Survey results show planners taking on multiple strategic roles
Changes to the pharmaceutical meeting planner profession have come fast and furious the past few years — from increased federal scrutiny and compliance mandates to the involvement of the procurement department to centralization initiatives. Now, with the release of what we believe is the first-ever survey of pharmaceutical, medical device, and biotech meeting planners, “The Evolving Global Meeting Management Strategy,” we can provide a detailed examination of how companies are adapting to the ever-changing environment.
Three key trends emerged from the survey, conducted by Cutting Edge Information, Durham, N.C., a research and consulting organization specializing in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device industries; in collaboration withmagazine and the Center for Business Intelligence. One, companies have overwhelmingly shifted to a centralized meeting planning structure, allowing planners to become more strategic. Two, planners expect budgets to remain stable or increase for 2008, and much of that spending will be outsourced. Three, companies are applying stricter policies due to the regulatory environment.
Centralization Takes Off
Almost all companies polled, 96 percent, have meeting planning departments, with 82 percent of them utilizing a centralized meeting planning structure. Procurement's increased involvement in meetings, as well as the critical need for compliance with regulations, are two main reasons for the shift to the centralized structure, said Elio Evangelista, research team leader at Cutting Edge Information, who presented the survey findings at the Fourth Annual Pharmaceutical Meeting Planners Forum. With a central repository for all meetings activity, companies find it easier to track and leverage spend as well as gain better compliance oversight.
However, the centralized process is mandated at only 47 percent of respondents' companies, while 32 percent of companies make it mandatory for some meetings. Further, 21 percent of respondents said the centralized meeting process is voluntary at their companies. The results show a disconnect, said Evangelista, between establishing the structure to track meetings and actually tracking them.
While the majority of meetings departments report to marketing, the landscape is shifting as meetings departments also report to other parts of the company.
Taking into account that meetings departments may report to multiple departments, 59 percent of respondents said their departments are overseen by marketing, 27 percent by sales, 23 percent by procurement, 18 percent by research and development, 14 percent by clinical operations, 14 percent by medical affairs, and 9 percent by each of the following: legal/compliance, regulatory, management markets/reimbursement, new product planning, market research, and business development.
“It's interesting to see the shift over time,” said Evangelista. “Five years ago, you wouldn't have seen some of these departments on the list. It shows that meeting planners are interacting with many more groups.”
Indicative of the increased visibility of meetings at companies, the survey shows that the majority of meetings departments (63 percent) are run by directors or those with higher titles. The longer the department has existed, the greater the likelihood it's helmed by a director or higher. In fact, 89 percent of meetings departments in existence for 10 or more years are led by a director or someone higher up.
Why is this important? According to the survey, departments headed by a director or someone higher get twice the budget ($4.7 million, on average) than departments run by a senior manager or someone lower ($2.5 million, on average).
In terms of the type of meetings that centralized teams are responsible for planning, 63 percent say they handle each of the following: product launches, sales meetings, and medical conventions/trade shows. More than half are responsible for management meetings (58 percent), strategy meetings (53 percent), and dinner meetings (53 percent). Fewer than half manage staff training (47 percent), non-certified CME (37 percent), vendor meetings (32 percent), investigator meetings (25 percent), satellite symposia (21 percent), and online meetings (16 percent).
Along with the shift to centralization, there is a move to outsourcing, with 91 percent of all companies surveyed outsourcing at least some aspect of meeting planning.
Breaking the numbers down by company type, pharmaceutical companies outsource the most, allocating 73 percent of their meetings budget to third-party vendors, according to survey respondents. Pharma companies are not outsourcing their entire meetings departments, as they have an average of 11 people on staff. Biotech companies outsource 48 percent of their spend, while device manufacturers outsource just 14 percent.
Given the heavy reliance on third-party suppliers, it should come as no surprise that 91 percent of survey respondents use preferred vendors.
With the combination of outsourcing and meeting consolidation, the role of the planner has shifted from the tactical to the strategic. Said one respondent: “We outsource the core logistics and concentrate on strategic positions and business management, such as risk management, compliance, etc.”
Budgets Go Up
Asked about their meeting practices for this year and last year, pharmaceutical company respondents said they will hold an average of 693 meetings in 2008, down slightly from the average of 694 meetings in 2007. Yet their companies expect to spend about 3 percent more in 2008 than they did last year, spending $6.6 million on meetings in 2008, up from $6.4 million in 2007.
A closer look shows 40 percent of pharmaceutical companies will increase their meeting spending this year, while 10 percent will spend less. Half say spending will remain the same.
On the other hand, spending per meeting is actually decreasing. In 2008, pharmaceutical companies expected to spend approximately $197,400 per meeting, 9 percent less than the $216,700 per meeting spent last year. This decrease is the result of several factors, says Evangelista, including outsourcing, compliance, and the buying power of centralized departments.
