Justin: Welcome back to this episode of At The Speed of Light House. My name is Justin Starbird, and today is a special afternoon because I am joined not only by CEO Robert Austring of Lighthouse imaging, but also Chief Technology Officer Benjamin Gray. Today the three of us actually have a special guest in Diana Coulter who is the medical team sales director for Informa. All welcome.
Q – Justin: Lighthouse Imaging is dedicated to the science of custom medical optics, cameras and visualization systems, with over 35 years of industry experience. Our expert product development team works to help clients design and commercialize devices in our FDA registered medical manufacturing facility. a partner for all of our medical optics and visualization equipment and clients are looking to commercialize devices. On the other side, we have Diana Coulter, who is from Informa. Informa is a leading brands and expert team, that operates events and exhibitions around the country, to deliver intelligence based products and data-driven services around the country for different markets. I’ll jump right in. Diana, thanks for joining us today. What is your role at Informa?
A- Diana: Well, I’m lucky to lead the sales team for the medical device manufacturers division and Informa market, so we’ve put on the MD&M, medical design and manufacturing trade shows, and we’ve put on other device trade shows across the United States.
Q: Great. Well, I have Robert Austring here. Robert, tell us a little about your role as CEO of Lighthouse.
A – RA: Well, my role is basically to support the organization in terms of making sure we have what’s necessary to meet our clients’ objectives. Resource, capital equipment, facility, whatever it takes to get the work done on behalf of our clients. I also have a responsibility for the business development aspects of Lighthouse Imaging. That’s where I’ve been involved with the Informa group over several decades actually. I started out attending these shows back when there was only MD&M West. Then it became East and so on and so forth, so I spent a lot of time in this space.
Q: Right, and Ben, as CTO of Lighthouse Imaging, what is your role?
A – BG: My role is to make sure that the technologies that we use and implement both for internal infrastructure as well as the products that we design and manufacture, are appropriate, are up to date with current technologies. In-house, I need to make sure that we have the right technologies to support our designs, our manufacturing, and our quality systems. Externally, I need to make sure that the technologies that we’re acquiring, using and utilizing are appropriate.
This is one of the primary areas where I have been involved in the medical device manufacturing shows over– I think it’s been about 10 years now, to provide that link between the technical world and the commercial world. I often play liaison between a very highly technical product development team and other decision makers that may be more focused on commercialization or marketing efforts. I provide that bridge between different worlds.
Q: Great. Well, let’s jump right into it. Which event have you participated in that Informa put on this year?
A – RA: For 2019, the first show of the year was the MD&M West in Anaheim, in February. We then participated in the BioMedevice Boston show, I believe that was in April or May, and then we participated in MD&M East in June.
Q: Great. What was your experience at the shows?
A – RA: The shows do a lot for us. Lighthouse is a niche based company so it’s a little different. I think it’s interesting for Diana I’m sure each of her clients has different objectives with these shows.
A – DC: Yes, I fully agree.
A – RA: For us, it represents an opportunity to not only generate leads, but to network with other companies that may work in our space. There’s collaboration opportunities, there’s opportunities to meet with other suppliers and really just expand their network, as well as what’s important is, for us, it establishes credibility for us to be at these shows year over year. People begin to look for you, they begin to recognize you. It really does lend an air of credibility for you as well.
Q: Diana, what kind of feedback do you get from attendees and exhibitors that are at the shows?
A – DC: Well, what’s special about the medical device manufacturing shows is that there’s no other portfolio like it. No other event company specializes in medical device manufacturing as a specific niche, so for our attendees, there’s no other place where they can go and meet a pool of companies, suppliers and service providers that they can do business with today. We have these very stringent FDA requirements, we have a type of zero failure tolerance. We take it to a whole new level, because if something goes wrong, a patient dies, so we take it very, very seriously.
What’s nice for the attendee, who’s Medtronic, Stryker, Boston Sci, the usual suspects, that individual can walk the aisles and do business with anybody on the show floor. On the exhibitor side, what we hear back from our customers is that they can’t access these people otherwise. You don’t have, generally speaking, the chief purchasing officer for Stryker walking just any show. Most medical device companies are 100% medical, so I always joke that they’re not doing biocompatible multi-lumen tubing on one machine and shooting garden hose two extruders down.
They’re looking for someone who is a specialist in medical device manufacturing. For the exhibitor, to be able to get in front of that ideal customer who’s really found worth in our shows, in our cutting edge content, our industry thought leadership, that individual, that decision maker will show up at our show when they might not want just any general trade show.
A – BG: I’d like to support what Diana is saying. From our perspective, there are really general shows out there that may deal specifically with manufacturing, electronics, computer based systems or even optics. Those are such general shows that if we were to exhibit at those shows, we really would just get lost in the noise, being medical device experts. On the other side, there are numerous specialty shows that are focused on very specific parts of the medical industry, but they tend to be more focused on the end application, and surgeon or doctor or clinician focused.
