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Q&A on the ADA’s annual sessions

March 1, 2006
The following is an interview with Jim Donovan, director, Council on ADA Sessions.

The following is an interview with Jim Donovan, director, Council on ADA Sessions. In this interview, Donovan looks back at the ADA Annual Session in Philadelphia and looks ahead to the 2006 meeting, scheduled for mid-October in Las Vegas.

Proofs: Does the American Dental Association consider the Philadelphia meeting to be a success?

Donovan: We all know that the industry expectations for the Philadelphia meeting were not that high, but from the association’s point of view, we feel it was a successful meeting. First, we exceeded our projected dentist attendance. ADA had projected 7,500 dentists would attend the meeting, and we ended up with 9,000.

The meeting was also successful in supporting the association’s membership recruitment and retention efforts, which benefits the dental industry as a whole. Realizing that about 24 percent of ADA nonmembers lived within a five-hour driving radius of Philadelphia, the ADA had reduced the nonmember registration fee from $750 to $75. ADA typically has around 60 non-members attend our meeting and we had more than 900 in Philadelphia. We worked hard to touch these members before, during, and after the meeting because we want them as members and we want them to attend future meetings. These efforts are paying off as we have had more than 60 of these attendees join the association.

Proofs: What are the comments you’ve received from exhibitors since the Philadelphia meeting?

Donovan: The most common comment we have received following the Philadelphia meeting relates to exhibit hall traffic being slower than anticipated. As with any exhibition of this size, I think the level of satisfaction varies based upon who you talk to, what their product or service is, and what type of pre-show marketing they did for the event. It is also important for exhibitors to establish realistic expectations for each meeting in which they participate. ADA always provides projected attendance levels and we update the exhibitors on the registration figures prior to the meeting. We do this so our exhibitors can establish realistic expectations and goals for each meeting. Because the ADA Annual Session rotates from city to city, you see a wide swing in registration levels. As I mentioned previously, we projected 7,500 dentists and we had 9,000 dentists attend.

Proofs: There were some mixed reviews of the Marketplace after the meeting in Orlando. Steps were taken to alleviate some of those problems in Philadelphia. Do you feel the Marketplace was better received in Philadelphia than in Orlando?

Donovan: We did overcome some of the challenges from Orlando, but the Marketplace is still a work in progress. We are staying in close communication with the Dental Trade Alliance and we are continuously looking at categorization. We’re still determining if it’s coming back for the fourth year.

ADA has two customers who we are always trying to please - the ADA member attendee and the very important exhibitor. Our attendees find the Marketplace helpful and a great way to shop and compare products, pricing and service. To address industry’s concerns we invited members of the ADA Exhibitor Advisory Committee to meet us in Philadelphia to help develop the 2005 floor plan and see what could be done to improve the traffic flow issues we experienced in Orlando. I think we solved some of the challenges and probably created some new issues that we didn’t face in Orlando, but all exhibitions have traffic flow problems. One thing we have learned is that because the ADA Annual Session rotates to different cities every year, there will always be new attendees who have not seen the Marketplace. There is a re-education process each year, and we need to do a better job of explaining what the categorization is all about.

Proofs: What about the extra half-day that was added at the start of the Philadelphia session?

Donovan: We believe the extra half-day on the front end was justified because we can demonstrate that, in recent years, there have been three times more people at the meeting on the first day than there are on the last day. By adding extra time to the front end of the meeting, we gave exhibitors exposure to attendees at a peak attendance time. ADA is committed to working with the trades to develop the strongest, most appropriate exhibition schedule for future meetings.

Proofs: It seemed like there was plenty of promotion for the Las Vegas meeting in Philadelphia. Do you sense an excitement from potential attendees about Las Vegas?

Donovan: Definitely. For the second consecutive year, we opened registration for the upcoming meeting during the current meeting. I feel the ADA did a very good job of kicking off the 2006 Las Vegas meeting in Philadelphia, and that can be seen by the 1,100 dentists who registered for Las Vegas in Philadelphia. Compare that to the 300 we registered for Philadelphia in Orlando and you’ll get a sense of the excitement for Las Vegas.

Proofs: Will that excitement be tempered by the midweek timing of the meeting?

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Donovan: Personally, I don’t see midweek as a problem. For Las Vegas, ADA is projecting more than 50,000 total attendees, of which 15,000 will be dentists. Historically, Las Vegas is the ADA’s best-attended meeting destination. Las Vegas is still the premier travel destination in the United States and continues to grow in popularity each year. We have tried to provide attendees with plenty of time to plan and schedule the trip, so midweek really won’t be a problem. We also believe the midweek timeframe will provide dentists, and their staff members, with some flexibility of arrival and departure days. One major advantage of the midweek stay are more reasonable hotel rates at the most popular Vegas resorts, including the six hotels in the ADA housing block.

Proofs: With Las Vegas being the premier travel destination, how will the ADA encourage attendees to visit the exhibit hall in addition to the casinos?

Donovan: One of the biggest priorities of the Exhibitor Advisory Committee is to figure out how to not only get the attendee to come to the meeting, but to also have him or her to stay in the exhibition hall. The ADA discusses exhibit hall traffic building at each of our Exhibitor Advisory Committee meetings, and we’ll do everything we can to implement their recommendations. Some of the traffic building programs that were developed by the advisory committee includes the Super Sweepstakes, which gave away more than $25,000 in hourly prizes in 2005, and the commemorative pin program, which is now in its fourth year. We are always looking for ways to build and maintain exhibit hall traffic.

For 2006, our Distinguished Speaker Series returns and, at the present, we are negotiating with some of the world’s most sought-after speakers. Our onsite registration will once again be placed back in the exhibit hall, which will provide the exhibitors with exposure to attendees who register, or add additional program tickets, onsite. We are also working to completely redesign our New Product Showcase to establish this as a “must see” area in the exhibit hall.

Proofs: Why hold the meeting using the Mandalay Bay’s exhibit space rather than the Las Vegas Convention Center?

Donovan: The Mandalay Bay is an absolutely beautiful facility and has an excellent reputation for service and amenities. I am confident that attendees and exhibitors alike will agree that this is one of the most beautiful convention centers in the country.

The Mandalay Bay Convention center offers more than 1 million square feet of exhibit space and gives the opportunity to hold the entire meeting in one facility. What’s more, the ADA has six official hotels for the Annual Session, and five of those are connected by monorail or walkways. Compare this to more than 40 hotels in most host cities!

The level of enthusiasm from ADA Members for Las Vegas is tremendous.

Proofs: Any final thoughts?

Donovan: We’re excited about returning to Las Vegas and especially to Mandalay Bay. The attendees are excited about Las Vegas. We hope Proofs readers will plan to “Be a Part of the Excitement.”

If you would like to learn more about attending, or exhibiting at, ADA06 Las Vegas, please visit

ADA Attendance in Philadelphia

U.S. Dentists - 8,800
International Dentists - 277
Total Dentists - 9,077

Students - 1,299Dental Assistants - 2,030
Dental Hygienists - 2,132
Lab Techs - 50
Dental Dealers - 55
International Guests - 115
Other - 7,715
Exhibitors - 7,199

Total Attendance - 29,672