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A Conversation with Cadent’s Cavanaugh

The investigator-meeting specialist and co-chair of September’s Pharma Forum conference talks about the challenges of planner staffing, staying ahead of regulatory changes—and the beauty of holding a plank.

One of the few opportunities that life-science event planners have for face-to-face collaboration with their medical-industry colleagues—Pharma Forum—will take place September 11 to 14 at the Bethesda North Marriott in Rockville, Md. More than 600 people are expected to attend in person, while the virtual edition of Pharma Forum will run September 12 to 14 with several livestreams from the on-site event plus other recorded content.

Three veteran life-science planners are the co-chairs for Pharma Forum, and recently they’ve had some things to say about the upcoming program.
A few weeks back, MeetingsNet spoke to Jody Brandes of Genentech about her toughest planning issues in 2022 and those she most wants to discuss with fellow planners at Pharma Forum.

Next, we heard about shortened lead times, budgets dented by rising prices, and supplier-service challenges from Jennifer Capurso, director of marketing events and medical education for medical-equipment manufacturer Conformis.

Now, we check in with our third co-chair: Becky Cavanaugh, who in April was promoted to program director, global medical meetings and events for Cadent, which recently became part of biopharma firm Syneos Health. Here are her thoughts on the state of medical-event planning and the issues she and her industry colleagues must face in the post-Covid landscape.

MeetingsNet: What is your role at Cadent these days?
Becky Cavanaugh: Well, I’ve been doing this for 15 years and chose the client-focused path versus the people-focused path, which means that I’m not a manager of people but of programs. My main focus has always been delivering high-quality meetings and events within budget and on time. As part of our global team, I budget, plan, and execute investigator meetings and other medical events around the world as part of full-service clinical trials awarded to Syneos Health. I do the same for clients who are working with other contract research organizations but who reach out to our team directly to plan their meetings. What I love about this job is knowing how much organic growth we can create through events that are expertly planned and executed. 

I do collaborate with new or junior team members to share my knowledge and the things that are working well. Actually, doing that is also a great opportunity for me to learn new or better ways of doing things. I’ve been in the industry more than 20 years, but I still learn new things just about every week.

MeetingsNet: We spoke with Sonal Humane of Merck when she was a Pharma Forum co-chair about the toughest parts of planning investigator meetings. What would you say are the most challenging aspects of investigator meetings, and is there advice you’d give to other planners who coordinate them?
Cavanaugh: Especially these days, there are some serious challenges around investigator meetings. For instance, more countries around the world are changing their rules around food and-beverage spend and their regulatory-approval processes, and fining companies who don’t comply. Not only do pharmaceutical planners have basic challenges like higher prices for everything, flight cancellations, and not enough meeting space for when stakeholders or clients want a meeting, but they also must deal with keeping up with global guidance and filing accurate and on-time regulatory submissions to avoid fines.

So, my first bit of advice is to educate your stakeholders as early as possible. Gone are the days when planners can turn meetings around from budget approval to execution in four to eight weeks. The timelines have shifted with everything from sourcing to booking ground transfers and many other elements. I’d say your first planning sessions should start at least 16 weeks ahead of a meeting.

My second recommendation is to make the effort to maintain strong relationships with your suppliers and other partners, because you need them and they need you. Strong partnerships help when you are in a pinch, whether it’s planning a last-minute dinner or getting a few more guest rooms when they are all gone.

MeetingsNet: What other issues are challenging the wider pharma and med-device meetings segment right now, and how are you addressing them?
Cavanaugh: Although I already mentioned higher pricing, that is such a big issue in my mind and it’s not going away anytime soon. But staffing is another major challenge, and not just on the supplier side. Finding team members with the knowledge needed to successfully plan and run pharma and med-device meetings is difficult. Also, training them and keeping them motivated is a major focus for us. 

We have global meetings that we travel to, which some companies don’t have. But the fact is that the days of employees working all hours of the day and night are behind us. After working from home during Covid, nobody wants to work crazy hours like we used to. We have to offer flexible work arrangements, good total compensation packages, and a company culture that supports bringing your total self to work each day in body, mind, and spirit.

PharmaForumStage.pngMeetingsNet: What is the biggest benefit you get, or the thing you most look forward to, when attending Pharma Forum?
Cavanaugh: I appreciate the education we get, not just about issues around regulatory compliance, but also from partners and suppliers about changing trends on site, what’s new in meetings technology, new or refurbished hotels that are in our roster of acceptable properties, and other ways that we can do our jobs smarter and more quickly. For me, the conversations with peers at Pharma Forum are so useful. It’s one of the very few places where other attendees understand and share our specific job challenges, enabling us to find creative solutions.

MeetingsNet: If you had not become a medical-event planner, what else would you have done for a career?
Cavanaugh: If you asked me when I was five years old, I would have been a barber like my mother and father. As I graduated high school, I would have been a doctor. And as a college graduate, I had no idea what I wanted but I fell into medical-event planning, which I love.

If you ask me now, I would own a Pure Barre studio and perhaps teach there, as it’s something that came into my life six years ago and it is amazing. I love taking classes with people who challenge themselves every day to be their best self, and seeing people of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds just trying to hold that plank a little longer.

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