Attention medical meeting and CME planners! It's budgeting season at pharmaceutical companies right now. This is the one time of year that medical marketers put aside their product promotions, sales meetings, and advertising schedules to concentrate on one important task — determining their strategies and budgets for 2006.

Pharma companies are also planning their CME budgets — and although their stringent new funding systems make communicating with them difficult, you can still take steps to boost their awareness of your program.

I was reminded sharply of the importance of this opportunity when I recently sought funding for a gastroenterology conference that my group is helping to support. The speakers are superstars. The attendees are the spot-on target audience for the companies we approached. But the conference takes place in November — at the tail end of the fiscal year. Commercial supporters loved the conference, but many of them didn't have any budget left. Fortunately, our marketing team came up with some solutions — but it needn't have been this hard if we had started soliciting funding last fall.

Get Proactive

Don't fall into this trap. Here are a few tips for ensuring that your meeting is on the minds of medical marketers and CME directors as they plan their 2006 budgets.

  • Send a “save-the-date” postcard or e-mail to your database. Even if you don't yet have full details about your meeting programs, send out a calendar of events with key dates, topics, and venues. If you only have one or two meetings each year, send out a teaser postcard for each one. For example, send a postcard to product managers to alert them to the great opportunity to gain company and product exposure among doctors at the upcoming conference. At the same time, send a postcard to the CME director with a message like “Make a real difference in the practice of XYZ specialty. Supporting the XYZ conference in March 2006 will enable 2,500 doctors to gain access to the most advanced research in XYZ specialty.”

  • Update your Web site now with a calendar of events. Always provide a “next step” on your Web site, such as an e-mail address or a phone number where potential exhibitors or commercial supporters can reach you.

  • Register your meetings on free databases. Product managers, CME directors, and others search these databases as they plan their strategies for 2006. Here are few good ones: (click on the Medical Meetings Finder in left sidebar);;; and

  • Create a simple PowerPoint presentation that you can use as a follow-up piece. Include a mission statement for the meeting, a sketch of the preliminary program, attendee demographics, survey results from previous meetings, information about the exhibiting and supporting organizations, bios for your scientific chairs, and an outline of the opportunities for exhibitors and commercial supporters.

  • Pick up the phone and call your 25 most important exhibitors and commercial supporters (if your CME contacts will still take your phone calls!); remind them of how your organization can contribute to their efforts to educate healthcare professionals and encourage them to include budget in their 2006 plans so that you can continue to work together.

Remember — the majority of companies will finalize their 2006 budgets by the end of December. Don't let that window of opportunity close on your upcoming meetings.

Jennifer Goodwin is president of The Goodwin Group, a global medical communications agency in Arlington, Mass. Reach her at