Medical meeting exhibitors are struggling to interpret how the recent California Marketing Compliance Law, which regulates pharma companies' promotional activities and gifts to physicians, affects their regional and national meeting activities. While meetings that target only California doctors (such as local association chapters or societies that cater primarily to California physicians) will fall under close scrutiny, opinion differs widely as to whether exhibitors will need to keep track of items they give to California physicians who visit their booths at national — or even international — meetings. (For an explanation of the law, and more information about its application to medical meetings, see story on page 63.)

Regardless of how each company interprets the law, there are ways for you to help your exhibitors with compliance. Here are some suggestions.

  1. Provide demographic data

    Your exhibitors may need to know how many of your attendees are from California. Make demographic data available before the conference (based on previous years' numbers), and provide a final count shortly after the conference closes. Your exhibitors may need this information to give to their internal compliance officers. By showing that you understand the needs of your exhibitors, you may even find that you attract additional participation from companies that are erring on the side of caution.

  2. Use tech tools

    If you still do not use data-tracking methods on your registration badges (microchips in the attendee cards or at least a bar code on the printed badge), get with the times! Exhibitors will begin to demand these options to support their quest for compliance with the CMCL. Even small conferences will need to invest in this technology or risk losing a major portion of their exhibitor revenues. Don't be too dismayed if you have to make a hefty investment to meet this need. You can extend the benefit of this purchase by offering data-tracking software and even data-analysis services as part of your exhibitor packages.

  3. Educate exhibitors

    Don't assume that all your exhibitors will be informed about the new law. A survey of exhibitors at healthcare conferences that took place in California was recently conducted by exhibitor consulting company Marketech Inc. of Westborough, Mass. Surprisingly, a full 28 percent of those surveyed were unaware of the California Marketing Compliance Law. Furthermore, device companies, who have found themselves lumped in with pharmaceutical companies regarding CMCL compliance, may not be as well versed in Office of Inspector General and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America guidelines. By appointing a member of your staff to help device exhibitors — and any others who need information — understand their obligations, you will win their appreciation and support.

  4. Offer compliant gifts

    Consider partnering with companies that sell guideline-compliant educational products, such as medical textbooks and anatomical models. By highlighting acceptable options in your exhibitor marketing materials, you position yourself as a proactive leader in medical meetings.

  5. Stay informed

    The California law looks to be only the first of many. Maine, Vermont, Nevada, New Mexico, Minnesota, West Virginia, and Washington D.C. are all drafting laws that could be even more restrictive of pharmaceutical marketing activity. Appoint an internal specialist to keep an eye on how things progress. Keep that person tied closely to your marketing and business development teams to ensure that the services you offer to exhibitors and commercial supporters include information about these important new industry regulations.

Jennifer Goodwin is president of a The Goodwin Group International, LLC, a medical communications company in Arlington, Mass. You can reach her at