Global Meeting Mangement In An Age Of Compliance

Sep 03, 2008
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

Figure 1
In today's volatile and increasingly stringent regulatory environment, meeting planners at top pharmaceutical companies are finding it difficult to attract physicians to their events, mount effective meetings, and manage global regulatory changes.

Whether it is one state imposing a new law on reporting payments to physicians, or European countries restricting the use of certain venues for meetings, meeting planners are wrestling on an almost weekly basis to develop strategies to deal with each regulation while still delivering value.

The good news is that this is happening at a time when 82 percent of life sciences companies employ a centralized meetings management function (thanks in large part to recent structural and regulatory changes). In turn, it has altered the roles and responsibilities of meeting planners, allowing them to make more strategic decisions. Once relegated to supporting functions, meeting planners now have a place at the big table. And companies are relying on them to be more proactive, efficient, and successful at coordinating global compliance and hosting high caliber meetings that drive physician attendance.

These are the findings of Evolving Global Meeting Management Strategy, a new report by Cutting Edge Information that surveyed and interviewed executives at 21 top life sciences companies on, among other things, the effectiveness of their meeting planning management, reporting lines, meeting venues, and formats.

The picture that emerges is one of meeting planners beset by regulatory challenges and companies attempting to develop effective internal bulwarks to deal with the challenges. Questions arise: Is it working? Will restructuring be enough to keep pharma's meeting industry alive if doctors' attendance at meetings decreases and the cost of meetings forces companies to cut back on the number they mount in a year?

Here are some answers:

The Best Defense Is Centralization

Figure 2
Centralization is efficient. It enables meeting planners in pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device companies to eliminate duplicate work, improve communication with internal customers, and decrease legal risk. It also builds expertise.

The report found that centralized groups are led, in most cases, by directors or other senior leaders. Nearly two-thirds of the companies surveyed have directors or higher-level executives leading their meeting planning teams. Furthermore, 89 percent of surveyed companies that have had centralized meeting planning departments in place for 10 years or more have appointed directors or higher-level executives to lead these groups. (See figure 1)

In a decentralized structure, meeting planners were most often relegated to supporting individual functions, such as sales, brand, and clinical teams. That changed when companies realized the cost savings they could achieve by consolidating the various sub-groups into an overarching organization. In doing so, companies began leveraging their buying power to secure more competitive rates with meeting providers and other vendors. (See figure 2)

Although the initial shift to consolidating meetings management is nearly complete across the life sciences industries, the after-effects are only now emerging. Companies now approach meetings management from a strategic position, not simply as a reactive support organization. Other benefits include:

  • Preventing mirroring of work across regions and departments
  • Establishing firm lines of communication, which reduces confusion
  • Increasing decision-making leverage
  • Allowing for a holistic approach to meeting planning
  • Increasing transparency and decreasing legal risk by consolidating expenses

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