Biotech company respondents expect to hold an average of 285 meetings in 2008, up 16 percent from the 240 held in 2007. However, they will spend 5 percent less on meetings, $3.8 million, compared to last year's spend of $4 million. Medical device companies surveyed will hold an average of 43 meetings this year, up 17 percent from 38 last year. Spending remains the same, $2 million.
Staying Close to Home
One area that has been scaled back is international meetings. In 2007, respondents held 70 percent of their meetings in the U.S. In 2008, companies will hold 74 percent of their meetings stateside. Respondents say they don't want to deal with the additional compliance issues that come into play in different international destinations, said Evangelista. “[Regulatory issues] take up 75 percent of our time,” said one survey participant. “Three years ago it was nothing like this. Now the governments are making it so difficult for physicians to attend that they are actually reducing the amount of education their physicians have.”
When companies do take meetings beyond borders, Europe is the most popular region, with respondents expecting to hold 9 percent of meetings there in 2008 — down from 12 percent in 2007. Specifically, the United Kingdom was the most popular international destination in 2007, with 88 percent of companies holding meetings there. About 71 percent held meetings in South America and Canada, while 59 percent met in Asia (excluding Japan), 53 percent in Japan, and 18 percent in Africa and the Middle East.
It's no surprise that the regulatory environment has made planners' jobs much more difficult. “Regulatory issues in general have become overwhelming to meeting planners,” said one respondent. “Then lawyers get involved who don't understand the business, which interferes with flexibility.”
Asked about their biggest compliance challenge, 41 percent of respondents answered tracking physician spending. Thirty-six percent say the regulations and scrutiny of physicians made it more difficult to attract doctors to meetings.
Another hardship created by regulations relates to site selection. Twenty-seven percent say their companies have limited site selection to comply with regulations. For example, 52 percent of respondents' companies prohibit meetings at 5-star hotels, while 43 percent won't allow meetings in resorts. However, 39 percent have no restrictions on where a meeting can be held. “The names and qualities of hotels have become more of an issue,” said one respondent, “but stars can be deceiving because a 5-star hotel in some countries might be pretty average in another.”
Not everyone views the regulatory environment negatively, as 18 percent of respondents believe the rules have leveled the playing field and reduced unfair advantages. Another 14 percent say the regulations have had no effect on their company's meeting policies.
Metrics Stay Soft
Finally, most companies are trying to determine the return on investment of meetings, but only a small percentage have been able to measure financial performance. Sixty percent are measuring meeting returns using soft metrics, such as customer satisfaction and delivery of key messages; while just 15 percent are measuring using both financial metrics and soft metrics. One quarter do not measure performance or.
The focus on soft metrics is not necessarily negative; in fact, the term is a misnomer, said one survey participant. “In my mind, ‘Does this meeting fulfill your need? Did you like your hotel? Did you like your room?’ are all hard metrics. If you receive a low [score] on any of those, it can affect learning, so I don't perceive those as soft.”
One major theme that emerged from the data and was discussed throughout the conference was perhaps best expressed by Carol Krugman, CMP, CMM, director, client services, George P. Johnson, North Easton, Mass., during a thought leaders discussion. The pharmaceutical meeting professional is becoming a hybrid — part planner, part procurement expert, part compliance officer, part travel manager, part strategist, she said. The profession is taking a quantum leap now as planners evolve and adapt on the fly, said Krugman, but for the next generation, this will all be second nature.
Mark Your Calendars
Second Annual West Coast Medical Device and Bio/Pharmaceutical Meeting Planners Forum, December 8 to 9, 2008, San Diego. For info, visit www.pharmameetingplanners.com/West.
Fifth Annual Pharmaceutical Meeting Planners Forum, March 29 to 31, 2009, Baltimore. For info, visit www.pharmameetingplanners.com.
This survey, “The Evolving Global Meeting Management Strategy,” was conducted by Cutting Edge Information, Durham, N.C., in collaboration with Medical Meetings magazine and the Center for Business Intelligence from December 2007 through February 2008. Respondents were recruited at the First Annual West Coast Medical Device and Bio/Pharmaceutical Meeting Planners Forum, December 10 to 11, 2007, and also through the databases of Cutting Edge, Medical Meetings, and the Center for Business Intelligence. Participants filled out a nine-page, 19-question quantitative survey. Researchers interviewed selected respondents via telephone to uncover more detailed information. Nineteen companies participated in the survey, including 10 pharmaceutical, five medical device, and four biotech companies. Data was broken out accordingly.
The Rest of the Story
The 100-plus page report is available for purchase. For information, visit www.pharmameetingmanagement.com. Medical Meetings subscribers will receive a 10 percent discount through July 31, 2008.