A Real Cliffhanger: Making the Numbers at the 2017 Brazilian Spine Society Congress

The Brazilian Spine Society shored up attendance numbers at its congress during a major recession by relying on a digital-marketing strategy.

What do you do when you’ve booked your ambitious biennial conference just as your country’s economy slips into a serious recession?

This is the situation the Brazilian Spine Society and its conference organizer MCI Group-Brazil found themselves in just before 2015, after committing to the 2017 Brazilian Spine Society Congress, scheduled for April 18–22 in Rio de Janeiro. Their solution was to harness a revenue resource that cost very little for its ROI: digital outreach.

The contract — signed just before Brazil slid into the worst economic crisis in its history — stipulated that MCI would receive its full financial compensation if it helped meet the profit goal of one million Brazilian reals (approximately $300,000).

An unstable national climate made things all the more tense. Soon after congress planning began, the country was rocked by two political scandals, and skyrocketing unemployment threatened to put Brazil back on the UN hunger-crisis map it had just vacated in 2014. Many companies that had been counted upon as registrants and sponsors of the 14th Congress retracted their usual participation and investment. The largest partners were scaling back by 50 to 80 percent, if they were even attending at all.

Now, the contract’s incentive clause that had been designed to offer MCI Brazil a substantial financial return threatened to become its biggest nightmare. To receive full fee, MCI had to raise net profits by generating new international sponsors, exhibitors, and first-time attendees — ambitious even if it weren’t amid a disastrous recession.


We knew that we needed to work hard.

“We knew that we needed to work hard because of the economic moment in Brazil,” said Luiz Otavio Penteado, a member of the professional training committee of the Brazilian Spine Society, which represents about 1,100 Brazilian spine surgeons (orthopedists and neurosurgeons). “Our president had the very interesting idea to attend the BRICS SPINE meeting. We also joined SILACO (Ibero Latinoamerican Spine Society) and the Craniovertebral Society.”

The participation resulted in networking relationships with spine societies of other regions, all of which were in a better position than Brazilian companies to invest in a congress. “So we grew the Brazilian congress to become an international event. We had participants from 40 countries, including four continents.”

The Brazilian Spine Society started by creating an extremely attractive program — a highly scientific agenda. The lineup called for three to five classrooms running simultaneously, with sessions in such demand that many attendees lamented having to choose one at a time.

Its outreach for registrations and sponsors was more aggressive than ever before, pushed almost entirely through email and social media. The most effective channel, according to Penteado, was a personalized email sent to every member of each spine society connected to the BRIC consortium. Sponsorship levels varied in booth size, and included a range of bonus exposure opportunities such as private classes, courses held during lunch, advertisements between presentations, and materials distributed to participants in their registration bags.

“These email addresses were very difficult to obtain,” Penteado said, “and demanded a lot of hard work of the president of the congress, Dr. Renato Teixeira, in contact with the presidents of all the spine societies involved.” The monthly email messages urged participation with updated news and offerings — including new registration levels such as the symposium-only attendee fee, and progressive discounts for companies registering more than 10 attendees.

Further outreach via online platforms and apps capitalized on the popularity of social media in Brazil. According to a 2017 report by We Are Social, an estimated 122 million people are active on social media in Brazil, representing nearly 90 percent of all internet users in the country.


Stop thinking we can do almost the same thing every year.

MCI-Brazil researched and built a list of international companies to target, and developed a campaign to attract new sponsors using international partners’ channels and websites. The company credits the use of email, apps, and social media — including Instagram and Facebook, where they posted news about speakers and promotions — with finding a larger audience. “You have to understand what is important nowadays, find where the audience really is, and stop thinking we can do almost the same thing every year,” said Danielly Reis, a project coordinator in MCI-Brazil’s medical sector. “Everybody is connected and it is impossible to think about technology and not involve apps and involve social media. They are great tools for events.”

It worked. The congress met its net profit goal, drawing 921 international specialists as attendees and 39 exhibiting companies, 30 percent of which were first-time sponsors. “We could see their happiness,” said Reis. “All the sponsors asked when the next one will be held.”

The society is thrilled with the result, especially in such trying times, and looks forward to using MCI-Brazil at its next congress as the economy continues to improve. “In Brazil, the most important references are people we can trust,” said Penteado. “So we will be using MCI for the next Brazilian spine congress that will take place in Sao Paulo in 2019.”

Nichole Bernier

Nichole Bernier is a writer and editor based in Massachusetts.