New Revenue Stream for Convention Organizers

Author: David McMillin       

When PCMA and Choose Chicago hosted a group of medical-meeting professionals for a behind-the-scenes tour of the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting on April 16, they caught a glimpse of how the organization’s trade-show floor is expanding — and not with product display booths. In fact, the expansion is hidden from the average attendee’s view. It’s a collection of private exhibitor meeting suites, and Jennifer Paine Pekowski, CEM, vice president of business development at Freeman, said the suites are “one of the fastest-growing opportunities in the medical space.”

“We’re seeing a huge increase in exhibitors wanting to pay for a private space,” Paine Pekowski told PCMA in a recent interview. “It’s a win for the organizer because these suites don’t take attendees away from the hall. They keep everyone in a central location, but it gives medical device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies the ability to showcase products that haven’t launched or talk about new research in a very private environment.”

Instead of having those conversations in crowded coffee areas of the show floor or tucking into a corner of a booth, the suites are designed to create a VIP-style environment where exhibitors can host deeper dives into products and conduct serious business discussions with the qualified buyers that inspired their participation in the show. Some of those activities may have traditionally led to off-site locations, but the suites — which are only available to companies who also have booth presences at the show — mean that those conversations can happen without heading to a hotel. At AACR, exhibitors could host those meetings from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

At McCormick Place in Chicago, the suites were located on the trade show floor. Depending on the size of an exhibit hall, though, Paine Pekowski said that some organizers have to get creative with the location. For example, when AACR hosted attendees at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. for its 2017 annual meeting, the suites were moved into the public space to accommodate space challenges. When the American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting takes over San Diego in December, those private meetings will come with a bonus: fresh air. “The show has a ton of these private rooms,” Paine Pekowski said. “They’ll actually have to put them outside. They’re getting a tent to put over the suites.”

Extra Requests, Extra Cash

Between 2017 and 2018, the number of private suites that AACR sold doubled, and Paine Pekowski is seeing similar growth at other shows. That increase brings additional questions for organizers, too. “Some exhibitors request opportunities to brand the space and the ability to put graphics on the exterior,” Paine Pekowski said. “The most common requests are catering and additional AV requirements such as a plasma screen and a laptop or a DVD player.”

When AACR first started selling the private suites, the rooms were sold with furniture packages, but each exhibitor asked for something different. “The specific requests started to add a lot of work,” Paine Pekowski said. “It became more manageable for the organization to sell the space and the carpet and let us take it from there to respond to customized needs.”

All those requests add up to something very important: an additional revenue stream. Paine Pekowski acknowledged that every show is different when it comes to an appropriate pricing model for the suites. “Each show organizer knows what the market will bear and what their customers can spend,” Paine Pekowski said. “It fluctuates from each event. Because these suites are gaining popularity, it’s a great value proposition for the exhibitors. The demand is causing the pricing to go up. People will pay a premium for this exclusive space.”

Interested in more insights from AACR? Click here to learn how the organizers leverage mobile-app data to plan for overflow rooms.

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