WHEN I STOOD at the lectern to make my opening remarks at the First Annual Pharmaceutical Meeting Planners Forum this spring and looked across the meeting room packed with 500 attendees, I thought: Wow! I was thrilled to see that what had begun as an idea more than a year earlier had evolved into something so tangible and exciting. (For conference coverage, see our cover story beginning on page 20 and news coverage beginning on page 28.)

The journey from idea to conference was based on teamwork. As many of the Forum attendees discussed, partnerships are now an essential aspect of meeting planning. Medical Meetings collaborated with the Center for Business Intelligence, a training company with expertise in the pharmaceutical industry, to produce the event. What was most fascinating for me was working with my counterpart at CBI, Courtney Ryan, to develop the content and choose the speakers. We called meeting planners and asked them what problems kept them up at night and what issues they would like resolved at the conference. Their input shaped the program.

What kept me up at night were the crises that inevitably happen when planning a meeting — the things you deal with on a daily basis. In our case, we outgrew our hotel. Thanks to the persistence of the CBI team, we found an alternative space — and almost outgrew that one as well. This was, of course, both good news and bad news — at some point we realized we had created more than a one-time event and began calling the conference the “First Annual…”

All the stress was worth it as the conference unfolded. One of the most valuable elements was the peer-to-peer interchange. When moderating a thought-leaders panel, Chris Pentz, CMP, president, Pentz Group Communications, recalled that years ago, as an in-house pharma planner, she was told by her employer to avoid the other pharma planners at meeting industry events. What a contrast to the Forum where, during a closed-door session, in-house pharma planners met with their colleagues and shared their common frustrations. One participant said she wished the closed-door session had lasted all day; another said she now felt less alone.

We plan to keep the camaraderie generated at the conference alive until next year's event by starting an online group for pharma planners. One hotelier suggested creating a pharma meetings advisory board where suppliers and planners could hammer out best practices for contracts and other hot issues. Terrific idea!

The energy was exhilarating and reinforced my belief in the power of meetings to build community and spark creativity, ideas, and solutions. I salute all of you who dedicate your careers to producing those experiences.

CONGRATS to Executive Editor Sue Pelletier, whose story “Stark Raving Mad,” (September/October 2004), about the impact of the Stark II federal rules on CME, placed as a finalist this year in the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Awards. The Neal awards are the most prestigious in our industry, and this recognition is the greatest honor MM has ever received. Great work, Sue!

You can check out Sue's story at mm.meetingsnet.com.