Pharmaceutical Meeting Planners Forum, Day 2: Consolidation

Like most of corporate America, pharma companies are consolidating their meeting spend and tracking cost savings and cost avoidances. This morning, I attended two really excellent sessions at the Pharmaceutical Meeting Planners Forum by pharma meeting managers who have gone through the process (and both emphasized that the process never ends—it keeps evolving endlessly as new needs arise, new technologies come online, and new goals are set). Due to confidentiality issues, I can't say too much about the sessions here, but the session leaders did say a number of things that I can talk about without breaking confidentiality.

Both were proactive in getting the consolidation moving on their initiative, rather than waiting for senior management, procurement, or travel departments to demand that they track what they're spending and find ways to save costs. They both also emphasized the importance of gathering data, which may already be available from internal procurement, travel, and finance departments, and from external partners such as hotels. One said something that I think was so perfect, after hearing people complain about procurement not understanding what meetings are about, and that they're not just about getting the lowest price, but the best value available for what the meeting needs: "Procurement is all about the data. If you can speak to them in data, they'll listen to you, because that's the language they speak."

There also was a lot of talk, both from presenters and from audience members, about how to pry small meetings out of the hands of admins who fancy themselves to be meeting planners even though their contracts cause the company to spend more than it should. The key, as it is with any other department or organization or individual you're partnering with, is to communicate on their level, in their language. Show them how using your services will make them look better and do a better job, how you're there to support them, not take something away. Not all admins will buy into it, but many will, from the experiences of people I heard this morning. And once the value of having the meeting department handle it starts showing up on the spreadsheets, the case gets easier to make.

They also recommended communicating regularly with senior management about what you're doing, why, and the results you're getting from your consolidation efforts.

Another common theme was technology (if Starcite and Onvantage could have heard what people were saying about using their services, they'd be oh so happy). At a session yesterday, someone suggested that if you can't afford to outsource what you need to outsource, take advantage of the technology available to track everything from hotel spend to how many times a physician has attended one of your company's meetings that year. You'll see results quickly, everyone seemed to agree, and you'll get nice, neat reports you can slice and dice and use to prove your value to senior management, finance, and procurement.

This morning's case studies were so full of good info that I really hope they give me permission to write them up for Medical Meetings. It's too good not to share beyond those who could be here today. Now I'm off to a session on Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, and this afternoon's agenda includes sessions on adult learning (I'm really looking forward to that one!) and a thought leaders panel. Hopefully, more to come later (Internet access may get spotty after I have to check out. If I can find an outlet and some WiFi at the airport, I have a few hours tonight of wait time I'd love to put to good use.) Darn, I just checked wififreespot, and it looks like the Philadelphia airport doesn't offer WiFi. Bummer. (Thanks to the MeCo listserv for the pointer to wififreespot this morning. How timely is that?)

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