10 steps for scrappy marketers to survive the HIMSS20 cancellation


March 2020


OMG. HIMSS20 was canceled! Everything you had planned for your whole exhibit is now out the window, right?


You may not be able to showcase the incredible live experience you’ve been building for months, but between now and the end of this week you can build a virtual HIMSS experience, leveraging the resources you created for HIMSS to accomplish the same goals, on the same timetable—if you’re willing to be scrappy.

Listen to this blog or keep reading below!

This is no time to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. These aren’t suggestions for a perfect world where you have months to execute—they’re quick-deploy suggestions for making your work matter when the world throws a giant curveball. We’ll be back with deeper-dive ideas for approaching your original lead targets in future posts.

(One more thing: If you have other healthcare conferences coming up, many of these tips can help you have a plan in place, just in case they’re also canceled.)

Let’s get started!

1. Take a deep breath. Remember your big picture WHY. What’s really important?

You are not your HIMSS booth. You are an innovator in an industry that’s about making people’s lives better.

Who is ultimately at the other end of your company’s offer of help? Patients. Between you and them are the potential partners, customers, analysts and vendors you were going to connect with this week, and they’re still hungry for the ideas you were going to share.

Never forget that what you do matters.

2. Assemble your HIMSS recovery strike force.

You have multiple objectives to tackle all at once, so you need your top players and you need them now. (Fortunately, they may suddenly have extra time on their hands due to, you know, not being at HIMSS.) Starting now, designate point people for:

  • Internal communication—one person to coordinate with company executives, legal and other internal stakeholders.
  • External communication—a PR/social media strategist and analyst relations (AR) point person to communicate with customers, market advisors and press teams. They can also organize virtual opportunities to share news.
  • Creative leads—a team to coordinate messaging and design for communications. These people—who may include a designer, a writer, a web developer, a digital lead and other specialists—should be a dedicated resource for your HIMSS strike force. Other work can wait.
  • Sales lead—one point person for your sales organization. Note that you may be focused on the healthcare sector, but sales teams across your organization need to be updated on your key market messages in a time of uncertainty.
  • Solution/product lead—one SME to be the point person for the rest of the product development team.
  • Operations—one point person who makes sure your people are cared for, helping with cancellations, contract negotiations, shipping, etc.
  • Project manager—your chief cat herder who helps everyone else get their jobs done.

3. Reframe your old objectives for the new reality.

Go back to your earliest HIMSS20 planning. What was your original objective, what specific goals did that objective include, and how were you going to measure them?

Now, how can you accomplish those objectives, goals and measurements remotely?

  • Objective: Awareness

    Any booth content you have that’s in digital form can be shared online, via social media, email, paid media, employee advocates, influencers or other avenues. (See below for lots more ideas on this subject.) You won’t be able to track booth scans (duh), but standard online metrics such as impressions and social engagement can be an accurate gauge of the awareness you’ve created.
  • Objective: Deepening customer relationships

    Can you hold virtual meetings (voice and/or video) with the people you were scheduled to meet at HIMSS? (Remember—their schedules were impacted, too, so they may still have those calendar slots free.) You can still track customer meetings, deals made, cross selling, etc.—just make sure your CRM has a code to track your sales activity separately.

    Understand that provider organizations themselves are focusing on patients and employees. No one has time for an hour-long webinar. Deliver your communication in impactful, meaningful bite-sized pieces.

  • Objective: Analyst and press communication of your business plan

    Like customer communication, AR and PR communication is critical to the health of your business. In a vacuum of information, analysts and press don’t have your key messages to include in their evaluation—yet they need (and want) to hear from you when there’s market uncertainty.

    Schedule briefings and updates with these market makers as a priority. Include feedback from your virtual customer meetings (see above) to help analysts see that your leadership is steady, your plans are well thought out and your business goals are on track.

  • Objective: Lead generation

    If you have new content you were planning to share at HIMSS, can you gate it? How quickly can you spin up a nurture campaign leveraging it? If this content was valuable enough to share at HIMSS, your audience should still find it valuable enough to download or view online—and you can still measure SQLs along with online engagement metrics.

