Meeting Planning: We're Not in Kansas Anymore - Pharmaceutical Executive

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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


Pharmaceutical Executive


What changes have you seen in medical meeting planning over the last few years?

In the past, we dealt with product managers and brand managers, who pretty much had sole control of a drug, its launch, and how it was received into the physician world. But then Pfizer and Abbott and AstraZeneca and all these big pharmaceutical companies in kind of a flat-hand-to-the-forehead moment said, "Hey, we're these huge companies, but we're not getting any buying power for who we are. We're putting it out to all these different companies, and there's no rhyme or reason to it." I mean, it dawned on them that there was no consolidation. It was like, "Wow, we have a group over here that is using this company, and this group is using somebody different" and on and on. And so they weren't getting any bang for their spend.

So, recently, the procurement department has said, "We're going to push a high volume of meetings. And by doing so, we're going to expect better service and a better price. You have a history with us, we understand your service level, but what can you do for us on price?" It's a different paradigm from before, where the brand managers and product managers wanted to make sure quality was first and foremost. They wanted to make sure the physicians got there and they got the information they needed to make a decision about their drugs. That was job number one. And to a certain extent, it almost didn't matter how much they spent to get that done.

Now procurement has come in and said, "Wait a second. You know, we can shave 25 percent off of this spend here and use that for something else." It's about looking at the dollars first. What we do with that is almost secondary. Then again, the reality is that if education meetings are going to continue—and I believe they are; last year, over $9 billion was spent on them—then there has to be real effectiveness in terms of education, but they also have to be profitable.

How have the increased regulations affected the meeting-planning landscape?

With all the changes comes a cloud of fear. Any time the federal government gets involved, it makes things very scary. At the same time, there were things that were being conducted in a manner that they shouldn't have been. So now we have the opportunity to do these programs right, to make them what everybody really wanted them to be all along, which is educational programs. Physicians can come in and know they are getting the unbiased education they need to make good, sound decisions. It's really not that hard to do.

The rules and regulations are there. We just need to follow them, abide by them, and constantly be tweaking them. We went through such a long period of time where it was a kind of dark, murky area. Now meetings are open for all kinds of scrutiny, which can be scary, but it also gives us that opportunity to make the industry what it needs to be.

Why are pharmaceutical companies relying more on third-party meeting planners?

By relying on third-party companies to handle these things for them, they can go to the Senate Finance Committee and say, "You know, we're doing everything humanly possible. We're giving these grants. We're using third-party providers. We're making sure we're staying at arm's length the way we should."


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