A Common Thread running through the sessions at the Third annual Pharmaceutical Meeting Planners Forum was the growing importance of meeting professionals at pharmaceutical companies, not just as logisticians, but also as strategists, marketers, and compliance gatekeepers.

Co-organized by Medical Meetings and the Center for Business Intelligence, the conference was the largest to date, attracting more than 900 attendees to the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia March 26 and 27. Pharmaceutical meeting professionals convened to network with their peers and to learn about trends that are affecting — and expanding — their jobs.

Several sessions dealt with the vital role that meeting professionals play in making sure that meetings — and everyone who touches them, including third-party vendors — comply with the growing list of federal, state, and industry regulations that aim to rein in pharmaceutical companies' influence on healthcare professionals by limiting gifts to physicians and meetings at luxury venues. Ensuring compliance is now as much a part of the job as meeting planning is, said many participants.

While many pharma meeting planners have been living with procurement's involvement for some years, the demand for data seems never-ending. “We've got that service gene,” said one senior planner. “But we've got to be analytical, too.”

Keynote speaker Michael W. Young, senior director, global oncology strategy, Eisai Inc., talked about how critical meetings are to improving the tarnished public image of the industry and substantiating the value of pharmaceuticals. A thought-leaders panel moderated by David Rich, vice president, strategic marketing worldwide at George P. Johnson, and Carol Krugman, director, client services at the event-marketing consultancy, addressed the need for planners to look at meetings not only for their social and educational worth, but also for their marketing potential. They presented the results of the first study of event-marketing trends in the pharmaceutical industry.

The conference featured seven half-day workshops, including “Boot Camp — Learn the Basics of Pharmaceutical Meeting Planning,” which drew more than 300 attendees and featured a lively give and take between the presenters and the audience. There were also workshops for senior planners, independents, and medical-education company professionals, as well as workshops for planners of investigator meetings, product launches, and national sales meetings. Day two featured six concurrent tracks (boot camp, strategic meeting management, cost containment, international meetings, technology, and professional development) and 23 breakout sessions.

Before the fourth forum next March, CBI and MM will sponsor a West Coast version of the conference, the inaugural Medical Device and Bio/Pharmaceutical Meeting Planners Forum, in November. Exact dates and location have not yet been determined.