Despite the chaos caused by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, nothing beats face-to-face contact, medical meeting planners are finding. Following a brief rush of cancellations in mid- to late September, firms that manage pharmaceutical events say the pace of bookings has quickly resumed.
Christina Culbert, vice president of scientific services for PGI MedCom in New York, says her division has not seen events canceled. The only short-term change involved substituting a teleconference for an off-siteconference two weeks after the attacks. She expects bookings to return to normal early next year.
Hyatt Hotels’ Bonnie Weiss, director of pharmaceutical industry sales, reports an "enormous amount" of cancellations for the month following Sept. 11, mainly because a number of companies had imposed travel restrictions. "But they are rescheduling," she says. "The meetings are happening. Instead of one large meeting, it might be several regional ones so the people who want to can drive."
Chris Pentz, CMP, says one of her clients originally postponed a 50-person international team meeting in October for a year, then reconsidered and decided to move it up to January—although closer to home, since more than half of the attendees are U.S.-based. Pentz, president of Levittown, Penn.-based Pentz Group Communications, adds that another client is also bucking the tide with an upcoming investigators’ meeting. Originally, the group had scheduled a videoconference in December; now, they will meet physically in November. "The company wanted to make sure the personal touch would remain," Pentz says.
Sue Potton, marketing director, conference services for Princeton, N.J.-based MediTech Media, says terrorism apparently hasn’t stopped product launches. "If a company has invested millions of dollars in researching and developing a new product, they can’t afford to just not promote it, and a big part of promotion is meetings and events," she explains.
Some planners expected to see corporate clients opting for videoconferencing, webcasting, and other virtual meeting formats, but the rush hasn’t started—yet. Culbert says she has started investigating alternatives, "but so much of our business is dependent on face-to-face meetings that we can’t really rely on non-face-to-face methods," she says.
Many of the meetings canceled in September and October were largely victims of travel restrictions, and business has rebounded in part because those rules were only temporary. Some travelers remain skittish about flying, although observers think that will change over time and as airports institute new security measures.
Security at the meeting venue is on the minds of corporate meeting clients, but it is not an overriding concern. Potton and others say they haven’t had any specific requests to beef up security, but security at pharma events is usually tight. "We always take a close look at the security within the facility. We don’t want people walking into meeting rooms who shouldn’t be there," she says.