They don’t focus as much on the manufacturing side, so that the Informa shows, the MD&M shows, the BioMed shows, it’s really the sweet spot in between, that combines the medical industry and manufacturing, and brings them together. What I really like about the mix of the shows that we go to, the MD&M West show is a really big show. We get a wide variety of attendees. On the other hand, the Boston show is a little smaller and more intimate, and we find that the conversations that we have at some of the more regional shows are very succinct and right in line with what we need.
As Diana said, it’s a way to get big device companies and small device companies on a level playing field inside of one room, and allow them to stir around and talk, and make the connections they need to do the business that’s within their role, to their success.
A – RA: Let me expand on something that Diana referred to. We have a captive audience there, and heading up BD to get all the people in one place for three days or two days, it is so valuable from a time perspective. There is value in dollars to time. For us to be able to get all these people together in this space, in a concentrated period of time, it adds tremendous value for us. That’s a testimonial that I think is really important here, because we could go chase these individual discrete, the head of purchasing for this company and this company, we would spend hours, weeks, months trying to chase everybody down that we get an opportunity to meet in two and three days.
Q: Is that similar to what you hear from other companies, attendees and exhibitors, Diana?
A – DC: That’s exactly it, and I refer back to something said earlier about being niche based companies. So many of our suppliers are just that, and so if you’re doing something that’s absolutely necessary in the creation of the medical device, but you’re one small component in a whole host of other components, how do you get in front of that empowered decision-maker? That’s what’s great about our shows is, like you said, it’s a small world, or neutral but not a small world, if you will. There’s getting all the right people in the same room over three days.
It’s also valuable for the attendee, which is why that individual shows up because if I have to go to 10 different shows to build my device, versus I can go to the Boston show, the Anaheim show, or Minneapolis show, and by two o’clock, I’ve already sourced all of the services and components I need to make that device, that means I get to market faster.
A – BG: Yes, and it’s interesting, as an exhibitor, we also get to take advantage of being an attendee. While we are offering our services to people wandering the show floor, we also have needs for suppliers and vendors, so we’re able to make those connections. It’s really nice when you do these shows year after year, multiple times a year, you get to know people quite well.
Sometimes it’s happenstance, you just run into somebody or you have a good connection to somebody, and others, you seek them out, but you have the opportunity to see them face-to-face multiple times a year over the course of several years. It really helps to build those relationships and networking, and gives credibility to the attendees and exhibitors, and like I said, we get to double dip in that regard.
A – DC: I use the word collaboration. That, for me, is a lot of the magic, what happens in these shows, because as you’ve described, your prospect might be the guy or gal in the booth next to you, as well as somebody coming down the aisle. With all different networking opportunities, who knows what kind of great innovation is going to come out of that.
A – BG: Yes, that’s absolutely right.
Q: How do you keep it fresh? How does the team at Informa keep the events exciting for both the attendees and the exhibitors? Because by and large, you got a booth and you’re going to hand out stuff, or trying to make it flashy to get people to stop. What are some ways that you continue to bring value to both exhibitors and attendees?
A – DC: It’s a great question. Because we specialize in medical device manufacturing, we really are involved and integrated into that market. A lot of what drives activity isn’t just the exhibitor-ship, it’s also the content. We really try and make sure that we’re keeping it current and fresh, and on the cutting edge of what new technologies are coming out. For the next couple of shows, we have coming up in the Minneapolis show, which is a huge hub for cardio, we have tracks on cardio and neuromodulation.
We have tracks for implantable’s and wearable devices, is everything’s going wearable, nobody wants to be in a hospital for 10 days, they want to send you home on day two, and have you monitor-able. All it has to be, tracked remotely from a device that is 100% solid state fail-safe. That’s the kind of topics we’re covering. The San Jose show is coming up in December. Obviously, Silicon Valley is a hotbed of innovation for all kinds of technology, with medical in particular.
We’re covering things like artificial intelligence and robotics. I remember sitting in a session where they’re saying your surgeon may not even be in the same State as you are, let alone in the same room. There’s just so much that’s interesting and cool and innovative that we’re entertaining ourselves as well. It’s what drives attendance. It’s what drives interest. It’s also what drives innovation, so we pride ourselves on staying current.
Q: I always personally, as more of an attendee, I enjoy the events because you find solutions to problems that you didn’t know existed. Lighthouse is a great example of a group that helps aid in identifying them and then you talk to the booth next door, and they’re the ones that are solving it. I totally get it and really appreciate where the perspective is that you’re coming from.
A – BG: There have been multiple times that I have browsed a show and saw either a product, a technology, a service, whatever it might be, that I thought was needed, I made a note of it but didn’t really have a need for it. At some point in time later, we had a need for something and I realized this is a good solution for the problem we’re trying to battle. Had I not seen that, I wouldn’t have even known it was a solution. That’s not necessarily something you can just search on the internet for.
As everybody becomes more and more ingrained doing research on the internet and getting products through the internet, it can be tempting to have that be your sole source of information and products. The reality is, there are things that are out there that are hard to find unless you can see them physically, and so bringing this large group of people together, there’s intangible benefits there that it’s hard to put a value on.
A – RA: To further advance that thought, it also stimulates creativity. I know when I’m walking around, I’m looking at the different exhibits, what’s in that particular booth, and they may be pitching something for use in one area, but it gets me to start thinking about other potential uses for that I know, it really stimulates the creativity.
