At the closing session of the 9th annual Pharma Forum at the Marriott World Center in Orlando, March 19–22, panelists championed the idea of coming up with a job title that accurately reflects the expanding responsibilities of meetings industry professionals.

“Meeting planner” doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what most professionals in the meetings industry actually do.

“Why aren’t we seen as business professionals?” asked panelist Sharon Marsh, CMP, CMM, meetings group manager, Medtronic Inc., Santa Rosa, Calif. The job of the meeting professional today, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry, is as much about finance, compliance, information technology, accounting, and marketing as it is about logistics. “We don’t just order coffee and tell people how many tables and chairs to put in a room,” she said. “We are doing so much more.”

She compared meeting planning to other positions that have grown in stature as business professions—including human resources, which was initially called personnel, and supply chain management, which has evolved from purchasing and procurement.

“We wear multiple hats,” said Helen Kalorides, meeting management consultant, Roche Diagnostics, Indianapolis. “We are subject matter experts in so many categories and now we are asked to do even more.”

The role of the meeting professional is truly valuable within the organization, but too often meeting professionals themselves minimize their own value, Marsh said. To that point, session moderator James Vachon, CMM, associate director, Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company, Cambridge, Mass., asked, “How many people in this room have said, ‘I’m just the meeting planner?’” A bunch of hands went up both in the audience and on the panel.

“If we minimize our own value, our organizations will do the same thing,” added Marsh.

Panelist Angie Duncan, CMP, CMM, an independent meeting manager from Indianapolis, agreed, and then some.  “I’m very passionate about this,” said Duncan. If there’s one segment of the meetings industry that can lead the charge and change the way meetings professionals are seen, it’s the medical meetings sector, she added. Medical meeting professionals have been on the leading edge of compliance and strategic meetings management and now they are being tasked with data collection and reporting in accordance with the Sunshine Act. And she was not referring to just the “planners” in this segment, but the hoteliers and others suppliers pharma meeting managers work with as well.  “I think we can be change makers. Let’s take what we know and change the world.”

The industry associations really need to carry the message forward more boldly, to help elevate the status of meeting planner to that of a project manager. Said Marsh, “We don’t need to tout how wonderful we are to each other,” she said. “It’s not us we need to sell it to.” The federal government and corporations need to know that meetings professionals are business professionals. The small percentage of boondoggles and bad apples get all the attention, said Marsh, “so why are we standing by as an industry allowing that message to be out there?”

The closing panel served as a recap for the conference. Panelists and attendees shared their highlights and takeaways from the event, which was co-organized by Medical Meetings and the Center for Business Intelligence.