Dinners: Serve them up right

October 1, 1997

Pharmaceutical Representative

Plan dinner meetings that tempt and educate.

Dinner meetings are excellent ways for you to bring together important and influential doctors to discuss your product with you or a guest speaker. Each dinner meeting can provide an excellent return on investment if it is properly conceived, efficiently run and contains appropriate follow-up measures. When you are required to host a dinner meeting without outside assistance, you must think of the planning and implementation process as a total event.

Consider the following tips for conducting promotional dinner meetings.

Appeal to your audience

Any presentation must provide information that is relevant, is worthy of a physician's time and assists in improving patient care. If your audience consists of top prescribers of your product or influential physicians within a territory, such as those who teach at a local medical school or hold prominent positions in local medical societies, you may want to consider a guest speaker who is locally known and respected. Or you may want to enlist a nationally known expert who can give a different perspective.

Choose the date and location carefully

As a general rule, dinner meetings should not be held during July and August, which are major vacation times. You should also avoid the week of Thanksgiving or the last two weeks of December. If both your topic and speaker are excellent, a winter dinner meeting should be well-attended, even in the snow belt.

Your next consideration is whether to hold the meeting at a very nice local restaurant or at a location more convenient to your audience. Ideally, those two would be the same but that's not always the case. Look for a good quality restaurant in a location that will be convenient for most of the physicians invited.

Attention to details pays off

Invitations: If you expect interaction during the presentation, 10 to 12 doctors are a suitable number. Because last-minute emergencies may force some confirmed doctors to miss your meeting, invite a few extra. Be prepared, however, if everyone shows up. If you're using a lecture format, a larger group could be accommodated, depending on the skills of the person delivering the lecture.

You will need to determine the invitation process, as well as the location, at least four weeks before the event. If you're coordinating for multiple territories, be sure to alert your colleagues. If the audience is from your territory only, you should plan your calling schedule to personally invite the doctors you want. Use the invitation process as an opportunity to invite hard-to-see doctors on your call plan. A written note confirming their participation is a good idea.

Meeting room: Make sure that the meeting room is private, of sufficient size and located away from the hustle and bustle of the restaurant's kitchen or lounge. You may want to give the physicians an opportunity to socialize by having an area of the room free of tables. While name tags are not usually necessary, you should have name cards on the table for seating.

Dinner menu: Work with the catering department to put on the nicest meal your budget permits and be aware of dietary restrictions. Caterers are experienced at producing excellent menus that have lowered fat and/or cholesterol content. Finish the meal with coffee - both decaffeinated and regular - and a light dessert.

Visual aids: You need to determine what type of visual support is needed for the evening's presentation. It's not a good idea to turn the lights off for 35mm slides following a full-course meal unless you want a dozing audience. Consider using an overhead projector instead. This will enable the audience to interact with you or the speaker with the lights on.

If you are preparing your own visuals, make sure that your guest speaker is comfortable with the content and format. In addition, have the visuals reviewed to minimize confusing content or misspellings. On the afternoon of the meeting, you must inspect the room and determine that the proper equipment is in place and in good working order. Decide what handout materials you want the doctors to take away from the meeting. Make sure that each doctor receives a package insert for any drugs discussed.

Parking: Arrange in advance to cover valet parking fees and tips. It's very embarrassing to have a doctor return to the room after a successful meeting because he doesn't have change available for a tip.

Follow-up: After the event, do either a follow-up letter or a personal visit to thank the physician for attending.

By applying these tips to organize and run successful dinner meetings, you should be able to get your important product messages across to an influential audience, enhance your reputation with them, and set the stage for future interactions. PR