In our case, when we have videos that are going on and we’re showing instrumentation, visualization systems, we get a lot of people that stop and look, and I can see the wheels turning about, “How can I apply this technology to my situation?” There’s nowhere in the world that happens other than these shows. It really does bring that all together and facilitates that creative thought process.
Q: Let me ask you, Diana. When you do get feedback for new ideas or new marketing concepts, how do you incorporate those into a show? Bring us behind the scenes a little bit about how the team take suggestions or see something at other shows to bring in. I was at a show recently and they did a speed networking event where you had two or three minutes with every person that was there, and they had a couple of different sessions because it became such a wildly successful program within the program. How does the team take that feedback and actually turn it into something?
A – DC: We pore over the data and not just the aggregate but also sometimes the free form fields will yield something like, “Wow, what a great idea.” We have an open field on every survey, something like, “What can we do better, what would you like to see more of?” Just open-ended questions that allow people to generate suggestions based on their own experience, and we pore over that data. It’s not just the operations team, there’s a stakeholder for every different team in those meetings. You have sales in there, you have marketing in there, you have operations, you have event leadership.
We are always trying to improve the experience of our customers because at the end of the day, that’s what we’re in, is the experience business. It’s not just the experience of the attendees, it’s also the experience of our customers. We really do take that feedback. If you knew how earnestly we listen and we try and incorporate that. There’s something called a Net Promoter Score, the NPS score, which is basically your grade for the semester, if you will, on a trade show. We’re always looking at how our NPS score is doing, how is it tracking year over year, what can we do. We’ve had times when we’ve been able to bring it up 15 points because we really listened and incorporated those changes.
Q: Where you guys have now gone through a new change, where UBM has combined and merged with Informa, how has that impacted what you’re now bringing to exhibitors and attendees?
A – DC: It’s a great question because it’s actually really exciting. Having been with the company for almost– It’s my fourth acquisition. I’ve been with the company for 25 years. I got to see a lot of different kinds of leadership. You would be amazed by how nimble Informa is for being such a large company. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that they take a divisional approach to run the business units as units, and they really treat the separate divisions and niches, each verticals, as a specialist situation.
They don’t attempt to tell you how to best run your business, they assume that you as being on the street, have the intimate knowledge of the concerns, the challenges, the opportunities within your market. They really try to give you the breadth and depth and the resources to go after that. At the same time, it’s also a big company with a lot of people, a lot of experience, a lot of resources. You always have this great pool of collective knowledge you could draw on. It’s the best of both worlds, of having authority and autonomy to make your own decisions but also the resources to do it differently, and maybe someone’s already thought of a better way to handle that.
Q: Are there any technologies that Informa has that you’re going to be able to leverage here to enhance the show and traffic, et cetera, those types of things?
A – DC: I’ve been amazed by all the different things going on with marketing, in particular, because my understanding of marketing over the years was we sent out postcards, we called people, we emailed them and they came to the show, and it turns out that’s a very naive perspective on it. What I’ve learned is that it’s actually– If you saw the convoluted marketing machine with all these re-targeting ads and we sponsor podcasts and, “If you’re someone who’s interested in this, you might also be interested in our shows.”
We serve up your ad in some other place where you wouldn’t expect to see it, or we’re sponsoring something on LinkedIn or on Facebook. There’s so many different ways of their driving attendance. It’s really sophisticated. We do something like geo-targeting or job pedal targeting. If you’re someone who does this, you are looking for analog companies that might also be just starting to get into medical device. It’s just a really cool opportunity with having so many resources in a big company.
Q: That was really insightful and some great examples of ways in which the merge has improved the company in what’s available for your attendees and exhibitors. The next show that you have coming up is in Minneapolis, can you give us a little preview of what is coming up in November?
A – DC: It’s going to be really exciting, the Minneapolis show is particularly strong. For being a small regional area, it actually leads the nation in medical device employment. Three times the national average. It’s just really rich, concentrated, hub for medical device manufacturing obviously, a lot of focus on cardio and neuromodulation but we also are doing a lot on wearable devices there. It’s all those portable devices that have to be monitored, those all are being developed and evolving now as our aging population requires more medical care. That’s just going to be pretty exciting.
Q: Thanks, Diana. I appreciate that. For folks that would like to attend or exhibit at the Minneapolis show, the best thing to do is to google, “MD&M Minneapolis.” Ben, is there anything you’d like to add today?
A – BG: Well, I think just to reiterate, these series of shows, the MD&M and BioMed shows have been really spectacular for Lighthouse. In fact, was our primary marketing and sales channel for a number of years and it continues to be a very strong portion of how we market and sell ourselves.
A – RA: Yes, I echo that. As I said earlier, and I’ve been going since the mid-’80s to these shows, I’ve always found them extremely valuable. Again, it concentrates individuals, companies of similar interests and needs, into one space over a very short period of time. It’s just invaluable relative to the money it saves, and the time it saves, and just the innovation that it creates. Thanks to Diana for really spending the time that she has over the years, in helping us as exhibitors and attendees, maximize the value for us at these shows.