Formerly of NHS Confederation and Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Alexander Rushton knows a thing or two about the value of events in healthcare. He has been part the NHS Confederation’s annual conference and exhibition team, organised the Mental Health Network’s annual conference and exhibition and most recently worked with the Scottish Government and World Health Organisation to deliver the first ever World Hepatitis Summit. Now, as event director at the UK Health Show, he talks to Highland Marketing about what it takes to make a show a success and provides some tips for exhibitors on how to get most out of them.

The healthcare events calendar has become a bit of a paradox for sales and marketing professionals. For exhibitors, there is no question that trade shows can be a heavy investment, not just financially, but also in employees’ time out of the office. Squeezed marketing budgets and the finance director’s demand for ROI poses the question, are events worth the effort?

Maximising value
“You need to be very clear on your objectives for exhibiting” says Rushton. He encourages exhibitors to approach event attendance as part of wider campaign. “An event is more than just the day. It’s the activity in the lead up to and after it that serves to maximise the value” he adds.

First impression count says Rushton: “Take time to ensure those on your stand have sufficient experience or have been on exhibitor training courses.” It sounds basic but Rushton makes a valid point – if you have invested time and money to attracting visitors, you need to ensure the correct personnel is on-hand to address their questions or enquiries.

Rushton suggests pre-arranging meetings in advance, or developing promotional activities to celebrate or highlight attendance to enhance the exhibitors’ experience at a show. He is also quick to emphasise the importance of post-show follow-ups: “Even if it doesn’t convert to an immediate lead, it is cementing the start of a relationship”.

Events provide a “unique opportunity” for sales pros and marketers to interact with target audiences – something that sets them apart from other elements of the marketing mix. And meeting prospects face-to-face gives “a much more personable touch” according to Rushton.

Indeed, the trick is to get closer to your customers and build brand loyalty. How will you leave your mark on delegates? One method is the tried-and-tested giveaway. “There’s no substitute for a really good quality branded pen – a bit old school, but always works” acknowledges Rushton. “Anyone’s who’s got good coffee is also a winner, and competitions are a good way of drawing people in.”

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The largest one-day health event
This September, the UK Health Show will become the largest one-day event in the healthcare calendar. It combines the well-established Healthcare Efficiency Through Technology (HETT) event, with Commissioning in Healthcare, along with three entirely new conference streams on procurement, estates and cyber security. The show has already attracted over 4,000 delegate registrations.

What makes this event different from others? “We’ll have everything you need in one day so public sector teams do not need to take numerous days out of the office” argues Rushton.

Content is key according to Rushton: “There will be different types of theatres including strategic top-level policy and strategy from NHS England, NHS Digital, NHS Improvement and NICE and other government arm’s length bodies. We’ll also have open seminars and best practice theatres with those CCGs, providers and partners at the forefront of healthcare and commissioning sharing lessons learnt and new ways of working”.

Rushton argues it is the relevancy, timing and quality of content which draws delegates to attend events, citing some of the keynote speakers: “Former Health and Social Care Information Centre, now NHS Digital CEO Andy Williams will be addressing audiences at HETT and it will be exciting to hear about NHS Digital’s direction of travel as a rebranded organisation.”

“It’s also a big time for commissioning at the moment and we’ve worked closely with NHS Clinical Commissioners in the run-up to the show. Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) were submitted in June, with a view to an autumn roll-out, so the UK Health Show will come just as STPs start to be put into practice”, adds Rushton.

Crucial time for healthcare
The timing, it seems, could not be better to discuss the current challenges in healthcare. A recent survey by The UK Health Show revealed that 85% of senior healthcare professionals are not confident NHS can hit £22bn savings target.

A third of respondents disagreed that the commissioning of NHS services is currently carried out efficiently and effectively. Over a quarter (27%) expected commissioning to get worse.

“We are experiencing turbulent times in health at the moment and having an opportunity for senior managers and leaders to come together and meet face-to-face and take on those challenges is a unique opportunity”, adds Rushton.

The survey showed that 74% believed the way technology is used in the NHS will improve over the next few years, which, according to Rushton shows an “appetite for tech”, but the next step is for “those working in the NHS to hear, learn, discuss and implement it” to realise the benefits. Events provide a solid platform to kick off this process.

Have events had their time?
With many online forums and the multiple networking events now available, has the traditional trade show had its day?

Rushton predicts the trade shows that innovate will go from strength-to-strength: “The actual format of exhibitions hasn’t changed dramatically over the past 150 years or so ever since the World’s Fair back in 1851. The format of likeminded people coming together with a shared purpose will largely stay the same although technology will enhance the experience. Live surveys and live polling in sessions is a great way of increasing activity and getting a real sense of opinion in the room.”

For marketers keen to embrace technology, Rushton considers targeted location marketing (delivering different content to online visitors or users based on a specific location) on the exhibition floors as a technique for exhibitors to “get more value out of the day by incorporating location-based push notifications through apps or text messaging”.

Whether or not technology plays a part, the true attraction is “people coming together to share a purpose, wanting to hear and discuss common interests, and seeing how people can help one another”, says Rushton.

Hit or miss – how to gauge show success
Rushton says he first assess the satisfaction of delegates and exhibitors early into the show: “Around mid-morning everyone is in, sessions are running, the floor is live, the show is up to full speed. You get that brief, pleasing moment where you can step back and get a real sense of how well it’s going.”

Online comments and posts will be important in measuring how well the UK Health Show is going, as Rushton points out: “we’re also looking to monitor levels of interaction through social media on Twitter and Linked In on the day. Metrics from social media provides sentiment, whether positive or negative, and that’s of great insight for event organisers. But “ultimately it’s the satisfaction of attendees, supporters, sponsors and exhibitors. If they’re all happy, it makes for a great event” concludes Rushton.

The ultimate stress test for events are whether they deliver true value for everyone involved, and can influence positive change in healthcare by bringing people together.

About The UK Health Show 2016
The UK Health Show 2016 is free to attend, and takes place at Olympia London on 28th September 2016. Full details, including conference programmes and information on how to exhibit and register for attendance can be found at http://www.ukhealthshow.com

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