With the pharmaceutical industry in flux, the economy in turmoil, and regulations on the rise, third-party meeting managers anticipate tough times ahead. During an exclusive summit for senior-level third-party planners at the Pharmaceutical Meeting Management Forum, participants discussed their concerns and strategies. The session was co-moderated by Terri Breining, CMP, CMM, CEO and president, Concepts Worldwide Inc., Carlsbad, Calif.; and John Patrick Oroho, Esq., partner, Porzio, Bromberg & Newman P.C., a Washington-based law firm specializing in regulatory law.

New Markets

Attendees acknowledged that given the pharmaceutical industry's changing approach to sales and marketing (see “New Models, New Meetings,” page 24), companies will produce fewer product launches in the future. Already, large pharma companies have reduced the number of meetings they hold each year. “Meaning less business to go around,” said one planner.

Where will new business come from? “We have to go after the smaller companies,” said one planner, underscoring the prediction that smaller pharma companies would be producing — and marketing — more specialty drugs, not the blockbusters that have traditionally driven sales-and-marketing efforts.

Another seasoned planner predicted an increase in international meetings since pharma companies are focusing on emerging markets for their medicines. “It's more important than ever to become global in your meeting management experience, particularly in the BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India, China] countries,” she said.

Protect Yourself

The next stage of the discussion revolved around compliance. Attendees asked: What are third parties' obligations to follow rules, such as the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America's Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals? How much education should they give their pharma clients? What if clients don't want to hear about compliance?

Breining, Oroho, and other experienced pros advised planners: Protect yourselves. Leave an e-mail trail that makes sure you state your understanding of the client's involvement or non-involvement in compliance so that you are protected. “It needs to be done in a politic way, of course,” said Breining. By documenting all discussions around compliance, it represents “implied agreement.'” However, she said, it isn't the job of third-party meeting managers to tell clients how they ought to interpret the PhRMA code or their internal guidelines. “We should not impose our judgment on them or their decisions. We're not the moral police.”

Oroho, Breining and others recommended that planners keep informed about proposed new regulations in their own states and work with convention and visitors bureaus and other stakeholders in the meetings industry to educate local politicians and policymakers about the consequences for meetings.