Be Our Guest - Pharmaceutical Executive

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Be Our Guest
From training employees to forgoing lobster tail, hotels are putting the PhRMA Code on their menus.


Pharmaceutical Executive


Hotels and resorts have also had to compensate for the days long gone when doctors and other medical providers automatically brought their spouses to dinners and banquets. "Industry-wide, we're seeing a lot fewer spouses attending conferences," Sneider says. "Lots of companies are saying, 'Look, it's an investment to bring you here, and we need 100 percent of your attention.' A lot of success of a meeting or conference is in the camaraderie between people talking to their colleagues at receptions and dinners."

But all work and no fun—or spouses—can make for low meeting attendance. So pharma meeting planners have taken their business to hotels that not only help them stay PhRMA Code-compliant, but offer creative ideas for meetings that draw attendees. When Sneider sits down with a potential pharma booking, he makes a point to find out what their budget is, what they're allowed to do. Based on their responses, he presents them with interesting, fun ideas.

"We have to ask the right questions to the client and then respond with ideas that fit with those parameters," he says. "I always used to use the golf course across the street from the resort as a selling tool. Now, with certain clients, I'll stress the fact that, although they can use it, we don't own it."

"Helping pharmaceutical customers create the 'wow' while abiding by the PhRMA Code was the number-one thing that came out of our meetings with executives," Mitrovich says. "This has created a need to draw resort, hotel and hospitality staff that would historically not be involved in meeting planning right into the thick of it. For example, the Arizona Biltmore has contracted with master chef Michael Cairns, who has embraced the challenge with open arms (see "Cooking a la Code")

Positive Effect

Compliance with the PhRMA Code doesn't provide manufacturers with a safety net against OIG—but it does provide a helpful roadmap, and has especially cleared up a lot of grey areas for meetings.

"In my own personal observation, the PhRMA Code has had a very positive effect," says Scott Lassman, assistant general counsel at PhRMA and point-person for the Code. "It's been helpful in providing internal clarity to companies, rather than their saying, well, this company is doing X, so that's why we're doing it."

Jeff Trewitt, spokesperson for PhRMA, echoes Lassman's observations: "Before the Code, I'd say between 1998 and 2000, I would get a fair number of calls from media and critics contending that a CME session was being tainted due to the undue influence of pharmaceutical sales tactics. Now, I rarely get those calls."

However, several questions still remain. PhRMA fields a number of calls from members seeking additional guidance on whether certain marketing tactics are permissible under its marketing code. While Trewitt and Lassman refrain from giving individual advice, they will add recurring questions to the Code's growing Question and Answer section, accessible through the PhRMA Web site. Some questions currently on the PhRMA site include whether it is okay to give away golf balls or sports bags with a pharmaceutical company's logo on them (no); whether it is okay for a sales rep to bring a pizza by for a doctor's office staff (maybe, if it's topped with an informational session); and whether a company can invite 300 physicians/consultants to a golfing resort for a two-day speaker-training program and pay them for both their time and expenses (yes, but make sure they leave their spouses at home, and it may be a good idea to rethink the golf resort location).


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