By Lauren Burns
Recently, I spoke with Paula Lerash, the Exhibits Manager at the Texas Dental Association, about the 2013 Texas Meeting. She shared with me her vision of what the meeting will be in five years, what aspects of the meeting she likes to brag about, and where she comes up with new ideas. Open communication and remembering that there's always room for improvement makes The Texas Meeting what it is today --- "the best and the biggest" in Texas.
What attendance trends have you seen over the last few years at your meeting?
Our numbers went down last year because of some other meetings in Texas, like the Houston Dental Meeting, and this last year there were three at the same time. We usually know when our numbers will go down as a result of other meetings. We hope to have an increase back up to 12 or13,000 next year, but the San Antonio meeting in 2013 will definitely affect that.
TDA Attendance Numbers:
2012: 2,683 dentists, 12,125 total
When do you start to promote your meeting?
In June, right after the other meeting is over.
What methods do you use to promote it?
We get the word out through Texas dental societies and email blasts, but mainly, we use our website — that's our biggest marketing tool. We're gradually getting more into Facebook as well.
What are the best aspects of your meeting – the things you like to brag about?
We always have a sold out exhibit hall, which is great. San Antonio is a great location and dentists are able to bring their families while they're here for the meeting. It's a really fun city to promote. Also, we always have world famous speakers.
What are some changes you are making for future meetings?
We hope to eventually offer free wireless Internet throughout the building. We hope to have more traffic builders on the exhibit floor and offer meeting rooms on the exhibit floor. We're in the process of perfecting our phone app as well. We're working on a lot of new technology upgrades. We want to get the app improved so that you can pull up a map of the exhibit and see a booth and find information about that company. We might have that in 2014.
What changes have you seen in your show over the last five years?
We're trying to go paperless. It's slow going, but we're making it happen. Hopefully in the next few years, we'd like to have our programs be completely paperless.
And what are the benefits of going paperless?
Going paperless will help with our budget: we can use that money to revamp our website, promote our meeting, and recruit speakers.
That sounds like it would be really useful! How important is it for you to get feedback from your exhibitors and visitors regarding other improvements you could make?
It's very important! We send out a survey after the meeting and we offer a prize. If you are one of the first 100 people to complete the survey, your name is entered into a contest, and the winner gets an iPad.
How do you keep your exhibitors happy so that they come back again?
I provide them with great customer service before and during the meeting. I have as many traffic builders on the floor as I can, and I send out email tips for them on how to get the most from the exhibit. I also offer them as many marketing opportunities as I can, and I give them several different options: they can sponsor our meeting, they can purchase the registration list so that they can send mailers to dentists, and they can purchase advertising space. We also hire a company that sends out one mailer to the dentists' offices, and they can advertise there. Also, we have designated exhibit hall hours, during which no classes are scheduled so that people have uninterrupted time on the floor.
How much input do your exhibitors have regarding future meetings?
I'm always interested in seeing how exhibitors market our meeting and how they heard about us, so I know what forms of marketing are working for us. We used to have an advisory council, but I couldn't get a lot of people to participate in it. When we did, though, their input meant a lot.
Can you give me an example of a time that an exhibitor suggested something and your meeting saw the benefits of it?
Some of my bigger exhibitors — the Pattersons, Henry Scheins — were complaining that they were only getting 10 free badges for their booth. They wanted to get more complimentary badges. So now they have unlimited badges at their booth. The limit was set to eliminate people from "suitcasing" and selling without getting a booth.
How do you draw doctors to your show?
We have a really great speaker line-up, we keep our prices in line, and we offer free registration to our members (and you can bring your staff for free — you only have to pay for classes). Non-members only pay $75 to register — it used to be $1,000!
How did you implement such a drastic price drop?
That was something the ADA offered when they came to San Antonio a few years ago. They didn't think it was going to be a high attendance city for them, so that's how they boosted their attendance. And since we've done it, it's boosted our attendance and our membership.
Can you provide a synopsis of what your meeting aims to do, and how?
Our goal is to provide the best education and experience to a dental meeting that you can find. We market ourselves as the best and the biggest dental meeting in Texas.
Where do you see your meeting in five years? What are some improvements and changes you hope to have made?
I hope to eventually have our attendance up a lot higher than it is. You're always striving to have more attendance. Hopefully one of these days we can hit the 14,000 mark.
Where do you draw inspiration for new ideas for your meeting? Other meetings? Trial and error?
We definitely draw a lot from other meetings — I think we all do that. You see what works and how you can improve upon that at your own meeting. And we use feedback from our exhibitors and attendees, who often have great suggestions for our meeting, and we do not hesitate to implement a great suggestion.
The Texas Meeting will be held at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and the Marriott Rivercenter Hotel in San Antonio, May 2-4, 2013. For more information, visit www.texasmeeting.com.