of takeaway, I think [we want attendees to leave with] an understanding and some sort of different views and angles on the Affordable Care Act. Clearly there is an enormous amount of legislation, an enormous amount of moving parts to the act, and what we hope is that the attendee comes away with a synthesized and clear understanding of how the act will impact them and their organizations and what they can do about it. And at the same time, [we want to] provide them with some insight into what the future may look like and what sort of strategies and actions they may want to implement going forward.

Atlantic/Polloway For us, we think about our team — AtlanticLIVE — as truly being an extension of the editorial brand. The editorial brand manifests itself in the print magazine certainly, on our digital properties, and then lastly in live conversation. So that is certainly our objective in any event that we’re producing.

Atlantic/Smalley We are an extension of The Atlantic editorial magazine and website, and so our editorial identity is very much around being ahead of the curve, very smart on the issues, telling people something they don’t know. So we try to do the same thing in our programs, bringing together fresh viewpoints, case studies.


Economist/Cox The challenge is that I think health care is, from an events perspective, a crowded space. Certainly in the US., there are many health-care events that take place every day. For us, the challenge here is finding our niche, and I think the particular niche that The Economist plays well in is this whole area between public policy and private sector. And that’s what we’ve sort of built the program around. And I think also what we’re very good at as an organization is being able to take very complex industry structures and synthesize them and summarize them into a sort of one-stop-shop approach.

Atlantic/Polloway This is the fifth year that we did the program, and we always challenge ourselves to make sure the content is fresh, that we are bringing a new debate to the table, that we are engaging new voices, as opposed to continuing the same dialogue. There are threads and themes that are going to weave in and we’re going to want to parallel on year over year. But we certainly wouldn’t be doing our job well if we were just repeating the previous year’s conversation.


Economist/Cox This is where The Economist really sort of plays to its strength. We write a lot about health care, particularly around the interface between health-care policy and the provision of health-care services, so this really plays to our strength. We see health care as one of the big strategic industries [that] we are looking at. We have made some acquisitions of health-care information companies over the course of the last couple of years, and so we will be working with them on this event, too. It’s going to be a broad-reaching program, and we will be looking at areas such as payment reform. We’ll be looking at this

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