Visitors to the exhibit hall at the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI) virtual meeting weren’t logging record-setting steps at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, but they were able to tour virtual booths that some companies designed to resemble the mini mansions that trade shows are known for.
More than 85 companies set up booths in the exhibit hall, designed by virtual events company vFairs. It had the feel of a video game, right down to being staffed by avatars in business attire.
Most companies showcased links, videos and documents that attendees could add to virtual registration bags. They also utilized a chat room function, which allowed attendees to have group and private chats with prospective customers.
A few companies, including Canon Medical Systems and Spectrum Dynamics, went a step further and contracted with outside vendors to create 3D versions of their regular trade show booths.
Canon Medical Systems worked with trade show display company Pinnacle to create a virtual space to showcase its Cartesion Prime PET/CT, introduced at last year’s RSNA.
“This was a very important meeting for us,” said Angela Dunaway, senior manager for molecular imaging solutions marketing for Canon Medical Systems USA. “The plan for SNMMI was to really help customers understand what we're doing. The booth needed to reflect that.”
The booth, which is accessible via the tradeshow floor as well as a separate website, allows visitors to use their mouse to virtually walk through the space and visit specific stations by clicking on an icon. The booth includes a virtual display set up to stream short two- to three-minute videos about the Cartesion Prime, a virtual workstation showcasing exam demonstrations, including one for breast cancer, and a spot to view posters with research related to the product.
The company also set up a welcome station that displays videos, including a message from Canon Medical Systems USA President and Chief Executive Officer Yuji Hamada and information on the company’s cybersecurity initiatives and COVID-19 response. These are topics the company normally doesn’t include in a trade show booth.
“We thought this was a great opportunity to provide this,” Dunaway said. “We see ourselves as being able to create a repository of information.”
The response to the virtual booth has been positive.
“Some people are saying, ‘Wow, this is different,’” Dunaway said. “Because of the sophistication of our platform we see a lot of repeat customers. We see a lot of people thanking us for the experience.”
Canon began working with Pinnacle on the virtual booth in April, anticipating SNMMI’s decision to pivot to a virtual meeting. Dunaway said the development of the virtual space cost less than setting up a physical booth, however it was more than the company initially anticipated. Still, the company expects a good return on investment and the infrastructure can be reused, with new content added for other virtual trade shows.
“We think there’s a lot of opportunity here,” Dunaway said. “I think the situation we are in will expand further than we thought. … If you’re a healthcare provider, do you want to send your providers to shows with 65,000 people? Do we want to allow our employees to go to these events after we have proved we can do it virtually?”
Catherine Lamb, the associate director of corporate communications for SNMMI, said that while there has long been a virtual component of the annual meeting, they had never designed a virtual show floor.
“It was very important that the virtual show had an exhibit hall that provided a good representation of what the vendors provided,” Lamb said.
While the virtual show floor had fewer than the 175 exhibitors expected for the virtual show, the virtual show drew more than 8,700 registered attendees, exceeding the 5,600 registrants who have attended in person.
Lamb said that while the organization is hopeful it will be able to hold its in-person show next year in Washington, D.C., they would consider also having a virtual exhibit hall.
“We’ve heard from a lot of vendors and attendees that they really appreciate it,” Lamb said. “There were many positive remarks from attendees that the platform went beyond their expectations.”