Next Generation Event Consolidations

Aug 01, 2008

Carol Krugman
A few years ago, when you saw a pharmaceutical company consolidating its overall event and marketing spend, you could be pretty sure that the goal was to save money. Not anymore. Today we have Sarbanes-Oxley requirements, federal regulations, and promotional guidelines, and an increasing number of state-level limits on honoraria, gifts, and grants to healthcare practitioners (HCPs) and their institutions. Add all that together and companies have a powerful new reason to control, track, monitor, and justify funds allocated to such areas as meetings and conventions.

Today, companies must be prepared to document what they spend on an event, providing detail down to the level of a specific HCP participant at a specific meeting and/or across several events over a given period of time. Internal planners and the event management agencies to which they outsource logistics must align their major activities—sourcing, contracting, organizing, on-site implementation, and final reconciliation—to one or more regulations, codes, or requirements.

For example, let's say that your company works with a certain Dr. John Smith, a cardiologist from Omaha, NE. He's a principal investigator in a study being coordinated by a CRO that your R&D division has contracted with; he has participated in two KOL meetings sponsored by your marketing division; he's a member of your speakers bureau and has given presentations at three dinner meetings organized by an agency working directly with your local sales rep; and he has chaired an open symposium at the American College of Cardiology convention funded by an unrestricted grant from your company given to the ACC by one of your professional relations liaisons.

Now imagine that your auditor is requesting an accounting of your financial relationship with Dr. Smith. He doesn't just request the total amount spent by your company on Dr. Smith (though that would be hard enough to determine). He also wants proof that the cost of travel, hotel accommodations, and meals provided by your company at each individual meeting he attended were within "reasonable limits." And he wants you to demonstrate that everything is in compliance with PhRMA, OIG, ACCME, SOX, and the rest of the alphabet soup of agencies, policies, and rules that regulate your company's activities.

It's not easy. The technology for doing the job is constantly improving, but it's still a challenge to track individual and aggregate spend throughout multiple business units and divisions of a company. Add a new layer of requirements relating to multiple compliance codes, guidelines, and regulations, and the task becomes even more complex.

The Challenge of Consolidation

Take Dr. Smith, for instance. To provide an accurate accounting of what your company has spent on him, you will most likely have to cull information from two, three, or four databases, none of which are integrated with your department's "central" meeting database, and each of which can be accessed only by specific people in the departments where they reside. Did I mention that there are more than 400 Dr. John Smiths scattered throughout these databases, including multiple cardiologists and Nebraskans? There's even a Dr. Joan Smith, a gastroenterologist who just happens to work in the same group practice in Omaha as the doctor you're trying to track.

Talk with anyone in procurement or meeting management who has been involved with a consolidation initiative and you'll hear just how challenging the process is. But there's no getting out of it. Your company is required to track every financial touch point with Dr. Smith and thousands like him. It's a regulatory necessity.

And that means that meeting consolidation is also about your company's relationship and credibility with regulatory authorities, HCPs, and the general public. Infractions or failed audits can result in significant financial penalties, negative media coverage, or both. Can any company today with products in Phase III trials or beyond afford not to implement an enterprise-wide meeting consolidation program?

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