Meeting Planning: We're Not in Kansas Anymore

Meetings expert James Montague explains why the industry needed an independent program to certify medical meeting managers—and what he did about it
Sep 01, 2007

Mr. Montague is owner and chairman of PMPN. For more information contact [email protected]
When it comes to pharma, arguably the most scrutinized industry in the world, meeting planning takes on a whole new importance. With so much at stake, it is imperative for the planners of medical meetings to know the ropes, especially in terms of understanding government-and industry-imposed regulations. How then do you make sure the third-party planners you hire know what they're doing?

Enter James Montague, president and CEO of PMPN, an innovative company of more than 1,500 meetings planners. Montague took it upon himself to initiate a pilot program called Certified Medical Meeting Manager (CMMP). The program will expand for another term this fall, and Montague hopes to find a nonprofit, independent accrediting body to take over it.

To find out more about the program and the latest trends in meeting planning, Pharmaceutical Executive's medical education meetings talked to Montague.

Could you explain why you started the Certified Medical Meeting Manager pilot program?

The whole area of planning that surrounds pharmaceutical CME programs is so fraught with danger. There are so many loopholes and pitfalls to watch out for. And the worst part is that so much is left open to interpretation. Meeting planners as a whole need to understand they are not the ones ultimately making that final call. The accrediting body for the event or program needs to make the judgment call on how the rules and regulations are to be interpreted.

The planners have to be smart enough to know what areas can have potential pitfalls. They need to be able to go back to their client or to the accrediting body and say, "Here's an area that might be of concern." Let's say it's serving alcohol. How do you want to interpret it for this series of programs? Planners need to know which conversations to have. And they need to have those conversations at the right time—prior to the programs happening, prior to the planning, prior to the invitations even going out.

It seemed almost ludicrous to me that in the pharmaceutical industry—where meeting planners have to be so on their toes and so detail-oriented, more than in any other industry—there was no certification for these people. There was nowhere they could go for specific knowledge on how to handle a medical meeting. There is for government programs. There is for association meetings. There is for all these other types of programs. But nothing specifically related to medical meetings. And given it's an industry where there's no room for error, it floored me that nobody was doing anything about it.

So you and your company decided to take it on and start the training program?

Through no benevolence of ours, really! Understand, we have 1,500 meeting planners all over the country. We need to make sure they are well versed in these specifics and details. We want to make sure the company and our people know the pitfalls to look for. Even if it's just being on-site. For instance, is it acceptable for sales reps to be handing out pens? Is it acceptable for them to have their name badges on? Is it acceptable for them to buy wine for a doctor in the bar outside the meeting room? All of those things need to be watched out for, and no one out there was speaking specifically to that.

Do medical-communications and med ed companies face the same problems?

Yes, they hire dozens, and even hundreds, of meeting planners to put together series of programs all the time. Still, there's very limited training they go through. It's kind of trial by fire—throw them in the deep end and see if they sink or swim. In this type of environment, that's a very dangerous way to go about getting training. So we wanted to formalize a body of knowledge that didn't interpret anything but that spoke to the needs of meeting planners, to help them understand the environment they're working in.

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