Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

February 02 2015

4 Simple Tips To Attract More International Attendees To Your Medical Meeting

By David McMillin

There is one big question weighing on the minds of association executives and Board members: where will the next generation of members and annual meeting attendees come from?

While many in the association industry continue to search for the right answer, it’s clear that part of the solution lies outside of the traditional borders of the meetings industry. At Convening Leaders 2015, some of the most respected names in the association business discussed the importance of adopting a global mindset that stretches beyond North America and Europe.

“What’s made us successful for the past 70 years will likely not be what drives success in the future,” Peter O’Neill, CAE, Executive Director of the American Industrial Hygiene Association, said. “We will not grow if we only look for opportunities within the US.”

While O’Neill’s outlook rings true with every sector of the association meetings industry, the bell may sound loudest for the medical meetings business. Isabel Bardinet, CEO, European Society of Cardiology echoed the importance of incorporating an international strategy. International participation at her organization’s annual event, the ESC Congress, has increased from just seven percent to 33 percent of the entire audience.

As US and European-based associations look to mirror Bardinet’s success and welcome more attendees from destinations around the world, here are four essential ingredients of success.

1) Give your education department a head start.

While some meetings delay finalizing the majority of the educational programming until a close proximity toward the actual start of the program, Michelle Crowley, Director, Global Development, PCMA, says that increasing international attendance relies on confirming many of those course offerings much earlier.

“In many cases, international attendees need to be able to outline the educational benefits in order to gain approval from their bosses,” Crowley says. “They don’t have the luxury of hoping that the meeting will be worth it. Before they secure a visa and book flights, they need to be able to articulate the meeting’s value.”

Davide Veglia, President, ABTS Convention Services, adds that many international attendees are not just looking for approval from higher-ups within their organizations. In many cases, pharmaceutical companies are sponsoring the learning opportunities, which means additional requirements must be satisfied before expenses are covered.

“Sponsors looking to bring large groups of international attendees must make sure that the educational program complies with national and international standards before approving funding,” Veglia says. “If your meeting doesn’t meet the standards, sponsored healthcare professionals won’t be able to attend.”

If that education is not available, the waiting game can take too long until the travel expenses will cost too much or the logistics of preparing a large group of attendees gets too complicated.

“Whenever you’re traveling, you want to be able to time buying your ticket at the most affordable price,” Crowley says. “Additional, the currency fluctuations in certain developing countries can make attending extremely prohibitive.”

2) Sell the content — not the celebration.

Remember the days when a meeting was synonymous with a party? Those days are over, particularly for medical meetings.

“Some hotels are actually removing the words ‘resort’ and ‘spa’ from their names because medical associations won’t go there,” Crowley says.

“Meeting planners are taking steps to make their experiences look more serious, too,” Crowley adds. “Many of them are no longer promoting the ability to bring a guest to avoid negative perception.”

Why? Pharmaceutical compliance codes are tightening worldwide with additional reporting requirements for healthcare professionals who receive sponsorship dollars for their participation. Consider this warning from the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations in its most recent Code of Practice.

“All events must be held in an appropriate venue that is conducive to the scientific or educational objectives and the purpose of the event or meeting,” the code reads. “Companies must avoid using renowned or extravagant venues.”

For meeting planners, this holds serious implications for their meeting marketing materials. Rather than promote an off-site cocktail party or the opportunity to explore the destination’s attractions, the meeting’s website must focus on the speakers, the education credits and the opportunities to learn.

3) Know where to focus.

The right marketing message isn’t enough to appeal to an international audience. After all, the world is a big place. Meeting planners must take extra care to determine where that messaging has the best chance to be heard and reverberate among a wide base of prospective attendees.

“Do your research,” Crowley says. “For medical meeting planners, part of that research relies on understanding how compliance codes and regulatory issues vary from country to country.”

One of the best places to begin that research is The Red Book For Medical Meetings, which includes simplified guidelines on pharmaceutical compliance, CME/CPD requirements and detailed information on the meetings environment in more than 100 countries.

After identifying those key target markets, it’s essential to align with a regional or local society to cement a footprint in the area. Crowley recommends establishing a face-to-face presence at the partner organization’s local conference to connect with their audience, too.

4) Cater to their needs.

Attending a meeting outside your country comes with plenty of additional questions. From the obvious concerns about language barriers and travel paperwork to special personal travel needs, meeting planners must dedicate resources solely toward providing 24/7 answers for global attendees.

“International attendees may require more hand-holding than your local and loyal audience members,” Crowley says. “It’s essential to outline plans to make registering, booking travel and participating on-site as comfortable as possible.”

Rather than solely focus on what happens at the convention center or the hotel, meeting planners can take additional steps to facilitate more opportunities to learn and network with experts in the area.

“Consider helping international attendees arrange other visits that align with their professional development,” Crowley says. “If you can help them maximize the time they invest in traveling to your meeting, you’ll be able to send them home with even more reasons to come back again.”

This educational article was brought to you by ABTS Convention Services. With over 20 years of experience delivering global internationally-focused sales and integrated marketing strategy solutions, negotiating internationally-friendly group housing and providing on-site expertise to manage your international groups, ABTS is recognized as one of the leaders in medical association management. If you need help moving your medical association forward in today’s global meetings market or would like help managing and growing your international attendance, click here to get in touch with ABTS.

More information about the new EFPIA Compliance Code and how it affects the US medical industry.

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