HIMSS18: Expert tips to ensure an exhilarating, educational and enduring event

This year’s HIMSS conference will be my 12th in 12 years, so I consider myself something of a HIMSS expert. HIMSS is much like a 30-ring circus when you consider the massive exhibit hall, the all-star line-up of keynote speakers, the hundreds of sessions, and the non-stop networking opportunities.

While HIMSS can definitely be exhilarating, educational and enduring, it can also be exhausting and frustratingly fruitless if you fail to make a conscious effort to learn, connect, and be open to exploring the unfamiliar and unknown. Whether this is your first HIMSS or your 20th, here are a few tips for making HIMSS a valuable experience.

Identify your goals before you pack your suitcase. Between the 1,300+ exhibitors, the 300+ educational sessions and the nightly parties, there’s no way to experience every aspect of HIMSS. Regardless of what you hope to get out of the conference, you’re more likely to achieve your goals if you take the time to make a tentative agenda before you even leave home. Be sure to jot down room and booth numbers for all activities because once you get to the massive Sands Convention Center, you’ll soon figure out that you may need to walk a mile to get from one end of the hall to the other. Save your feet and come up with a daily plan that is achievable – both physically and mentally.

Expert tip: Load the HIMSS mobile app on your smartphone. You can set up a personalized schedule and look up just about anything you need to know to navigate the HIMSSanity.

Bring snacks. One year a friend of mine and I were hoping to catch up over a quick bite of lunch. Unfortunately, even when there are dozens of food options, it’s nearly impossible to get served when 45,000 other people are also trying to catch a quick bite. I must confess that my friend and I ended up getting a glass of wine for “lunch” because the bar was the only place we could sit down and get in and out within 30 minutes.

Expert tip: In a pinch, you can always find fresh cookies or hot popcorn as you walk the exhibit hall.

Network, network, network. Where else can you go and find 45,000 other people who work in your same industry – and likely share your passion for technology and healthcare? Don’t be shy when standing in the Starbucks line! Everyone has a story and opinion, so ask the guy behind you if he’s been to any good sessions, or what his company does, or if he has been hitting any of the late-night parties. You never know who might turn out to be your best new prospect, employer, or employee – so don’t forget your business cards.

Expert tip: Look for the folks wearing the #pinksocks with black mustaches. I promise you that members of the Pink Socks Tribe want to connect – and they may even gift you with a pair of your own pink socks.

Venture off the beaten path. Even though you created your handy daily agenda, consider venturing into parts unknown! Much like going on vacation to a new city, HIMSS offers opportunities to experience new things you’ve never seen or heard about before. Thus, go check out that session on blockchain – that technology you keep hearing about but don’t quite grasp. Purposively visit the 10×10 booths (that are often conveniently located next to the restrooms!) because often this is where you will find some of the most bleeding-edge technologies that could be the next “big thing.” Tour the Interoperability Showcase or visit the Cybersecurity Command Center and absorb information on topics you think you understand but could know better. Grow!

Expert tip: Follow the crowds. If you find a rush of people heading to a certain session or crowded around a particular booth, check it out. They may know something you need to know.

Finally, if you are an exhibitor here are some essential points to keep in mind:

  • HIMSS is not cheap, especially if you consider the cost of the booth space, travel for staff, and the hours and hours of time prepping for the event. If your company spends a total of $50,000 to exhibit and send 10 people, that equates to over $200 per person per hour for each of the 24.5 hours the exhibit hall is open. Keep that figure in mind as you pull out your iPhone to check Facebook.
  • Know your company’s elevator pitch! Even if you are not at HIMSS as a “salesperson,” you still need to be able to concisely explain what your company does. You never know if the person you are talking to is a real prospect or an anonymous blogger who may share your inarticulate response with the whole health IT world.
  • Wear comfy shoes. You’ll thank me.

Safe travels and see you in Vegas!

HIMSS 2018: Tips for Staying Healthy from the Amendola Team

HIMSS 2018: Tips for Staying Healthy from the Amendola Team

Back in 2016, the Amendola Communications team collaborated on a blog post offering tips on how to stay healthy at HIMSS. With HIMSS 2018 coming up right as the U.S. in the midst of a flu epidemic, that sage advice is even more apropos.

