It’s hard to compete with 540-plus exhibitor booths for the attention of 8,000-plus people meandering around. Actually, it’s way beyond hard.

But a few companies at this year’s Drug Information Association (DIA) conference in Boston managed to captivate us.

Chief among them: the standard-sized booth of Coast Independent Review Board (IRB). The Colorado Springs, CO-based IRB hired a mind reader who had, from what we could see, a nearly 100 percent accuracy rate. For the few minutes we stood there, the guy—Bob Garner of California, who calls himself a “corporate mentalist”—correctly guessed the name of one man’s deceased pet (Bailey) as well as details about the dog and his passing. Then he nailed the upcoming due date of one guy’s third child (Oct. 12).

Going Deep

And, in a move that made the crowd gasp, Garner guessed that another attendee (from executive search firm FPC Fortune) had a sister who died via suicide. Garner knew the deceased’s first and last names, and that she had loved to paint. All correct. Hearing that, the attendee began crying.

How did Garner do it? We have no idea. We just know he had the hallway clogged with riveted people staring at him agog. And then at each other agog.

No Junk Leads

And the man was full service. Every few minutes, the fast-talking Garner would rattle off Coast’s corporate spiel, then scan badges—but only those dangling around the necks of attendees whose employers actually work with commercial IRBs.

“Only good leads! No junk leads!” he’d say. (He did not scan our badge.)

Keith Kennedy, director of business development for Coast, says that for the 2008 DIA, he’d meant to steal away the magician that AAIPharma had used in 2007, but neither he nor his staff could track him down. Instead they stumbled upon Garner. Perhaps Garner willed that to happen. It certainly raised awareness of Coast.

The Others

Others that grabbed us included Octagon Research Solutions’ entertainer, who (in the course of a card trick) blew up a red balloon until it was the size of a small car. Then he inserted his body inside of the balloon, leaving his head visible. Then there were Inventiv Health’s red hot-rod cars, which passersby could climb into and race in virtual reality-style.

MDS was offering both a lemonade stand as well as the opportunity to have one’s picture taken with baseball great Dennis Eckersley. There were Satyam‘s ladies dressed in soccer uniforms, ready to challenge any takers to a game of foosball. Oracle Clinical had people lined up a considerable distance for author Randy Pausch to sign a copy of “The Last Lecture.”

Swag Lag

The giveaways, however, didn’t excite us. Everyone was raffling off a Nintendo Wii, it seemed. Or a flat-screen TV. We did get a small chuckle out of Fast4Wd Ogilvy’s array of sassy luggage tags (“Open with caution: dirty clothes inside” and so on) and Smith Hanley’s Pez dispensers.

But swag-wise, overall, we found ourselves longing for last year, when patient recruiter BBK Worldwide wowed the crowd with its Clinical Trials-centric version of Monopoly. It was cumbersome to lug home, but no matter. It was unforgettable.

Well, there’s always next year in San Diego.

by Suz Redfearn