Keynote speaker Francois Nader, MD, president and CEO at NPS Pharmaceuticals, provided a 30,000-foot view of trends in the pharmaceutical industry, and offered a CEO’s perspective on how pharmaceutical meeting managers must secure a “seat at the table” in this seminal year for the medical meetings industry. He kicked off the 8th Annual Pharmaceutical Meeting Management Forum—now called Pharma Forum 2012—March 26 at the Orlando World Center Marriott Resort and Convention Center.

“Be in on the strategic development, not just the execution,” Nader told the crowd of more than 600 pharmaceutical meeting professionals at the Pharma Forum, hosted by The Center for Business Intelligence and Medical Meetings magazine. With all the economic, regulatory, and political uncertainty affecting the industry, meeting managers have to be an integral part of strategic discussions with senior executives. “Consider yourself meeting managers not meeting planners,” said Nader, because senior executives need meeting managers not to just plan meetings but to meet corporate objectives. “Secure a seat at the table.”

What is the value of meeting managers to a corporation? “You are compliance gatekeepers,” he said. “Whether you like it or not, you are it.” That means that even if some logistics functions are outsourced, meeting managers must still own the compliance piece. “Compliance cannot be outsourced.”

Meeting managers are also responsible for creating, maintaining, and leveraging long-term relationships with vendors. “You own these relationships,” he said, and that gives meeting managers outstanding leverage. “Relationships are always core,” Nader said, while something like booking a flight is not. “You cannot outsource relationship-building.”

To make a meeting successful, Nader said, the objectives have to be “crystal clear” and agreed upon by all parties. And, of course, they must be met. Also, he added, meetings have to be “memorable … for the right reasons,” and of value to both the sponsors and the participants. Concerning the effect of the Sunshine Act on meetings, Nader said it will create more administrative burdens, more costs, and longer lead times. There will be limited room for improvisation, and errors in reporting or tracking spend can be costly.

Following Nader’s address, conference chair James Vachon, associate director, events, meetings, and conventions, at Millenium: The Takeda Oncology Company, moderated an engaging and highly interactive panel discussion, which featured Scott Gray, president and COO, Gray Consulting International Meetings and Incentives; Karen VanderPloeg, director, travel and meetings, Daiichi Sankyo; Michele Bartolone, CMP, CEO, Meetings Sites Pro/Global Meetings Group; and Kimberly O’Connor, senior director, meetings solutions, Sanofi. Topics ranged from how to show value to how to manage regulatory challenges. Panelists emphasized that value refers not just to the actual bottom line, but to how meetings are perceived.

When Vachon asked those in attendance how many would be prepared for the reporting requirements of the Sunshine Act if it went into effect today, several hands went up. A few audience members said that their corporate integrity agreements already have brought them into compliance, and Vachon added that many meeting managers are probably farther along than they think.

O’Connor said it’s important to have regular meetings with senior leadership in the compliance, legal, and purchasing departments so all are on the same page with regard to meeting the requirements of the Sunshine Act. For those who have difficulty getting a seat at the table, one audience member asked CEO Nader for his advice. “It’s hard to argue with data—it all boils down to data, data, data,” said Nader. “In my experience, at the end of the day, common sense will prevail.”

Visit Florida CEO Gary Sain welcomed the delegation to Orlando in his opening remarks. “Orando hosts more medical meetings than any other destination in the country, and we wouldn’t have that distinction if not for your support,” he told the crowd.

Pharma Forum 2012 continues through March 28.