You’re about to find yourself in a largely environmentally closed room with 42,000 of your industry compatriots. Many of those folks first walked through an airport and shared the same recirculated air in a jam-packed jet. It’s like a scenario from a disaster movie.

Even without all of that, it’s still a physical and mental marathon. It’s five straight days of being on point, on message, and on your feet. It’s HIMSS! To help you survive it, and perhaps avoid becoming one more tick in the flu statistics this year, here are some tips from the team at Amendola, who have years of HIMSS conferences under our belt.

Michelle Noteboom, Senior Account and Content Director: Assume you won’t get eight hours of sleep a night but find a way to get at least six. Make sure to drink a ton of water, which helps to hydrate you from all those late night adult beverages, and, seems to help a bit with swollen feet. Assume your feet will be swollen and your shoulders aching from lugging all the trinkets you collect from exhibitors. To that end, don’t forget Advil and Band-Aids for your feet.  Bring healthy snacks for your hotel room, and finally, don’t skimp on coffee. That weak hotel room stuff doesn’t cut it when you have to be “on” for 18 hours straight. HIMSS requires a Venti Starbucks!

Margaret Kelly, Research Coordinator: Bring an emergency kit. For women, pack a clear-plastic and easy-to-get-to bag full of small amounts of Tylenol (or pain reliever of choice), Tums, “handitizor” (as my granddaughter calls it), bandages for the shoe blisters, safety pins, Chapstick, protein bar, and breath mints. The men’s version…just substitute the safety pins with duct tape, and a fanny pack for the plastic bag!

Todd Stein, Vice President: Be sure to schedule time for lunch. Many people fill up their schedules without remembering to leave time for eating. Me, for instance. Every darn year.

Amy Koehlmoos, Senior Account Director and Resident Germaphobe suggests bringing the following:

  • Raw almonds (they’re small, portable, healthy and provide good energy)
  • Anti-bacterial wipes (for the trays, arm/head rests in the plane; and the faucets, door handles, light switches in the hotel room)
  • Small Ziploc baggies (I put remote controls in these as those suckers are the #1 place for nasty germs in hotel rooms!)
  • Hand sanitizer (you shake lots of hands at these events!)
  • Earplugs (help you get a good night’s sleep in a hotel, where there are often weird sounds and loud neighbors)
  • Shoes with arch support (my philosophy is you look better wearing an orthopedic pair of shoes with confidence than you do limping around with a pained expression on your face and a pair of sassy heels on your feet)
  • Phone/connections to loved ones (mental health is important and having easy access to pictures of family and the ability to Facetime them at night makes it a bit easier to be away from home).

Ken Krause, Senior Account and Content Director and our other Resident Germaphobe:

  • Drive instead of fly. Planes are breeding grounds for germs, and they keep recirculating.
  • Assume everything you’re about to touch has been previously touched by a small child with a runny nose. Proceed accordingly. That goes double for your hotel room.
  • Eat like your significant other is there watching you. Nothing good comes from visiting the snack machine.
  • Try not to touch your eyes or nose after touching a common surface such as a doorknob until you can either wash your hands or use a cleanser such as Purell.
  • Get to sleep as soon as you can rather than staying up watching TV or reading. Sometimes business travel calls for working on minimal sleep, but don’t go out of your way to get into that state.
Time to turn your trade show booth from salesroom to learning lab

Time to turn your trade show booth from salesroom to learning lab

“Be sure to bring back lots of product literature from the trade show,” said…no one ever.

As my colleague Lisa Chernikoff pointed out in a recent blog, people simply don’t go to trade shows to buy your product. They go to learn. But when they approach your booth, what do they see to compel them to stay and learn something new? If you’re drawing a blank, it’s okay. That’s what this blog post is for: to show you some new ways to draw traffic in your booth and impart meaningful information that will “stick” with attendees well after they leave.

Strategy #1: Instead of a banner announcing your product or company, announce that “class is in”

Does your company address patient engagement, value-based care or some other hot concept in healthcare? Consider making your entire booth a class in this concept, with the appropriate banner, such as “Value-Based Care 101” or “Patient Engagement Pop-Up University.” And sure, by all means include “presented by (your company)” or your company logo. But make sure this is the secondary, less prominent message.

