It will come as no surprise to pharmaceutical meeting planners that ethical issues are driving corporate training trends. “With the new focus on the pharmaceutical/doctor relationship [a result of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America's ethical code, issued in July], ways of training are changing and I don't think the new rules of engagement have all shaken out,” says Mike Fahner, vice president, sales and marketing, ARAMARK Harrison Lodging, Philadelphia, a conference center company that operates more than 50 centers in the United States and Canada.
Pharma firms aren't the only ones under the spotlight. “I think the Enron issues and the current focus that the New York Attorney General has on Wall Street firms has caused many companies to reevaluate how they do business,” he adds. “If changes are taking place, then the message is being spread through meetings.”
And companies should concentrate on education and training, says Fahner, regardless of the economy. “I believe that good companies talk about learning and training when times are good. Great companies have a value system whereby everyone learns and trains all the time.”
We surveyed Fahner, other conference center executives, and medical meeting executives about the trends they see in today's centers of learning.
Conference centers located near high concentrations of pharmaceutical and biotech companies, particularly in the Northeast, Southeast, and Midwest, have seen an increase in training and strategy meetings, because companies are meeting closer to home. And the perception of the meeting is more important than ever, says Fahner. “Companies are still meeting, but the focus of the meetings may be different. Incentive trips may still take place, but instead of going to Europe they are staying in the States. Value is a key driver today.”
And, just like their hotel counterparts, conference centers are seeing incredibly short-term bookings, says Burt Cabañas, chairman and chief executive officer, Benchmark Hospitality, The Woodlands, Texas. “New meeting activity for the first quarter 2003 is stronger than the same period in 2002,” he says. “Booking lead times, however, remain very short term, as companies delay commitments in order to maximize pricing advantages.” Cabañas adds that many corporate meetings are focused on top-line revenue growth, new business planning, and strategic marketing.
In our interviews we identified the following five training trends among pharmaceutical and healthcare firms:
ROLL UP YOUR SLEEVES
Days are longer and more intensive, with fewer frills. Many companies are cutting back on the number of days they spend in meetings or training, from four to three or three to two, and not just because of budget reasons.
“The priority is business, so meetings must be effective and focused,” says Bruce W. McIntosh, general manager and vice president of operations, The National Conference Center, An ARAMARK Harrison Lodging property in Lansdowne, Va. “We also see reduced social activities. Instead of having a band on that first evening, a group will do a short cocktail reception. It's because people have to be up at 7:30 the next morning. Budgets have been reduced, but it's more the philosophy behind it that's changed. It's all about the.”
“It seems like training sessions are more intense than ever,” echoes Bridget Tyler, director of sales and conference services, The Villanova Conference Center, ARAMARK Harrison Lodging, Radnor, Pa. “In the past, groups would have more breaks, more elaborate dinners, more pomp and circumstance. Now meetings start at 8 a.m., they break for dinner at 6 p.m., and then come back for more training from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. It's because of budgets, but also because people don't want to be away from their business or their families for so long.”
DOUBLE THE TRAINING
“Multi-task” training sessions are becoming increasingly popular. Those are two separate training sessions within a company, with separate attendees, scheduled to run simultaneously at a property — perhaps overlapping a two-day with another's three-day session. It consolidates planning and facilitating, and may also offer economies of scale.
“Instead of just holding a sales training meeting, a company now might also have a soft-skills session for another group of attendees,” says Gianna Trinitapoli, sales manager at Harrison Conference Center at Lake Bluff, Lake Bluff, Ill., whose clients include pharmaceutical companies. “It promotes the mixing and mingling of people who normally wouldn't be communicating with each other.”
BREAKOUTS AND BRAINSTORMING
The smaller, the better. Tyler of Villanova says, “We're seeing smaller to mid-sized groups, of seven to 10 people, or sometimes up to 15, broken out within breakout rooms, with flip charts plastered all over the rooms. It's mostly brainstorming and strategic sessions that use these.”
“I have definitely seen trends in my training meetings in the seating arrangement, changing from traditional classroom-style to semi-rounds or semicircular seating,” says Annette Zarriello, meeting coordinator, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, Durham, N.C. “It gives a little bit more elbow room, and is conducive to more interactive learning styles. Many of our groups become smaller work groups or breakout sessions,” she adds.
Zarriello, a big consumer of training centers, uses the R. David Thomas Executive Conference Center, an ARAMARK Harrison Lodging center, in Durham, N.C, for senior-level training or strategic meetings. (See “On Location,” page 130.)
EDUCATE THE EXECS
Although there may be a drop-off in training for lower-level employees, senior-level training is very popular. “Leadership continues to be extremely important for Inspire Pharmaceuticals, and to the industry as a whole,” says Betsy Terrett, senior executive associate for Christy Shaffer, the CEO of the Durham, N.C.-based company. “Senior-level training has not fallen off, and it will continue to be important for us to educate our leaders on all the different facets of the business.”
“Our open enrollment training and our executive retreats continue to grow in size,” says Lynn Oddenino, senior manager for client services, Bell Leadership, Chapel Hill, N.C. “With so many changes happening in the economy and in individual businesses, companies are seeing a tremendous need to keep their senior-level people motivated, because their attitudes filter to everyone else.”
“We definitely see a trend in training toward teaching multi-tasking,” says Richard Keating vice president of marketing for Millennium Hotels and Resorts in New York City, which includes the Millennium Broadway Hotel New York Conference Center, a six-floor conference center within the larger hotel.
“Companies are doing a lot more with less,” he says. “We're seeing professionals and managers being trained in their own industries, or [being trained] to do things they didn't do before, because there are many fewer layers in corporate America.” Keating has seen an increase in pharmaceutical meetings at his property. “It's all about how to do business in today's challenging times.”
ONE DAY ONLY
There is an increase in one-day meetings. “We've picked up a lot of day meetings in the medical and pharmaceutical area,” says Trinitapoli of Harrison. “I'm not sure if that's because there are more day meetings, or just because we're being more flexible,” she adds. Pharma companies are doing more training on site, which means they could be running low on internal meeting space, so they're bringing day meetings to off-site venues, like us.”