This is Part 2 of a three-part story:
Part 1
: Meeting Managers Are the Gatekeepers of Compliance

Part 3: Saving the World One Meeting at a Time: How to extend the reach of your event’s corporate social responsibility activity

Just how do the factors driving the pharma industry—from mergers and acquisitions, to regulations, to drugs coming off patent—affect meetings? That’s what a panel discussion at Pharma Forum 2012, held in March in Orlando, aimed to find out. James Vachon, CMM, associate director, events, meetings and conventions, Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company, who moderated the panel, started off by asking about how meetings and those who manage them bring value to the company.

Michelle Bartolone, CMP, chief executive officer, Meeting Sites Pro Inc./Global Meetings Group, pointed out that while it’s important to provide value, you can’t stop there—that value has to be perceptible to the company if you want to avoid being a commodity chosen by lowest bid. Scott Gray, CMP, president and COO of Scott Gray Consulting International Meetings & Incentives, added that third parties can offer a broader perspective that comes from working with other companies. Karen Vander Ploeg, director, travel and meetings, Daiichi Sankyo, said value means ensuring the objectives of the meeting are met.

And, said Kimberly O’Connor, senior director, meeting solutions, Sanofi, you can add more value by making sure the objectives you map out will enable business over the entire year, not just around the meeting. Vachon added that working with your colleagues throughout the year can help you help your colleagues better manage their budgets so you and they can avoid the “end-of-fiscal-year fire drill.”

Rules, Regs, Reactions
When it comes to rules and regulations at medical meetings, there’s a big difference between the highly regulated events for healthcare professionals, or HCPs, and those for internal staff. The pharma planner panelists said they work with legal for anything they do on external HCP meetings, especially launch meetings. Bartolone said that she is setting HCP expectations up front “so you don’t have to deal with HCPs on site who want to bring their spouse to dinner.”

Vachon asked the audience if they felt that they’d be ready to go if they had to start reporting all physician payments immediately, as will be required under the Sunshine Act. Just a few hands went up. However, several said they were most of the way there, mainly because they already were operating under a corporate integrity agreement, or CIA, with Sunshine Act–level reporting requirements, or because they already have built a database because of state requirements.

Vachon commented, “We’re farther along than we give ourselves credit for.” Vander Ploeg added that her company is “expanding on what we’ve been doing and ensuring accuracy now that it will be reported to the public. If we had to pull the trigger today, could we do it? Yes. Would we like a little more time? Yes.”

Vachon said that hoteliers who learn about the Sunshine Act requirements are finally starting to understand why their pharma clients are so insistent on getting all the details right in their hotel bills. “It’s our responsibility to our convention services people to let them know what our needs and responsibilities are.”

Internal meetings, however, aren’t quite so strict. As O’Connor, said, “We don’t want to put strict regulations on something that’s not regulated.” While her company uses its HCP rules as guidelines for its internal meetings—for example, using more modest properties—it recognizes that it wouldn’t be able to do its internal meetings right if it strictly adhered to the HCP meeting rules. Bartolone agreed, saying, “I don’t look at resort or spa properties for HCP meetings, where I would for a worldwide sales meeting.”

As Vachon summed it up: “For HCP meetings, we have policies. For internal meetings, we have guidances.” He also said it’s important to stay flexible, and he shared a story he had heard about a female physician from a Middle Eastern country who was required to travel with her husband, who had to attend meals and everything with her for cultural reasons. “Targets are always moving,” he said.

International Challenge
The rules and regs are confusing enough between the states and the new federal rules, but it gets really interesting when you go international. For example, said an audience member, how do you handle housing brokers for big international congresses? Vachon, who sends his addendum during the sourcing stage, said to let them know that everything has to be spelled out during the contract negotiating process. Tell them, “If you don’t break it down, we can’t do business with you.” Bartolone and O’Connor stressed the importance of doing this upfront during the sourcing process. “You can’t wait for the CSM to handle it later,” said Bartolone.

And international meetings will continue to become more complex. As one audience member pointed out, France recently published its own version of the Sunshine Act. “Are you prepared to be a global program? Are you prepared to disclose in 15 days, as France now requires?” The answer for most, it would appear, is “not really.” Planners said they were working closely with their counterparts in other countries, and ensure they are able to track all data for U.S. HCPs, regardless of where they meet. This may be harder for non-U.S. physicians, though, who may not have trackable national ID numbers as U.S. docs do.

F&B Caps
Food and beverage caps were another bone of contention between meeting professionals, their compliance colleagues, and hoteliers in the audience. As one hotelier pointed out, not only does each company have its own interpretation of what’s an appropriate cost for meals, once they reach a decision, they don’t want to increase the caps even when the actual costs of food and beverage continue to rise.

One way to get compliance to understand is to show them what the fair market values are in their meeting hotel locales, said O’Connor. “It made a huge difference that we did our homework.” Bartolone also brings data-driven research to her clients to bring to their legal departments when they run into an issue with F&B caps.

What do you do, asked an audience member, when your minimums are low, and they take away break refreshments, so your desperate-for-caffeine attendees go to Starbucks and end up expensing their java? “I try to explain that they’re not saving any money—in fact they are driving up meeting-space costs,” she said. O’Connor added that there does come a point where you need to escalate the matter to your senior leadership. “That might open up discussions that might be shut down if you stop at the compliance level,” she said. “You’re all working toward the same goal, after all.”

Another audience member said that, while her senior leaders do understand, they’re looking at patent expirations over the next few years, and that means they’re going to have to cut more costs. “That $35 lunch may make a virtual meeting look good.”

The bottom line, another audience member said, is you never used to see people from procurement attending the Pharma Forum, and now you do. “It’s all about education. But it’s not an overnight thing.”

One participant asked keynote speaker Francois Nader, MD, president and CEO of NPS Pharmaceuticals, for advice. He said that it’s difficult to argue with hard data. “Let [senior leadership] know if a [key opinion leader] doesn’t want to work with your company because it is subpar. Common sense should prevail.”

This is Part 2 of a three-part story:
Part 1
: Meeting Managers Are the Gatekeepers of Compliance

Part 3: Saving the World One Meeting at a Time: How to extend the reach of your event’s corporate social responsibility activity