Innovative Meetings

Does Your Meeting Have a Mascot?

How did the European Society for Organ Transplantation build buzz for its 2017 Congress? With a mascot named Gaudino.

Gaudino was a popular attraction at Transplantation BigBangBarcelona, where attendees queued up for photos and selfies with the ESOT mascot.

Sometimes innovation is epic and sweeping. And other times it looks like a big green dragon. That was the case at the European Society for Organ Transplantation’s (ESOT) 2017 Congress, where a new mascot showed that it’s worth taking risks and even trying something a little silly.

Annalisa Ponchia Baccara, CMP, CMM, ESOT’s CEO, traces the dragon back to 2015, when the biennial Congress went paperless and needed a new way to share information with attendees. ESOT had already distributed tablets and created a mobile app in 2013, but wanted something more dynamic within that technology — something that would set the event apart and also keep members engaged for the two years between congresses.

The answer was old school: a mascot.

BUILT TO SCALE

“We understood that this character would become a storyteller to accompany the participants through the long journey right up until being on site,” said Johnny Martinez, head of marketing and business development for event-management platform Shocklogic, which works with ESOT on its conference.

But what would that character look like? They settled on a dragon. Partly that was a nod to ESOT 2017’s location in Barcelona — home of architect Antoni Gaudí’s famous mosaic lizards.

But there was more. The Congress gathers about 3,500 attendees from all over the world — men, women, old, young. The mascot, Martinez said, needed to be “a character of diversity.” He noted: “The dragon has no sex, no gender, no race, no sexual orientation. A mascot was the best and easiest way to find a neutral person to tell the story. It looks to really accommodate the diverse membership that the association has.”

Gaudino added some levity to ESOT’s program for researcher and physician participants.

To debut its new creation, which was designed by Shocklogic, ESOT posted a short animated video in April 2016 in which the dragon introduced himself — using a male British voice — and asked for help finding a name. Anyone could submit suggestions, and a committee whittled down 113 ideas to 10. The prize? Free registration for the 2017 Congress, which would be held at the Barcelona International Convention Centre on Sept. 24–27. ESOT members ultimately voted for Gaudino, furthering the reference to Gaudí.

With a name in place, Gaudino began chronicling the journey to Barcelona. In cartoon form, he showed up dressed for the beach to wish members a happy summer break. He donned a tailor ensemble to introduce the conference’s “tailor-made” education. In a series of other outfits, he invited people to register for the Congress, asked for their abstract submissions, then announced that a committee was reviewing those submissions. “We had fun with it,” Ponchia Baccara said.

As ESOT 2017 approached, Gaudino showed up in videos to explain new processes and sessions, including an elevator-pitch competition. He appeared in ESOT’s weekly newsletters, and popped up on its social media. He even starred in custom-made digital comic strips.

Martinez admits that his team and ESOT’s board did occasionally wonder whether the whole thing might be too whimsical. ESOT is the umbrella organization for all European transplant activities, and most medical societies are known for traditional communications with a serious tone. “We sat down a number of times with [ESOT] to show precisely how the character can bridge the gap between different stakeholders,” Martinez said, “and just generally freshen up the look of the association.”

THE GAUDINO EFFECT

One of Gaudino’s earliest appearances settled any doubts. He showed up at a technical meeting in the form of a cutout — the kind that people stick their heads into and take pictures with. ESOT members who had been dubious before were suddenly snapping photos and posting them “all over social media,” said Maggie Bruk, media and marketing manager for Shocklogic. “That got people on board.”

You see researchers and doctors of all ages posting selfies on Twitter, because they’re just really excited to see the dragon.

The dragon continued to travel after that, 50 times in all, showing up at other medical-related events to snag selfies and promote ESOT. After two Gaudino-filled years, by the time ESOT’s 2017 Congress rolled around, members had grown attached to the mascot — or at least knew who he was. But no one expected him to appear at the conference in a human-sized costume. “You see researchers and doctors of all ages posting selfies on Twitter, because they’re just really excited to see the dragon,” Martinez said. “The other day a member of the [ESOT] committee said, ‘We have our meeting happening in a couple days — is there any chance we can have Gaudino there?’”

The new mascot was such a success that Shocklogic’s Gaudino campaign is a finalist for the International Congress and Convention Association’s Best Marketing Award. Meanwhile, Martinez and Ponchia Baccara are already thinking about the 2019 Congress, slated for Copenhagen. Should they create a new mascot who reflects that city? Modify Gaudino to fit the fresh location? Or, as they did with their dragon, should they try something completely different and unexpected?

“ESOT has a brand and an image to be a very innovative society,” Ponchia Baccara said. “Everyone is expecting all kinds of things from our side, and we always want to surprise them.”

Molly Petrilla

Molly Petrilla is a freelance writer based in Collingswood, New Jersey.