4. Take inventory of what you have to work with.

Now that you’re focused on what you’re going to accomplish this week, it’s time to take stock of the resources you have to accomplish it. Make a quick but comprehensive inventory of:

  • Speaking sessions
  • Booth experience content
  • Demo content
  • Available SMEs and staff
  • Graphics
  • Giveaways

5. Create a central place to house a virtual HIMSS20 experience.

In a perfect world, you’d assemble a team, grab a healthy budget and develop a microsite dedicated to all things HIMSS20. Guess what? This ain’t a perfect world—but you still need a single destination for all the traffic you want to drive, and a place to host the content you were going to share at HIMSS.

In the next 24-48 hours, do the best you can to spin up a basic landing page. It doesn’t have to be an award-winning design (which pains us to say), but it should at minimum be easy to navigate with clear calls to action—Learn More, Join Our Mailing List, Schedule a Meeting, etc.

Make sure the landing page can be updated easily and often, since you may not know exactly what content you have yet and the situation promises to be dynamic.

Can’t build a landing page that quickly? If you were primarily planning to share video content, start a dedicated HIMSS20 YouTube channel. (Also, check #virtualHIMSS20 on Twitter to see how other marketers are disseminating their content.)

Note: Consider a dedicated internal communication hub for your strike force. Start with daily email updates to the internal team.

6. Revamp your HIMSS20 content into digital formats.

Most of your content—blog posts, articles, videos, social content, booth design elements, etc.—likely exists in digital format, anyway. Printed collateral can easily be converted to PDFs if it isn’t already.

But what about the live or streaming content you were planning to present during HIMSS? Remember, anyone who was scheduled to deliver live content during HIMSS20 probably still has that slot free in their schedule. If you were scheduled to interview an SME from your booth, can you stream the interview remotely by video and/or audio? If your booth had a “news desk,” can you recreate it in your own facility and stream content from there?

If your audience had a demand for this content, they still do. Find a way to deliver it.

7. Adapt your content and stick to your distribution strategy.

You already had a content distribution strategy, right? Stick to it as much as possible, with content adapted to the new reality.

This is where your strike force writer and designer earn their hazard pay. Say you had a display ad scheduled encouraging HIMSS visitors to meet you at your booth. Keep the ad buy, but change the content to drive to your new landing page.

If you can adapt content quickly enough, there’s no reason not to deliver social media, email, media releases and other communications with the same cadence you had scheduled for HIMSS. All your advocates and influencers are still hungry for content, and with the urgency created by the event’s cancellation they may be even more motivated to help you share it.

8. Measure everything and optimize.

One silver lining about having to create a virtual HIMSS experience is that, because a lot will be happening in a short amount of time, it’s a great opportunity to A/B test everything and learn what works.

Your strike force digital lead can develop a measurement plan up front, then make sure you’re monitoring results and optimizing along the way.

9. Connect with your tribe.

Your organization is not alone. Everyone who planned a HIMMS20 exhibit is riding the same runaway train you are. Please take the time and make the effort to … 

  • Reach out to others who are facing similar challenges
  • Share your experiences of what’s working and what’s not
  • Encourage people and be inspired
  • Ask for support and feedback

#virtualHIMSS20 is one Twitter hashtag where you can connect with others to see what they’re doing and how they’re coping. We’re sure there are plenty of others. There’s no substitute for the camaraderie and spontaneity of the HIMSS conference floor, but this is a vibrant, caring community where everyone can help boost each other through a difficult time.

10. Take care of yourself—and celebrate.

Don’t kid yourself—this is going to be draining. During a crisis it can be easy to forget about the basics of taking care of yourself, so even though it sounds like a cliché, make sure you eat well, hydrate and get as much sleep as you can. Unplug from work and into your friends and family when you can. And thank everyone who—on your team and throughout the community—is working so hard along the way.

When all this is over, take a moment to reflect on what you and your team accomplished. Celebrate the wins. Thank everyone again.

And start getting ready for HIMSS21.

Stacy Goebel

Stacy Goebel

Social Media Director

You know how excited Buddy the Elf gets about Santa? That's how social guru Stacy Goebel feels about new ideas. Her favorite is when she gets to think out of the box to build integrated marketing strategies for clients. Grateful 2019 HITMC Agency Marketer of the Year.

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