Strategy #2: Instead of a demo, offer a class or game

Once you’ve attracted the attendee’s interest with your signage, be sure to make good on its promise. Offer attendees an experience that imparts valuable knowledge to them. Here a customer champion can be recruited to give short 20-minute presentations about their success in addressing the theme of your booth, such as value-based care or patient engagement. To capture leads, have attendees register for the session. Make sure this isn’t a product pitch, though. While some mention of your product can be given, attendees want to hear a real world story from their peer—not an infomercial.

A quiz that asks provocative questions—paired with equally provocative answers—is another effective way to make knowledge (and by extension, your company) “stick” with an attendee.

Even a standard product demo can be upgraded to a more experiential event. In one example, Medicomp, an Amendola client, takes attendees through a virtual experience in the form of a game, which is essentially a 3-minute product preview. It highlights the key capabilities and product features, as well as the streamlined user experience, in the context of winning a prize rather than buying a product. The experience gets attendees interested in learning more and helps to weed out the wrong people so the Medicomp team knows when it’s appropriate to invest time in a full demo.

Strategy #3: Instead of brochures, put out case studies, guides and other learning material

It’s not that product literature doesn’t have its place, but on its own, a brochure is most valuable to pack rats who can’t stand to throw anything away. But as Chernikoff bluntly notes in her blog, even that fate is unlikely.

“Nobody wants your marketing brochure! It will end up in the next trash can even if they take it, and if it makes it back to their room, it will end up in the hotel trash can. They also really don’t want a folder with multiple product one-pagers and a recent press release about your new product,” she writes.

A better idea, Chernikoff continues, is to give attendees material such as case studies that illustrate real-world scenarios while highlighting your unique value proposition. I would add to that guides, how-to’s, checklists and other learning material that, collectively, will make the reader far more knowledgeable on a topic than he or she was before.

Of course, the material should be compellingly written so that it will actually be read—and if you are going to invest in producing this material, it’s wise to also invest in a professional writer to write it.

We’ve created a number of such pieces for various clients to use at their trade shows, including a compilation of “user tips and strategies” for Bayer to hand out at RSNA; a brief on new technology services and trends for the lab for 4medica to distribute at the Lab Confab; and case studies for our client HealthBI to pass out to attendees at a regional conference.

Strategy #4: Instead of cheap tchotchkes, raffle off a quality—and related—prize

In keeping with the educational theme of your booth, how about raffling off a mini-library of interesting books on the topic your booth addresses? (All the better if your company authored one of the books!) You could open up the raffle to anyone, or narrow it down to attendees of your various learning sessions. Be sure to offer to ship some or all of the books for free, as traveling with more than a few will be difficult for most attendees.

Another idea: give attendees a thumb drive titled “Teach Your Own Patient Engagement Class” or “Value-Based Care 102” or something similar that is stocked with educational content.

In conclusion, keep in mind that an educational trade show booth also aligns well with today’s information-hungry buyers. You’ve likely heard that when it comes to big ticket items, most people have made up their mind what they’re going to buy—and from whom–before they actually reach out to a vendor. This is why so many companies have an educational, content marketing strategy in place today, and why it makes sense to take a similar approach with your tradeshow booth. Make it a place of learning—and watch the traffic and good leads follow.

Have press releases seen their day?

Have press releases seen their day?

Entrepreneur recently ran a scathing article blasting press releases titled, Is Sending Out a Press Release Really Worth the Money? The article questions the value businesses receive from issuing press releases, calling releases “borderline useless,” serving mainly as a way for PR agencies to fleece clients.

I beg to differ.

As someone who has been in PR her entire life (we’re talking 3+ decades), I have seen numerous benefits from press releases…when done right. I have even seen how they optimize SEO, as long as you follow a few best practices, which I’m happy to share in this blog.

Among the accounts I currently handle, one issues a single press release per year, while another issues one per month. Guess which one gets a lot more press coverage?

Perhaps I seem a bit defensive given I work for a PR agency. Fortunately, several of my colleagues are former reporters and editors themselves.

Here is how they view press releases:

Michelle Noteboom, senior account & content & director (former health IT blogger and columnist)

How else can you communicate to the industry what’s going on? For example, announcing new clients (so that prospects and competitors know you are growing), new product updates (especially if they are innovative) or new funding.

Press releases can also help attract traffic to your web site so you can communicate even more about your company and offerings.

However, if you have nothing but fluff to report, I agree that you should not do a press release!

