The “AIG effect” has hit the pharmaceutical meetings sector. During a closed-door summit for senior-level corporate planners at the Pharmaceutical Meeting Management Forum, participants pointed out that although the pharmaceutical industry is way ahead of the curve in terms of implementing business practices in meetings, the public perception of incentives and corporate events is spilling over into the medical niche. In addition to the perception issue, pharmaceutical companies face increasing regulation.

At the session, facilitated by Lynn Ridzon, director, global strategic sourcing, Meetings & Events, Amgen, Thousand Oaks, Calif., participants discussed how they were handling the perception problem.

Under the Radar

One planner said her company canceled its national sales meeting to avoid bad public relations, though they will consider it for next year. “Ask yourself why you are doing the meeting,” said one participant. “Don't do it just because you've always done it. [But] assuming there is a solid business objective, you should hold the meeting.”

Regardless of public perception, incentives are important for employees, said an attendee. “People have earned those trips, even though the media does not necessarily understand the meetings business and incorrectly paints them as junkets.”

“We need to keep employees motivated,” agreed another participant. One planner said she consolidated three incentive programs into one for the first time. While the top performers felt cheated by the consolidation, planners mitigated that by giving them more perks, she explained. One participant said her company never discussed canceling or relocating incentives; they are booked through 2014.

Step Up and Communicate

In this environment of intense scrutiny, it's important for planners to educate public relations people about the importance of meetings, one attendee said. “They don't understand meetings.” Planners should also “step up and communicate,” in the public arena, he said. For instance, in an effort to discourage pharmaceutical companies from wooing doctors and persuading them to prescribe expensive drugs, some states are mandating that companies report the money they spend on healthcare professionals. In response, the attendee said he wrote to a state senator pointing out that such regulations actually drive up the cost of healthcare because the systems cost companies so much money to implement.