The top challenges facing independent meeting planners in the pharmaceutical industry today are proving their value to clients and protecting intellectual property, said participants at an exclusive summit for senior-level independent planners.

Held during the Fourth Annual Pharmaceutical Meeting Planners Forum in March in Baltimore, the workshop was moderated by Terri Breining, CMP, CMM, president, Concepts Worldwide, a Carlsbad, Calif.-based independent meeting management company.

It's getting tougher to build relationships with clients because of the influence of procurement departments and the focus on the bottom line, said participants. With many companies establishing preferred-vendor agreements, it's harder for independents to get a foot in the door. And once you get that foot in the door, it’s difficult to maintain relationships because of internal changes that frequently occur within corporate meetings departments.

Independent planners need to make an effort to form relationships beyond “the gatekeeper,” the meetings department contact, because if that person leaves, you have to start from scratch building that relationship with someone else. In some cases, participants said, the experienced independent planner who has worked with the client for years knows more about the client’s processes and procedures than the new, inexperienced internal planner that they have to work with. That’s frustrating, they said.

Independents have to make connections with procurement personnel, since they are more involved than ever with vendor selection. The problem, participants said, is that procurement doesn’t always see their value or have a complete understanding of what third-party vendors do.

Independents need to be proactive and educate procurement about the meeting management standards and processes they follow. Perhaps, some participants suggested, independents should formulate industrywide standards to help their clients better understand their value.

Another hot topic for the group revolved around intellectual property and ethics. Many attendees bemoaned the fact that clients have taken their ideas put forth in a proposal and then given those ideas to the lowest bidder. Aside from suing the client, which no supplier wants to do, how do you protect your ideas from being co-opted?

Participants discussed creating a code of ethics for the profession. Meanwhile, one option is to refuse to work with such a client. Nearly half of the planners in the room said they have had to “fire” clients—that is, turn down business or a chance to bid on the project because of a bad experience in the past.