Senior-level meetings managers have to balance established best practices and their companies’ specific needs.
The predominant message that came from two senior-management gatherings of meeting professionals at the Pharmaceutical Meeting Management Forum: One size does not fit all when instituting best practices for compliance around the world — or for a successfulprogram.
Some 35 corporate planners met behind closed doors at the annual summit, co-organized byand the Center for Business Intelligence in Philadelphia in March. They started out talking about global models for moving ever-larger companies' meeting programs forward and how to get their arms around what is an increasingly global meetings spend. The discussions also encompassed how to mitigate risk and comply with a wide variety of regulations. After all, asked facilitator Kathy Lieberman, manager, U.S. Pharma Event Management, GlaxoSmithKline, who in the room hadn't been affected by a merger or acquisition in recent years?
Later, at an executive think tank session, many of those same professionals discussed common challenges and offered a variety of solutions at roundtable discussions with their senior-level counterparts at independent meeting management companies and hotel and travel suppliers.
Globalization and Compliance
The compliance issues that bubbled up in the 1990s in the U.S. in regard to pharmaceutical companies' interactions with healthcare practitioners have spread the world over.
To get a handle on the marketing rules and regulations for interactions with healthcare providers, country by country, it's key to have local experts, they agreed. Some rely on their subsidiaries or affiliates based in foreign countries to serve as local compliance experts. One manager said his company had a compliance officer in every country in the world. Others have developed proprietary, in-house databases, which track spending limits such as meal caps and what is considered reasonable and customary.
One planner asked, “When will there be a global standard?” Another said that dealing with meetings in the “New Europe” was a bit like working in the Wild West. The overriding advice from the group on hosting physicians from a variety of countries at a meeting is to stick to the strictest of the rules. Managers agreed that tracking physician spend globally is just as important as tracking spend here in the U.S.
Just how important is compliance? One indication, a meeting manager noted, is that global compliance and ethics officers are being elevated or added at the highest management level in pharma companies. To meet internal compliance requirements, compliance experts are holding road shows around the country to educate sales reps and third parties. One manager said there should be repercussions for employees who are not compliant. Standard operating procedures are essential, added another. Another best practice is to have a review committee for every meeting involving healthcare providers. That committee should include representatives from medical regulatory, legal, and compliance departments.
Many agreed that more of the compliance onus should be put on physicians. Make them understand that slides that are reviewed for advisory boards, for example, cannot be changed, said one senior planner. Include a box on the meeting registration form that the physician checks off that states, “I understand I am not allowed to bring my spouse or family.” This protects the physicians, too.
Sidebar: What Exactly Is a Preferred Hotel Program?
Clearly, not every pharma company manages meetings in the exact same way. Healthy debate surrounded many issues that companies struggle to find best practices for: Should you outsource your operations or use internal staff? Who should source the meeting venue? What exactly is a preferred-hotel program? And even if a company is satisfied with its domestic SMMP, no one in the session had yet successfully launched or adapted their SMMP globally. Those who were attempting it were taking it one region at a time.
To Single-Source or Multi-Source
Pros of using one sourcing company: tremendous buying power, leverage, and ease of doing business.
Cons: The organization that sources the meeting should also be the one to produce it and manage it on site. “The meeting management company is more vested when they've sourced it,” said one. “The meeting never looks the same as when you spec it,” added another.
Versus Keeping It In-House
Attendees debated the pros and cons of having implants, or contracted agency personnel, on site in your office, as well as asking staff meeting managers to specialize more in the era of SMMPs. Most agreed that shifting the way you manage your meetings “needs to be an evolution, not a revolution.” Some advice:
- One manager who was going out to bid for an in-house agency questioned the value of having implants, since she still had to manage them.
- The people who plan the meeting should service the meeting on site, most of the managers agreed.
- The attendee management part of the meeting planning process is most easily outsourced.
- Take “admin” off the meeting manager's plate. There has been a shift in skill set from operations to project management, or from logistics management to strategic management — skills that are not always transferable.
- When outsourcing, focus on your core product and let others focus on your noncore competencies.
Kathy Lieberman, GlaxoSmithKline, led the forum of senior meeting managers.
For more on strategic meeting management, visit our special SMM report