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2022 Event Challenges: Q&A with Genentech’s Lead Planner

Jody Brandes, co-chair of the upcoming Pharma Forum conference, dishes on shorter lead times, competition for event space, rising food and beverage costs, and the importance of supplier relationships in the post-pandemic meetings landscape.

First, the good news: It appears that in-person meetings are ramping up again as Covid-19 moves toward an endemic state. Given the pent-up need for sales-rep training, physician education, and other learning that’s critical for pharma and medical-device firms as well as medical societies, the return of in-person events cannot come quickly enough.

Now, the bad news: The meeting-planning environment is very different than it was two years ago, with new complications and stressors that make the job more difficult than ever before.

One planner with a front-row seat to this new world of events is Jody Brandes, HMCC, CMP, CMM, group manager, strategic event services for Genentech. She’s not only leading her team of planners through the greatly changed landscape, but she’s also filling the role as co-chair for Pharma Forum 2022, the largest conference for meeting professionals across the field of life sciences.

The conference, expected to draw more than 600 planners, takes place in person from September 11 to 14 at the Bethesda North Marriott in Rockville, Md., followed by a virtual edition on September 20-21.

We recently caught up to Brandes to hear about the challenges she is dealing with as her department assists internal clients with their 2022 events.

MeetingsNet: What is the biggest issue your team is facing as it coordinates employee-facing and HCP-facing events for the remainder of 2022?
Jody Brandes: Well, we seem to be exiting the pandemic and, as we expected, there’s a big rebound in the desire to host in-person meetings, even greater than before the pandemic. In Q1 we saw a 56-percent increase in meetings compared to Q1 2019.

The biggest challenge I'm seeing is that venues and vendors are not staffed to support all the demand. Sourcing events through platforms such as Cvent is not enough—we have to continuously follow up directly with hotels. We know we are competing with the rest of the business world to get space, and hotels don't seem to have enough people in the sales office to respond to leads. It used to take a few days to receive proposals; now it takes weeks and, to make it even more stressful, the lead times are extremely short. We used to book meetings about 90 days in advance, but recently it's been closer to 45 days. So, my hope for the remainder of 2022 is that suppliers’ staffing levels increase.

MeetingsNet: Is there any other challenge you think the medical-event industry as a whole must contend with over the next 12 months?
Jody Brandes: One of the most pressing issues we’re seeing internally and hearing from other planners is rising food and beverage costs. Genentech's current HCP meal limits make it extremely challenging in today’s price environment. We have set up a task force to collect data from the 18 metropolitan areas that we host meetings in most often; the research shows that our current meal limits prevent us from having meetings in 12 first-tier regions and three second-tier regions. This data is being presented to our compliance and finance offices, and we hope that they agree to our recommended increases in meal limits.

MeetingsNet: What are you most looking forward to when you attend Pharma Forum in September with other life-science planners and industry-focused suppliers?
Jody Brandes: Relationships have always been so important in this industry, but I think that's more true now than ever before. I am excited to see my hotel partners in person to strengthen our relationships.

When there is a specific venue that my stakeholders want to confirm, it's so nice to have a name and a face to reach out to directly, especially in this current state of shortened timelines. I really appreciate the hoteliers who attend Pharma Forum because I know that they will understand the distinct needs of my meetings. There are many associations that support education for meeting professionals, but Pharma Forum is special because medical meetings are unique and there's nothing better than networking with others who focus in this niche.

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