It’s crazy to think that in the age of COVID-19, there are many new nurses who have probably entered the nursing workforce and never been to a live conference. What you may not realize is that many large conferences are not supported financially by your registration. The cost to provide keynote speakers, a large conference space, food and beverage, and all of the marketing materials rarely create a positive financial position for the host organization. That’s where exhibitors come in, and if you’ve ever wondered what it costs to be an exhibitor at a large nursing conference and if there’s a good return on your investment, this blog post is for you! Be prepared: Sticker shock ahead.
1. Exhibit Booth Space
The cost of your space in the exhibit hall is one of the most basic expenses to plan for incurring. This expense is most likely tied to the size of the audience in attendance. Don’t get me wrong, many people go to conferences with small products and services, but when you look at where the big money comes from, it’s marketing budgets that are in the millions by companies who manufacture medical supplies, hospital infrastructure, recruiting, universities, and medical tech.
Some conference spaces are 80 feet by 80 feet and with a static helicopter display, but the most commonly-sized set up is a 10 foot by 10 foot booth with electricity and a 6ft table and a few chairs. This may run you anywhere from $1000 to $5000 based on the event, and if you want an end unit with two open sides, expect to spend a few $100 more. Don’t forget you have to buy your display come up which may include a graphic artist rendering with your logo, the actual display, and any integrated lighting for it. It’s not uncommon to spend anywhere up to $5000 for a very basic display, and the sky is the limit depending on its complexity thereafter. My recommendation is to keep your exhibit display as simple as possible which allows you to advertise different products and not have out of date materials listed on your signage since your business is likely to shift and mature with time.
2. Overhead Rigging
If you do have an overhead sign with your logo to be more visible, the host site may or may not offer overhead rigging services, but if they do, they are contractually required to be done through the service contract holder of the space. Bottom line, you won’t be hanging your own sign from the ceiling in the odd chance you have always dreamt of that. This can cost several thousands of dollars to rig plus the cost of your overhead sign. the good news is your overhead sign and your exhibit display are a one-time expenses.
3. Lead Retrieval
Most large exhibits will use a dedicated lead retrieval tool in the form of an electronic scanner or QR tag system to allow a rapid process of lead retrieval of attendees through the exhibiting area. With 5 to 10,000 attendees in a large nursing conference, having a succinct process for exhibitors too scan your badge makes a world of difference in making sure you can both legibly read the handwriting of your attendees, and their likelihood to provide you information for marketing. Plan on spending somewhere in the ballpark of $500 to $1000 for this service. The good news is you will likely receive attendee demographic information in addition to their name and email which you can use for targeted marketing. There’s no point in marketing to an ICU nurse when your product is for cath lab nurses.
In addition to advertising at the event, many people will do advertising before the event to let their audience base know that they are going to be in attendance. This could be a simple expense of using your email database, Facebook, Instagram, or other social media ads, or something more elaborate like a professionally produced video to disseminate via radio or local television. The most common scenario is to budget for $500 for pre-event ads on social media and plan to be bumper did by the conference host with many opportunities to get your name and logo on all sorts of conference swag, signs, sides of buses, TV’s, and in conference banners. You can easily spend upwards of your life savings if you say yes to everything they offer.
It sounds silly to say this, but many places do not offer you Internet in your exhibiting space unless you specifically pay for it. You would think that this would be covered in the rental of your booth, and in some smaller conferences it is but do expect this to be an expense to budget for and be surprised blissfully when it’s not separately billed anywhere from 100 to $300 per day.
6. Sponsored Events
If you’re really cool, you coal out all your followers and buy a sponsored dinner for them at a restaurant during the event some evening. I have been to so many of these and wonder who actually is paying for them, perhaps a rich benefactor, a former patient, or NASA, well let’s just be honest: it’s not cheap to put together a meal for hundreds of attendees just because you can and want to flash some cash.
7. Travel, Setup, and Required Occupancy Time
Most exhibitors are required to show up in a very particular time frame before the event as to not be unsightly in setting up during the actual exhibiting, so typically you should plan for one to two days before the event starts to do your setup and travel time. Many places require that you have occupancy in your exhibiting booth space the entirety of the event, so you can’t leave early just because you’ve already obtain the number of leads you felt were valuable, or had a personal medical emergency, and if you do there is a likelihood you will not be allowed to return the following year to exhibit.
Bottom line, plan your time and the expense of your time to be gone exhibiting for the entirety of the event for the mandatory set up and tear down window. You may also get asked if you want the benefit of early registration for the next year, which may be an up-front cost at the time of registration, usually a deposit of 25% or more to get the pick of your most desired locations in the healthcare conference exhibiting hall. Only you know what your time is worth, but don’t forget this expense.
8. Handouts and Discounts
This is a very important expense to consider because one of the main reasons people go to the exhibiting hall is for free stuff and you’re expected as an exhibitor to have that if you plan to be visited by the rushing wave of the opening bell of the exhibition hall. There are some really cool products you can get personalized that nurses love, and with that expense per item, remember you do have a massive volume of people who will come asking for that hand out because they saw their friend sporting a cool swag item and come searching for theirs too. It is very typical to spend anywhere between five and $20 per attendee on swag.
So is it really worth it?
This is a question only you as a shrewd businessperson can answer because knowing what your actual cost of attendance is, your lead conversion value, likelihood for new lead acquisition, clickthrough rate for the advertising you anticipate doing with those leads, and product value compared to your competition who will also be exhibiting is unique for your specific business.
So when someone says “hey you should exhibit at this nursing conference event”, remember that what they are asking you to do is spend money that you could have put into a brand new Tesla on the hopes that a highly advertised-to market of attendees is really interested in your product and not just the free swag. If you have the stomach for that, then welcome to the business of healthcare conference exhibiting. Otherwise, you might prefer to just buy a model S and put your logo on it.