Being Pharma Fluent

Apr 03, 2008
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

The eye-catching KSL-owned resorts shown here may look like other high-end meeting destinations—gorgeous locations, golf courses, and vistas to die for. But they offer something different, something not immediately apparent: They are all pharma fluent.

Nothing indicates this is a widespread meeting trend, but the more you know about KSL's initative, the more you'll wish it were.

So what, exactly, does pharma fluent mean?

It means executives and service staffs at all KSL-owned properties are trained in the current governing procedures and industry codes that influence pharmaceutical meetings. And how does anyone become fluent in a foreign language? They take a course.

"The pharmaceutical industry is one of the fastest-growing in the meetings arena, but it is also probably the least understood," says Michael Erickson, senior vice president of sales at KSL Resorts. "So we created a standard training program that teaches our sales and operations teams to be fluent in the pharmaceutical industry. This expertise clearly differentiates us from our competition."

The training program, PEP (Pharmaceutical Expertise Program), was conceived and implemented in conjunction with Master Connection Associates, a third-party sales training company. It is administered to KSL's staff, including those in sales and marketing, catering and conference services, accounting, and group reservations, as well as the front-office managers, executive committee, and audio-visual teams. The course informs participants about regulations affectingpharmaceutical companies, the most important being the PhRMA Code of Interactions with Healthcare Professionals.

In a recent interview with Pharmaceutical Executive, Erickson described at length what PEP entails and how it is implemented:

How did the course come about? Pharmaceutical meetings are very nice to have. So we talked to some senior pharmaceutical executives to see what they were looking for in a meeting destination. It turns out they weren't so interested in things like special rates. What they wanted was to be understood. They said: "If your people know what is important to us and why, and that makes it easier for us to just come in and not have to worry about the basic elements, we'll come back more often, because we know you guys can do it right."

What is taught in the course, and how do you implement it? We've devoted the last few years to making sure our management and key meetings people understand what makes a pharmaceutical meeting different. It's not just about putting on an event. The two days of intensive training encompass everything: the difference between an internal and external meeting, the history of the pharmaceutical industry, the structure and divisions of pharmaceutical companies, the unique terms and vocabulary of the industry, the trends in meeting consolidation, and the differences between pharmaceutical companies and other healthcare and biotech companies.

Has the staff been receptive to the course? Actually, they've been quite intrigued. Healthcare is such a big topic in the country nowadays that they are very interested to find out more about it personally as well as from a work standpoint.

Can you give me an example of something a pharma meeting planner might view as special? We make sure everyone understands the importance of confidentiality. Sometimes meetings involve a new product launch, so confidentiality is very important, as well as security. We also understand what can go on a pharmaceutical company's master bill and what the individual attendees, such as doctors, haveto pay for themselves. Pharma meeting planners generally have unique needs that we are cognizant of—having locked meeting rooms, having paper shredders available so they don't have to throw out sensitive material in the general trash. Storage needs are attended to and are secure. Any materials left over are considered intellectual property and are always returned to the planner.

Pharma is in the spotlight so much these days. Do you find observing the rules has become all the more important? Very much so. I think the industry wants to make sure it's regulating itself versus having some government agency do it. Pharma companies would rather err on the side of caution. We understand that.

Since the program, have your pharma meeting bookings increased? Oh, definitely. We are seeing a continued resurgence into the latter part of 2008 and into 2009 for sure.

How much of KSL's business comes from the industry? About 25 percent of our group meetings.

What kinds of meetings do you frequently host? We do a little bit of everything, which is why everyone needs to understand the nuances of each. We do quite a bit of sales conferences for a particular product line, that's one type of meeting. Those are typically larger. We'll do investigator meetings, which can be smaller. We've done some sales incentives for some of these companies. Each one is different and has its own unique qualities.

Do you see your pharma meeting training as ongoing? It's a continued focus of ours. Managers get refresher courses every six months, for instance. We don't want to lose sight of what we're doing. We've invested time, effort, and our resources. It is very much a part of the way we see ourselves. There are a lot of general practitioners out there when it comes to meetings. We'd like to be seen as the specialists.

Marylyn Donahue is Pharmaceutical Executive's special projects editor. She can be reached at

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