“If we book a resort, I can lose my job.” That's what a pharma meeting planner told Michael T. Aylmer, senior director, pharmaceutical sales, KSL Resorts, Downingtown, Pa., soon after the release of the PhRMA code. Issued in 2002 by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals limits the entertainment and recreational activities pharma companies can provide to healthcare practitioners, and says that meetings should be held in “appropriate” venues. The guidelines spurred major changes in pharma companies' meeting policies.
The planner's comment was a wake-up call, says Aylmer. He organized a series of roundtables with pharma planners, asking them how the PhRMA code was affecting their meetings and how KSL could create a better-quality meeting experience for them. “A few of our customers said: ‘You need to train your hotel about what our needs are.’ And that's when the light bulbs really went on [and we realized] we needed to set up a training program that identifies the nuances of pharmaceutical meetings,” Aylmer says.
Partnering with Master Connection Associates, the company that handles KSL's sales training, KSL developed the Pharmaceutical Expertise Program, or PEP. An intensive two-day training, PEP was developed from information KSL had gathered from the meeting planners themselves. It encompasses everything from the history of the pharmaceutical industry to pharma regulations to meeting trends. The training was administered in April and May at KSL's seven resort properties to staff “from top to bottom, from the general manager down to security,” says Aylmer.
In addition to the training, KSL developed operational standards for pharma meetings. The standards include a pledge that KSL will abide by confidentiality clauses. This is a major issue for planners, says Aylmer, who want to ensure that competing pharma companies are not meeting at the same time in the same venue. Prior to PEP, there was no system to prevent that situation — group sales might book one company, and then catering might book a dinner meeting for a competitor. Now, there is a PEP page on KSL's internal Web site that lists pharmaceutical companies and their competitors, and includes customers' own lists of companies who should be excluded from meeting at the same time.
Another change: In the past, doctors were usually free to put recreational charges on the master account. Now, those accounts are scrutinized “to make sure there's nothing that's going to present a problem to the pharmaceutical company when they receive the bill,” says Aylmer.
Approximately 25 percent of KSL's group business comes from the healthcare segment, including pharmaceutical companies and medical associations. That translates into one out of every four group guests, points out Aylmer, so it's critical to have a staff that's well-versed in the industry. But will pharma planners book resorts, regardless of how accommodating the venue is? Aylmer says resistance to resorts is diminishing. “If we are proactive, and pharma planners feel comfortable coming to us because we understand the pharmaceutical industry and can provide a quality experience, we should be able to increase that 25 percent figure.”