Q How does a company with a partial, or less than mature, strategic meetings management program go about accelerating and
developing the process further?
A You've got to do step one, step two, step three. Sometimes you can do step one and two together or three and five. One size
doesn't fit all. It takes some experience, It's taking the best areas that work within each organization and applying it to
the next step—keeping the things that are good, modifying the things that you could do better. To speed the process up, it
might be useful to have a third party help develop the strategic steps. Most important is setting the goal. Figure out the
problem you're trying to solve, and don't forget meetings planning is a service.
Q It's reported that pharma companies outsource 90 percent of meeting planning activities and concentrate on compliance issues.
How does that work with a consolidation model?
A It's important to define consolidation. There are different levels. There's a consolidation of processes and procedures; there's
a consolidation of reducing the number of suppliers you have. There's consolidation of using the same technology or payment
processes, and then there's consolidation that says yes, all of the above. Meetings consolidation is a journey. You've got
to take the first step, capture various areas, and then put them together. If you're doing a global consolidation, it's very
important not to lose sight of the nuances on a local and cultural level. But while one size does not fit all, some elements
are always consistent: What is the objective? What does the corporation need? You need to have communication, you've got to
deal with change of management, and you've got to do reviews. How you do this may be a little different. Some may have bigger
differences than others, but there is consistency as you consolidate. Everybody wants to say, "OK, I'm going to take the US
model and put it into Europe." Well, that doesn't work. You can take pieces of it and put it there and it will work, but you're
going to have to modify some others.
Q Federal, state, and global regulations governing meeting planning and organizing have never been more stringent and varied.
Can compliance be part of consolidation?
A Regulatory requirements are a major piece and often the driving force for consolidation. Everyone in the company has the same
rules, and they're following the same processes. As to the specifics, the question is whether you take the most stringent
guidelines and have everyone follow those. The answer varies from company to company. Some companies utilize that model. Others
say they will follow the regulatory requirements of the country where the symposia or congress is being held. If there's another
country that has more stringent requirements, they may have to manage those attendees differently: Maybe the attendees can't
go to the dinners, or have to stay in a different hotel, or maybe they'll say, "We're not going to attend this meeting." They
have to make those decisions. Some companies will say: "How do we get the most attendees? How strict do we need to be to get
the most people to be able to attend?"
Q As a consultant, what are one or two things you know about global meetings consolidation that the industry is perhaps not
A In the meetings consolidation process, there are some companies that are very much on the bleeding and cutting edge; others
that are just getting started; and some that are everywhere in-between. I do think an opportunity exists in meetings consolidation
to leverage the expertise of the suppliers—not just go after the low-cost provider, but to really get the best services at
the lowest price. You don't go cheap. You say, "Let's make sure that everybody makes a profit; it's a fair profit, but I'm
assured that I am getting the services that I'm buying for that amount."
I also think there's an opportunity in the future to have a different pricing process, one that is perhaps more sophisticated
or robust. In my perfect world, I know the fixed cost and I know what the variable costs are. So when I have a meeting, I
know what that meeting entails and all those different components. I can go and price it or, if I'm getting an outside third
party to help me, say, "Listen, I'm going to pay you this amount of money"—and that's based on fact versus going out and having
to bid on all the stuff. I think the data is there to be able to get a more specific price that is fair for everybody.
Q What qualities should one look for in a preferred vendor and/or a strategic partner?
A Suppliers need to know their cost structure to make smart business decisions. They can offer a really fair price or walk away
from business that isn't of the appropriate level. There's also an opportunity for suppliers to do a better job of communicating
their measures, metrics, and cost areas after the meeting is over. That reporting function is becoming an important part of
the corporate world. Internal resources are becoming more precious. If your supplier can help you in that area, it separates
you from your competition.
And probably most important: A preferred supplier is able to offer information the corporation may not already have. So, it's
not just a matter of the supplier saying, "Hey, do you have any meetings? Can I help you?" It's more, "Hey, were you aware
of the TARP issues? Here are some things other companies are doing." It's being a resource.
Q How does a company get the very best out of working with a consultancy?
A Let me answer in two ways: First, you've got the strategic process like Advito has, and then you've got the supplier piece.
If you're setting your process up and you're going to use a third party to help, it's important that the group you're bringing
in understands the nuances of the pharma world and has the understanding of meetings. It's also important to be able to communicate
within different levels of the organization. There are a lot of book-smart people, and there are some people who aren't very
good in front of a group. Well, you need somebody that does both and has a process they go through. You get there faster if
the group you're using has a robust procedure on a high level. Each company that a consultant works with, of course, is a
little bit different so the consultant should be able to adjust to meet the organization's requirements.
If you go to suppliers, it's important that they are experts or can be resources for the organization. I know there are some
great third party suppliers who really understand the PhRMA code inside and out. These suppliers are used as resources for
the organizations. Then there are some groups that are just fantastic negotiators, and from a contracting standpoint, they
can really protect the organization. There are some people that are just outstanding in on-site logistical support. So, what
can a third party bring to the corporation? Bottom line is to find a person or supplier that understands your needs and can
bring their expertise to help you along the SMMP journey.
Marylyn Donahue is Pharmaceutical Executive's special projects editor.