This is Part 1 of a three-part story:
Part 2
: From Macro to Micro: How Industry Trends Affect Your Meetings
Part 3: Saving the World One Meeting at a Time: How to extend the reach of your event’s corporate social responsibility activity

Keynote speaker Francois Nader, MD, president and CEO at NPS Pharmaceuticals, set the theme for the 8th Annual Pharmaceutical Meeting Management Forum—now called Pharma Forum 2012—with this quote from Kelly Barnes, U.S. health industries practice leader with PricewaterhouseCoopers: “2012 will be a seminal year for the health industries as businesses wade through economic, regulatory, and political uncertainty. One of the ways the health industry is responding to these uncertainties is by connecting in new ways with each other and their consumers as they rethink existing business models and previous notions about competition, cooperation, and collaboration.”

The challenges pharma faces this year are myriad: patent expirations that will result in a $35.6 billion financial hit, exponential increases in the cost of drug development, a continuing drop in R&D spending, and increasing regulatory uncertainties. Companies are reacting by reducing their work forces; experimenting with new approaches to R&D, sales, and marketing; focusing more on orphan drugs and rare diseases; and looking outside of pharma for new ideas.

Companies also need to keep an eye on the regulatory front, Nader told the crowd that gathered for the March 26 kickoff presentation at the Orlando World Center Marriott Resort and Convention Center. For example, the Food and Drug Administration in February issued draft guidance documents on biosimilar product development. And, of course, the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, whose deadline for tracking physician payments by pharma recently was pushed back to January 1, 2013, is scheduled to be finalized this year.

What does all this mean for meeting managers? In this CEO’s perspective, it means they must “secure a seat at the table.
“Be in on the strategic development, not just the execution,” Nader told the crowd of more than 600 pharmaceutical meeting professionals at the Pharma Forum, hosted by The Center for Business Intelligence and Medical Meetings magazine. With the regulations come additional administrative burdens, increased costs, longer lead times, and limited room for experimentation in meetings. This means that meeting managers have to be an integral part of the commercial and R&D planning processes, he said. You have to not just plan meetings, but design meeting objectives and strategy. “Consider yourself meeting managers not meeting planners,” said Nader.

What is the value of meeting managers to a corporation? Like it or not, “You are compliance gatekeepers,” he said. That means that even if some logistics functions are outsourced, meeting managers must still own the compliance piece. “Compliance cannot be outsourced.”

Meeting managers are also responsible for creating, maintaining, and leveraging long-term relationships with vendors. “You own these relationships,” he said, and that gives meeting managers outstanding leverage. “Relationships are always core,” Nader said, while something like booking a flight is not. “You cannot outsource relationship-building.”
Meeting managers also need to explore virtual meetings. While face-to-face meetings are irreplaceable in certain cases, they can be enhanced by virtual meetings in others. “Virtual technology enables efficient interactions with thousands at a fraction of the time and cost,” Nader said.

To make a meeting successful, Nader added, the objectives have to be crystal-clear and agreed upon by all parties. And, of course, they must be met. Also, he added, meetings have to be “memorable … for the right reasons,” and of value to both the sponsors and the participants.

Concerning the effect of the Sunshine Act on pharmaceutical and other life sciences meetings, Nader said it will create more administrative burdens, more costs, and longer lead times. There will be limited room for improvisation, and errors in reporting or tracking spend could be costly. However, he is confident that meeting managers will adapt to the changes and innovate.

This is Part 1 of a three-part story:
Part 2
: From Macro to Micro: How Industry Trends Affect Your Meetings
Part 3: Saving the World One Meeting at a Time: How to extend the reach of your event’s corporate social responsibility activity