Q&A: DIA global marketer provides tips for this year's tradeshow season, PR and thought leadership efforts

By Kelcie Chambers on October 17th, 2016

October: The leaves are changing, pumpkin spice has made its way back to the grocery shelves and marketers everywhere—including my colleague, Michelle Rovner—are gearing up to kick off the 2017-2018 tradeshow season.

Since we last spoke to Michelle, she’s assumed a new position in global marketing at life sciences giant DIA (the Drug Information Association), which—in addition to serving as a premier educational body for life sciences professionals—puts on a massively successful international show every year.

Michelle and I sat down to catch up and chat about her recommendations to vendors and attendees during this year’s tradeshow season. As it usually does, the discussion quickly turned to PR and thought leadership—and how her perspective has changed as she’s learned more about life sciences organizations. Take a peek at our conversation below.

Dodge: Now that you’re “on the other side” of the tradeshow floor as a marketer for an association, what advice do you offer your colleagues this tradeshow season?

Rovner: You don’t have to be big and flashy to stand out—you’ve just got to be relevant and you’ve got to have a plan. A lot of what I wrote about for HIMSS 2015 still applies: Be active on social media and ensure your company’s thought leaders are, too. It’s important to know your audience, set clear goals and measure your results—in short, have an actionable plan. This is especially important when budgets are tight—I’ve seen social media campaigns work really well, especially if they are coordinated with a fun activity, cool incentive or contest.

Moreover, I encourage folks to expand their horizons beyond the show floor. Our next global meeting will feature a lot of events—including a “Shark Tank-like” start-up competition—that allow vendors to expand “beyond the booth.” Participating, attending or even posting about these types of events offers a unique and cost-effective opportunity to stand out.

Dodge: Ah, relevancy and personalization—these are both big topics we’ve been talking about with our clients lately when it comes to content strategy in particular (especially important when you’re crafting a tradeshow campaign to stand out from the crowd). Beyond events, how are you advising DIA around content strategy?

Rovner: A big part of what I do here is to help guide an integrated, multi-channeled approach to marketing and communications; from public relations, content-strategy and social media to digital advertising, Google AdWords and analytics. It’s important to build more than just awareness, organizations should focus on driving engagement.

From my perspective, the best approaches I’ve seen are when companies make campaigns actionable, forming and building relationships with their own prospect and membership base by providing their own insight or educational material. I advise folks to first spark interest, perhaps tell the audience something they may not know, then build trust by giving more relevant and compelling content over time. One other big piece of advice I encourage: Don’t be afraid to inject a little personality into the content! People aren’t robots, and I think that can be sometimes easy to forget.

Dodge: As you’re getting more ingrained in life sciences after working in health IT, have you had to shift your own communications approach for the new space?

Rovner: For sure, especially because I’m now at an association. Working in a more highly-regulated space, maintaining a level of neutrality is key—especially at DIA given that neutrality is core to our brand. For example, on social media, I take steps to explicitly call out the purpose of the content I’m sharing so as to convey that neutrality.

You know I like to use conversational tone and utilize a content-driven approach to communications and marketing. I’m finding it’s more relevant than ever to  follow this  personable communications approach as part of the association—especially when talking to members; there’s already an inherent level of trust, support and expectation they have of the association. They’re the ambassadors of our brand.

This helps to amplify awareness about DIA, in addition to supporting our mission and value. For example, we’re offering social media and email signature badges to the speakers at an upcoming conference. This helps to enhance their experience and attendance at their session and also drive greater awareness of DIA and our event, too.

Dodge: Some final thoughts—what kinds of things are keeping your members up at night? How are they designing communications approaches to capitalize on these opportunities?

Rovner: A few observations I’ve made about our individual members, especially those involved with marketing:

  • Keeping up with regulations
  • Staying relevant in a crowded market
  • Engaging a new generation of employees and prospects

The last bullet is one of the most interesting trends I’ve recently seen. Some organizations, including DIA, are working to better engage the up-and-coming researchers through personalized marketing. I’m encouraging our members to establish real bonds and relationships with their constituents—especially the younger generation, which expects a higher degree of connection with brands. To do this, marketers must focus on the areas where they can add value to conversations—and not make additional noise.

For example, at DIA we have membership communities for specific topics of interest where our members are the drivers of conversations, sharing insight, providing best practices and real-life lessons learned. This serves as a great resource from which we can pull to create really engaging content and provide industry knowledge to a greater audience.

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