Crisis Spurs Coming of Age of Global Meeting Planning

Apr 03, 2009
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

George Odom
When it comes to strategic meetings management, George Odom has been there from Day One. Back in the 1990s when the concept was brand new, he developed and implemented a strategic sourcing strategy at Lilly. These days he's senior director of the global business development team at Advito, the travel management consultancy, where he still carries the flag for smarter, more efficient management of meetings.

To explain how a pioneer in the field feels about the current state of the pharma meetings industry, Odom turns to Charles Dickens: "It is the best of times, it is the worst of times," he says.

What makes it worst, of course, is the recession and the ongoing hostile regulatory climate. And what makes it best? Well, to Odom, all that chaos is an opportunity for companies to save money and improve meeting effectiveness by implementing, refining, or expanding their strategic meetings management programs (SMMP).

"It's a choice," says Odom. "You can be a tactical strategist, as in 'I just buy better from my suppliers,' or you can be a strategic manager, as in 'I've got to take the whole program and make this work better.'" A crisis, in other words, is a terrible thing to waste.

Strategic meetings management is no longer new. Eighty-two percent of pharma companies surveyed last year by Cutting Edge Information have some kind of centralized meeting planning department in place. But what differs from company to company is the scope and the degree to which SMMP is being implemented.

The fully mature strategic meetings management program involves enterprise-wide, meeting-related process, spend, volume, standards, and supplies. The goal is to achieve cost savings and risk mitigation. It also involves matching department goals with corporate values and objectives while using data consolidation and reports to enhance the strategic nature of the meetings.

And if that sounds too focused on the bottom line, Odom is quick to point out the other critical component of SMMP—meeting effectiveness. "A lot of times what happens is everyone goes in trying to save money, but if you haven't met the objective of the meeting, it doesn't matter if it's free, it was not worth it. Meeting planning is a service."

To find out more about how to put together superior meetings and save money doing it, we called Odom at his office in Indianapolis. Affable, articulate, and exceedingly generous with his time, Odom explained the challenges and the potential rewards advanced meeting planning can bring.

Q Could you tell us what you did at Lilly, how you did it, and why it turned out to be so prescient?

A Within Lilly we had an early retirement program, so a lot of the meeting brain trust left the company. It was a great opportunity to sit down and say, OK, how should we operate based on the new reality. How do we maximize our resources? Reengineering was a buzzword at the time. And so we went through a reengineering process, which was a lot like what Six Sigma does. Our focus was different. To get internal buy-in, we did a lot of talking to our internal customers to find out what they would like to see. We also had great senior management support. In that sense, all the planets were in alignment.

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