At the Fourth Annual Pharmaceutical Meeting Planners Forum, held last week in Baltimore, speakers presented new eye-opening statistics and offered valuable insights into establishing a global meetings program.

Elio Evangelista, research team leader at Durham, N.C.–based Cutting Edge Information, kicked off the conference—held at the Baltimore Convention Center March 17 through 19—with the results of a survey conducted by CEI in collaboration with conference organizers Medical Meetings magazine and The Center For Business Intelligence.

The survey revealed some interesting trends in how pharmaceutical companies view meetings. For example, while the number of meetings is decreasing at pharma companies, spending on meetings is up. For 2008, the average meeting department expects to spend $6.6 million on 1,496 meetings. Also, 91 percent of companies outsource some meeting-planning functions, and 73 percent of the average drug company’s meeting budget goes to outside vendors. Further, 59 percent of meeting planning departments fall under the authority of marketing, while 29 percent are overseen by sales and 23 percent are under procurement (some meetings programs report to multiple departments).

During an industry thought-leaders panel on the first day of the conference, moderator George Odom, senior director, Advito, Dallas, led a discussion on the hot buttons of going global with strategic meetings management programs. The panelists from pharmaceutical and third-party meetings-management companies fielded a range of questions, from dealing with country-specific regulations and language barriers to getting regional buy-in and implementing global technology platforms.

The session sparked the interest of many planners and suppliers who opted to attend the afternoon track on global meetings management and procurement to continue the discussion. The industry’s need for education on this topic was punctuated by an instant poll of the group: 89 percent of session attendees said their companies want to globalize current SMMP programs, but only 33 percent believe their companies are ready to embark on such a process. To help them in their efforts, meeting and procurement execs from various pharma companies offered tips and best practices for implementing a global program.

The global procurement track was just one of eight educational tracks on day one. Day two kicked off with some 30 lively roundtable discussions, where rounds of 10 met to discuss topics such as green meetings, international meetings, product launches, investigator meetings, and work/life balance. Notes from the discussions will be sent to all participants after the meeting.

Keynote speaker David Stern, executive vice president, endocrinology, EMD Serono Inc., opened the conference with a presentation on how meetings, and meeting planners, can improve the damaged public perception of the pharmaceutical industry.

Look for a complete wrap-up of the conference in the June issue of MM.