Brandon Glenn, content & account director (former editor, Medical Economics)

As a former reporter, I can say with certainty that journalists still pay attention to press releases and find them a useful tool to stay informed about the companies and industries they cover. Press releases are by no means the be-all-and-end-all of PR tactics; they alone aren’t going to create record-breaking sales numbers. They’re merely one tool in the toolbox – and a generally useful one as part of an overall strategy to generate awareness.

Ken Krause, senior account & content director (contributing editor for a sports magazine)

Well-written press releases are a great way to organize information. They help companies think through how to present their stories and messaging, and deliver them in a manner that’s easy for reporters, clients, and prospects to absorb. They provide more depth when pitching reporters – the pitch can highlight what’s most newsworthy while the press release can deliver more details as to why it’s newsworthy. If you use a wire service, they also guarantee that the news will be out on the web so it can be discovered in a search.

There is one other value, and that is in placing it on your web site in the news section. Job candidates and sales prospects use web sites for company research, and a lack of news makes it look like not much is happening. Having a full and active newsroom creates a positive impression of your organization.

Chad Van Alstin, content & media relations manager (former editor of a health IT magazine and a sports publication)

To be frank, as an editor, I thought only a small percentage of press releases were worth immediately writing a story on.

But, that’s not their true value. Press releases are useful for the dissemination of information, and are a great way to keep journalists apprised of relevant news. More than that, they’re a good reminder for journalists that your company exists and its leaders are available for comment when the need arises. Lastly, press releases serve the function of boosting SEO through shared publication.

Not all of these benefits can be quantified and measured, and the benefits certainly aren’t true for every release – I’ve seen some bad ones. But, in general, a press release is a great tool that is as valuable in the new media, Internet era as it was during the days of print.

Tips for writing SEO-powered press releases

In order to maximize the ROI from issuing a press release, be sure to do the following:

  • Spend the time creating a powerful headline and subhead. Headlines should be under 100 characters to make it easily shareable on social media. Include the most important information in the first 50-65 characters, because that’s typically where Google cuts off the headline preview.
  • Be sure to use keywords in the headline and lead paragraph. You never want to stuff keywords into a release (Google punishes that), but when you write naturally and have a good focus, keyword optimization will fall into place.
  • Use variation in the text to break up blocks of text. One way to improve SEO is to make changes to the text that draws the user’s eye, and helps the information be absorbed more easily. Use bulleted or numbered lists, subheads, bolding and italics.
  • Include no more than three links per release. It’s important not to have too many or Google starts suspecting your content of being link spam. Did you know that duplicate links can hurt your SEO? This is why it’s best not to link to the company name in the opening sentence; save it for the boilerplate.
  • Consider multimedia news releases. Including any form of multimedia in a release boosts SEO (think about how much more likely you are to click on an article that has an image vs. text only). Click here to see a recent example.

If you read the Entrepreneur article and agree with it, it could be that you are issuing press releases on a wire and hoping something good will come of it. That’s actually why you need a PR agency, to make sure the release is SEO-optimized, to do the follow-up, to see to it that the news gets in front of the right journalists. With more and more companies fighting for the attention of fewer and fewer journalists, the value of the PR agency in this process increases considerably.

Jodi Amendola Healthcare Radio Now interview

A-Team CEO Jodi Amendola Interview on HealthcareNOW Radio

We’re always excited when one of our own steps out from behind the scenes to grab the spotlight. In this episode of “What’s My Tagline?” from HealthcareNOW Radio, host Carol Flagg interviews Amendola Communications CEO (and self-described HIT Connector) Jodi Amendola. Jodi, of course, was recently named one of PR News’ Top Women in PR for 2017.

Over the course of the 27 minute discussion, Jodi shares her personal story on how she got started in healthcare IT, how Amendola Communications came to be one of the top healthcare IT PR firms in the country, and how the industry has changed from the early days of print, when it could take three months for a story to appear, to the 24 x 7 news cycle of today.

She then goes into detail on how to be successful exhibiting and speaking at HIMSS – including the planning that goes into it and the follow-up needed to maximize the benefits afterward. Jodi also shares some specific examples of how AC clients have been successful in reaching their target audiences, whether those are prospects, journalists, or analysts. The interview ends with Jodi sharing her look ahead to what 2018 will bring. Definitely worth a listen!