Just the idea of a cool, remote physician in a paper lab coat slipping in beside another doc and, brush dripping with orange paint, decorating his colleague's lab coat, seems farfetched. “But doctors like to have fun, too,” says Anne Bruce, event manager, Atlanta Arrangements, who has done several “giving back” projects with medical companies.

At a March convention in Atlanta, her DMC was asked to put on an evening program for 75 guests of a pharmaceutical company. Instead of dancing in the hotel ballroom, guests gathered around tables laden with paint pots, brushes, and sections of stretched canvas murals. Guided by artist instructions, the docs applied paint (to each other as well as to canvas), joked, laughed, and networked while designing a mural destined for the walls of a hospital.

Organizing health-related projects at meetings not only helps companies develop goodwill in the local community and receive some favorable media attention — at a time when, let's face it, with all the press coverage of pharma's lavish events for doctors, drug firms are in particular need of image-boosting — but the programs are also excellent teambuilding and networking tools, say event producers.

Here are a few examples of health care projects that companies have incorporated into their internal meetings, as well as satellite charity events that were held in conjunction with association conferences.

Lasting Benefits

At the American Association of Health Plans' annual conference in San Diego, scheduled for June, member organizations PacifiCare and Bayer Diagnostics said they wanted to do something to give back to the community. The result: VolunTours of San Diego organized a health screening event in the low-income area of City Heights. The screening is a collaborative effort, with numerous local agencies participating, as well as AAHP member companies.

Nor will the residents of City Heights be forgotten once the AAHP convention is over. “The intent of involving local agencies and local media is so that follow-up can be done and progress continued,” says David Clemmons, development director of VolunTours. Clemmons points out that because City Heights is a multicultural community where 30 languages are spoken, “The involvement of local agencies is crucial to give the health screening credibility with local residents, to help with follow-up, and to assist in communication. In fact, some company underwriting will pay for explanatory and training booklets in eight different languages.” At press time, organizers anticipated that they would screen 2,000 to 2,500 people.

Curing the Merger Blues

When two companies merge, the resulting meetings can be quite tense. A charity event helps bring people together, says Liz Bigham, creative director, brand marketing, for brand communications firm Jack Morton Worldwide (www.jack mortonworldwide.com) in New York City.

“Some years ago, when we organized the merger meeting for the two companies that were to become Pharmacia & Upjohn, we brought the two companies' sales forces together to help support the Boggy Creek Gang Camp for chronically and terminally ill children.”

Teams of employees landscaped the grounds, cheered on by camp founder Paul Newman. The teambuilding was so successful that the company repeated it three times, involving more than 2,400 employees.

Positive Media Coverage

More recently, Bigham explains, Jack Morton Worldwide created a project where 200 ophthalmic sales reps painted a California grammar school yard with solar systems, maps, flower gardens, and game boards. A year later the same client took its meeting to Florida and the reps landscaped the grounds at the Lighthouse for the Blind. Bigham says, “The projects built unity and, not incidentally, generated favorable media coverage for the companies involved.”

Charity Begins at Home

Pharmaceutical Care Network, a Sacramento, Calif.-based health care information and pharmacy benefit management company, devotes a large chunk of its quarterly meetings to TeamPCN. Initiated by employees to assist a colleague diagnosed with breast cancer, TeamPCN has grown to “become a focus of company efforts, not only at our quarterly meetings where projects are planned, but outside of business hours, too,” says Tea L. D. Silvestre, marketing communications manager. TeamPCN, supported in part by company donations, organizes blood drives and nursing home visits, and raises funds for breast cancer, AIDS, and the March of Dimes.

Community Project Partners

The following groups have experience organizing health care projects for medical meetings:

  • Atlanta Arrangers, Atlanta. Contact Anne Bruce at (404) 443-5959; www.atlantaarrange.com.

  • VolunTours, San Diego. Contact: David Clemmons, development director, at (619) 497-5541 ext. 244; www.sandiegovoluntours.com.

  • Pacific Agenda, San Francisco. Contact Kerry Painter, general manager, at (415) 433-4312; www.pacificagenda.com.

  • PRA Destination Management has offices around the country. Visit www.pra.com.