Behind closed doors, the attendees of the Pharmaceutical Meeting Planners Forum broke into three groups: corporate in-house pharma planners, independent meeting planners, and hoteliers and suppliers. What did they talk about? Each other. From comments heard afterward, each group appreciated having the opportunity to speak freely about common issues within their sectors.
The session for third-party planners, attended by at least 100, divided further into three groups: medical education and communication companies (MECCs), independent meeting planners, and meeting management companies. Led by Vigdis J. Tonne, vice president, director of meeting and event services, Publicis Medical Education Group, Chicago, the session explored several challenges.
For independent meeting management companies, the recurring challenges revolved around the entrance of corporate procurement departments into meeting management and consolidation of meeting spend. When companies go through consolidation and narrow the number of vendors they use to get preferred rates, independent planners said relationships help you get your foot in the door, but don't necessarily give you a leg up on the competition to actually win the preferred-vendor status. “Because of procurement's involvement,” said one planner, “it all comes down to charts and metrics.”
If procurement's involvement takes relationships out of the equation, then how are meeting management companies securing pharma accounts? That is, do independents still need sales-people? Many owners said they had let their salespeople go and were now doing sales and marketing themselves (in addition to everything else).
One salesperson from a larger meeting management firm said he used to call on the VP of sales in a pharma company and developed that relationship through golf and entertaining. “Now, the procurement people want nothing to do with being ‘sold’,” he said.
The introduction of procurement and preferred-vendor agreements has changed the pricing models for third parties as well. Many independents said they are less likely to receive hotel commissions, that either the pharma company or online site selection vendor is getting part of the commission. Planners also said they no longer use percentage pricing models; per-delegate fees or hourly fees are more the norm.
The MECCs had some similar concerns. Just as with the independent event management companies, MECC planners, who focus more on content and invitingto meetings, said “just because you're a preferred vendor does not necessarily mean you get the business, but past relationships do help you get a foot in the door. At least you know the RFP is coming.”
“Also, you can still get business if you're not in the preferred-vendor program,” said another MECC planner, adding that MECCs need to redirect their efforts.
Some advice: Promote your expertise in whatever medical discipline you have experience in — diabetes, for example. Focus on your core competencies.
There are more challenges on the content side than ever before, said the MECC planners, which involve issues that need legal review. That means that getting approvals for papers and presentations in a timely manner is becoming more of a challenge. “Lawyers are running the show,” said one planner.
In regard to regulations and guidelines, MECC personnel said: “Some pharma companies don't even understand their own internal guidelines.”
If a client asks you to do something that would violate government or PhRMA code guidelines, these MECCs said to just say no, and to “use the compliance officers at the pharma companies as your allies,” as needed.