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Which Trolley Goes to the Massage Tables? The HIMSS Booth Arms Race Is Getting Out of Hand

April 16, 2008 News 3 Comments

Inside Healthcare Computing has graciously agreed to make previous Mr. HIStalk editorials available from its newsletter as a weekly "Best Of" series for HIStalk. This editorial originally appeared in the newsletter in February 2006. Inside Healthcare Computing subscribers receive a new editorial every week in their Electronic Update.

I didn’t learn much at the HIMSS conference last week (despite having attended several purportedly educational sessions.) However, I did arrive at one conclusion: the exhibits are out of control.

I’m a confessed curmudgeon not entirely thrilled to see the Neon Gulch exhibit hall outgrow all but a handful of convention centers, a marketplace in which vendors pay millions for a few hours of exposure to the largely indifferent masses.

We all know that decisions aren’t made and contracts aren’t signed at HIMSS. In fact, real decision makers are so vastly outnumbered by vendor staff that the yellow badgers often demo their latest PowerPoint-powered vaporware to each other just to kill time before their expensive dinners. Booth traffic seemed to be down this year even by Tuesday, with shell-shocked attendees wandering around like the confused zombies in Dawn of the Dead, seeking familiar comfort from free pens and phony sales smiles.

I’ve yet to meet anyone from either the vendor or provider side who actually enjoys the exhibit hall experience. Odd, since it’s hard to dislike a place with free cookies, scantily clad rent-a-babes, and chances to win sporty midlife crisis mobiles. Maybe because I know it’s all fake. Interchangeable booth employees are eagerly trying to convince low-ranking non-decision makers that their product is Hot and Wonderful and maybe even Sucks Less than it did last year.

You might believe this after your first HIMSS conference, but surely not after your second.

Attendees are steered to the exhibits like cattle in a slaughterhouse. Hmm, I wonder why no educational sessions are scheduled for Monday afternoon or at other obvious times? It’s to make vendors feel good about their foot traffic, best measured in quantity rather than quality.

HIMSS encourages the booth arms race. You want to erect an acre’s worth of steel on two levels? No problem, as long as you can afford it and have your HIMSS points. Throw it out and start over next year? Do it! Bring your best gimmicks, your toothiest glad-handers, and your choicest trinkets and beat your competitor. It’s fun! Don’t be a tightwad! We reward big spenders by letting them spend even more!

Does anyone remember when HIMSS limited booth sizes to something like 20 by 20 feet, which was enough when you didn’t have booth babes, cookie and popcorn machines, cheesy celebrity look-alikes, and a fleet of cars to be raffled off? Were you really less well-informed when you didn’t need a sponsor’s trolley to haul you around the sprawling acreage of magicians and massage tables? If you’re really going to buy, won’t your vendor come to your place instead of waving you over at HIMSS?

We’re mostly a non-profit customer base. The country’s economy and competitive advantage are getting destroyed by escalating healthcare costs. Many of our organizations struggle with capital shortfalls and indigent care. And yet our big conventions (whether HIMSS or RSNA or ASHP or whatever) are looking more and more like Comdex 1999, apparently encouraged by us fun-loving representatives anxious to live it up on someone else’s dime. You know it’s bad when even the keynote speakers make fun of the excesses.

I personally could enjoy HIMSS with smaller booths, fewer gimmicks, less noise, and better disclosure of which demonstrated products are real vs. wishful thinking. I’d like to see little companies be able to exhibit without being slandered as “struggling” by their bigger-boothed competititon. I’d like to go home after the conference less tired, less embarrassed at wasting my employer’s money in sending me there, and better informed. But, that’s just me.

Mr. HIStalk’s editorials appear each Thursday morning in the subscribers-only version of Inside Healthcare Computing’s E-News Update.  To subscribe, please go to:  https://insidehealth.com/ihcwebsite/subscribe.html or call 877-690-1871.

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Currently there are "3 comments" on this Article:

  1. “I’ve yet to meet anyone from either the vendor or provider side who actually enjoys the exhibit hall experience. ”

    REALLY, I love it. I love the energy and the excitement. If you stand still for a minute, someone you know is going to walk past you. It is a blast. It is old home week…you will see lots of people you worked for, sold to, sold against, worked for or with you. It is just fun.

    I am an ENTJ so maybe it is just me…

  2. Bravo to that!

    Speaking as a booth zombie myself, all I can say is “braaaaainnnssss”.

    No but seriously, having attended HIMSS since 1999, I have noticed a growing class structure rivaling that of our Indian friends (who just so happen populate more and more booth space each year).

    Behemoths like Siemens, McKesson, EPIC make us 20×20’r feel like small republics living in the shadow of the great wall of the Arian Nation (yea, it’s SO true). And the 10×10 crowd are calves to the slaughter whose only hope is to associate one deal (even remotely) to someone they met at the show (at least that is what they are telling management so they can return the following year).

    Don’t get me wrong, HIMSS is not worthless for vendors, just don’t expect to create business while you are there. If you haven’t made your appointments well ahead of the opening bell you are wasting your time. If you are fortunate, it’s a wonderful venue to allow your sales team to meet with their prospects without having to fly all over the country.

  3. What!? Is this the same Mr. Histalk that posted during HIMSS this year?

    Your play by play of the events this year, booth critiques, and hosting of your own lavish ‘education’ session tell a different story from this article. I seem to remember discouraging remarks coming from you about a vendor that had recycled pieces of their booth from last year, and your praise for the largest and most ridiculous booths at the conference.

    Mr. Histalk, you can’t claim to be some kind of reformist disgusted at the excesses if you yourself thrive in it.

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