Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

February 2014

3 Top Takeaways From the World's Largest Medical Meeting

By Molly Brennan, Contributing Editor
organizational brand, several said that doing so would create logistical challenges. At the same time, the fact that a show moves every year is the very reason that an organization might want to spend more effort emphasizing itself, according to Kirsten Olean, CMP, CAE, director of meetings for the Association of American Medical Colleges. “Branding consistency ties shows together across spaces and venues,” she said. “At RSNA, no matter where you are, you know you're at RSNA. I want to establish an identity that demonstrates to attendees ‘this is the meeting it's always been’ — no matter where they are.”

And organizational branding can be done on a smaller scale than RSNA's 50-foot fabric banners or giant mobile. “You may not be creating hard construction that has to ship from location to location,” Sparks said, “but you can create a solid brand guide for everything from pre- to post-communications and everything on site, so that there is familiarity of brand. It's the branding that creates the connectivity year to year. If you apply the brand consistently and the content changes year to year, then you create a fresh experience but retain a strong brand identity.”

TAKEAWAY #2: CREATE A SACRED SPACE.

The behind-the-scenes tour concluded in the RSNA Member Services Area, which was located away from the exhibit halls and across a skybridge, in 30,000 net square feet in McCormick Place's Lakeside Hall D. This “sacred space,” as some of the planners came to call it, was free of sponsorship or advertising of any kind, communicated only RSNA messaging — and made a lasting impression on Innovation Exchange participants. “RSNA's Members Services Area was incredible,” Bray said, “and I took away a lot of thoughts and ideas that I have begun sharing with my team.”

The consolidated, advertising-free space was part of RSNA's show redesign. “The year before the redesign, we had a Member Services Area, but were all over the place,” Cooper said. “We had a store on the exhibit floor, but if you wanted membership, you had to go to registration, and information about our Research and Education Foundation was in a different place. After some analysis, we made the decision it would be great if you could centralize it all in one location and members could get everything they needed in one location.”

The new space featured designated zones for the RSNA Store, Career Center, Hall of Donors, Residents Lounge (for physicians-in-training), charging station, and more. Each zone had a specific color, with lighting and signage created to match. Using wall- and column-mounted screens and piped-in audio, RSNA displayed and broadcast messages specific to individual zones; several times a day, all the lighting in the room synchronized and the screens displayed a single RSNA message — highlighting initiatives of RSNA's Research and Education Foundation, for example, or enhancements to the association's website.

For Darin Dvorak, director of conferences and exhibits for the Health Care Compliance Association, the sacred-space concept resonated, as he strives to create an inclusive environment at his 2,000-person annual meeting. “We want our members to have a feeling of coming home when they come to our meeting,” he said. “The idea of having a members-only area, where members can reconnect with their compliance ‘family,’ as opposed to always having another advertisement in front of you, is very appealing.”

That said, Dvorak admitted he doesn't have the luxury of creating a sacred space on the scale of RSNA's, and instead may focus on abeefed-up members-only area near registration. Other planners suggested there maybe opportunities to replicate the Member Services Area on a smaller scale. “I love the concept,” Paschall said. “The trick is, not everyone has the ability to have that amount or type of setup or to manage it that way, with oodles and oodles of staff. But you can still make small, dedicated areas that emphasize to members the importance of those services and your interest in meeting their needs. If you create a separate space, you're announcing it's important to you, and that is important to your members.”

For AAFP's Hoskins, the purposeful messaging in RSNA'S Member Services Area was a reminder of the branding and relationship-building opportunities that can get lost in the shuffle of a show. “Whether it's in a member area where people are taking a break or on the screens before a session starts, there are lots of opportunities to get critical messages out, we just haven't done it,” she said. “It's the ‘hold music’ of the show, and it's an opportunity we haven't taken advantage of.”

The key to keeping sacred space sacred is to be respectful of members’ wants, Cooper said. For example, RSNA's universal messaging was brief, two- to three-sentence announcements about major initiatives; the messaging in the different zones was a bit longer — two to three slides long — and provided deeper content about specific member services. “It's a real fine balance, figuring out what are important things for your audience to know,” Cooper said, “and how can you best present them without assaulting them.”

TAKEAWAY #3: MAKE IT PERSONAL.

Every show strives to give attendees a personalized experienced, but that's a particularly difficult task for an event the size of RSNA. And yet, as Innovation Exchange participants observed, RSNA succeeds through a variety of high-tech and low-tech efforts. “To be relevant and successful, it is crucial to know what your audience wants to get from your meeting and how they want to get it,” Cooper said. “This knowledge will help you and your vendors plan, create, and execute a show that will satisfy the needs of your attendees in professional, educational, and commercial realms.”

For example, RSNA still prints old-school sub-specialty guides, which allow attendees to home in on programming specific to their interests, because there is a continued demand for them. This year, the organization also added sort features and functionality to its Meeting Central website, as well as enhanced mapping tools, mobile apps, and digital navigators that allowed users to search courses by subspecialty or keyword, and technical exhibitors by products and services. To make sure all that technology wasn't lost on the intended users, a Mobile Connect zone in the Member Services Area offered mobile app demonstrations by RSNA staff and advice on how to make the most of the show's mobile features.

Social media is an increasing presence at meetings, and RSNA put extra effort into making the social-media experience at RSNA 2013 more interactive and participatory. In the past, exhibitors drove social media and RSNA “pushed” content to attendees, Cooper said. This year, the organization recruited nine “Super Users” — association members already active on social media — to tweet observations and key takeaways throughout the show.

In its physical spaces, RSNA added more seating areas for in-person connection, as well as a Residents Lounge, complete with free pizza. “We try to serve up numerous ways for attendees to connect with content and people,” Cooper said. “So we designed small, intimate spaces for people who want to connect one to one, as well as opportunities for people who enjoy larger gatherings.”

Paschall admired the Residents Lounge area and hopes to replicate it on a smaller scale. “I've wanted to do a residents and fellows lounge for a while, because I think it would be beneficial to bring those two groups together” she said. “Theirs was huge and had food-and-beverage. I might not be able to do that, but

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