Vendors weigh plans for ECR 2000 as European show goes annual

March 31, 1999

Companies raise concern about expense of exhibiting annuallyThe European Congress of Radiology conference in Vienna has experienced a rise in prominence in recent years, which has paid off with growing numbers for attendance and exhibition space.

Companies raise concern about expense of exhibiting annually

The European Congress of Radiology conference in Vienna has experienced a rise in prominence in recent years, which has paid off with growing numbers for attendance and exhibition space. Although the ECR has not yet attained its goal of becoming a true pan-European conference, it has carved out a successful niche as a good meeting for radiologists from a number of countries, particularly those in Central and Eastern Europe.

But in the ECR's case, success could be too much of a good thing. The conference's growth plans are due to step up a notch next year, when the ECR switches from its biennial schedule to an annual frequency. The move has many vendors worried about rising exhibition costs, and some are talking about scaling back their involvement in the ECR's technical exhibition as a way of saving money.

The ECR announced its switch to an annual schedule during the 1997 meeting (SCAN 3/19/97). The conference's organizers believe that more frequent meetings are better for attendees and are a natural evolution of the ECR's growth plans, according to Dr. Holger Pettersson of the University of Lund, Sweden, chairman of the ECR's technical exhibition.

"If you want to be one of the big meetings in the world, where professionals and scientists have a chance to present papers, it must be yearly. Two years is much too much time to wait for presenting anything," Pettersson said. "If you want to follow from a technical point of view what is happening in industry, two years is too long to wait."

The problem is that the ECR follows by only three months the RSNA conference, radiology's showcase meeting. The RSNA show is becoming increasingly international, drawing attendees from all over the world, who see it as their primary radiology show. In addition, most imaging vendors choose the RSNA meeting to debut their new technologies, and as a result the ECR is usually lackluster in terms of technology introductions.

Nonetheless, many vendors have enthusiastically supported the ECR's growth. The rising number of technical exhibitors prompted the ECR to press for construction of a new exhibit hall next to the Austria Center Vienna, the ECR's home for the past decade. The new hall made its debut at this
month's meeting, and vendors for the most part were pleased with the facilities.

But few were so pleased as to want to return to Vienna every year. Vendors at this year's congress were near unanimous in their opposition to an annual ECR meeting. Imaging companies are striving to cut costs to compete more effectively in a tightening healthcare market, and one more annual meeting will not make things easier. Next year will be especially busy: In addition to the ECR, the RSNA show, and various national meetings, companies will also be expected to exhibit at the International Congress of Radiology meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Vendors have begun internal discussions on how to handle next year's ECR conference, and some may scale back their involvement to save money. GE Medical Systems Europe of Buc, France, for example, may cut the size of its ECR booth in half if it has to exhibit every year, according to Francis Bailly, vice president of marketing in Europe.

"Given the results in this industry in general, I don't think the industry can afford the number of exhibitions that happen globally and locally," Bailly said. "We will have to reconsider each of them based on the cost, frequency, and number of people visiting. The last thing we want is more congresses and exhibitions. We simply cannot afford it."

The sales and marketing director at an image management company believes the ECR is valuable because nearly all of the major OEMs and equipment distributors attend, which can't be said for the European national meetings. But the price of exhibit space is high, and Vienna's high costs are also problematic.

"You may get more bang for the buck by attending smaller meetings," he said. "My recommendation to our president would be not to exhibit every year."

One possible solution would be for vendors to reduce the amount of heavy equipment they bring to the ECR, according to Franz Krammer, vice president of European operations for Picker International's Europe subsidiary in Hofheim-Wallau, Germany.

"There could be multiple approaches (to cutting costs)," Krammer said. "Number one could be a cutback in booth size. Number two would be not displaying so much hardware, but just focusing on key products. Another solution would be if the ECR cuts back on exhibition charges."

Individual imaging companies are working with the European industry association, the European Coordination Committee of the Radiological and Electromedical Industries (COCIR), to formulate a response to the ECR. Companies hope that a compromise can be reached, such as lower exhibition rates for annual exhibitors.

"One has to be innovative and think of different ways of reducing costs. We're still discussing this with the ECR and the (European Association of Radiology)," said Prof. Erich Reinhardt, chairman of COCIR and the head of Siemens Medical Engineering Group in Erlangen, Germany.

The ECR is sensitive to the concerns of vendors and is willing to work with them on finding ways to reduce the meeting's costs, according to Pettersson. One possibility is that the meeting could be held in locations other than Vienna. The ECR is contractually bound to hold the congress in Vienna five times over the next 10 years, with the 1999, 2000, and 2001 meetings already scheduled for the city. But other locations are a possibility. The association will have several brainstorming meetings in the next several weeks, and will meet with vendors in the summer.

"We will discuss (cost concerns), and I'm sure we will find solutions," Pettersson said.