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The Cost Landscape, from a Veteran Pharma Planner

Working for planning agency McVeigh Global, Brittany Smiley sees the big picture for 2023 medical events—and it’s definitely a work in progress.

With eight weeks left until the start of Pharma Forum 2023—the largest conference for life-sciences meeting professionals, happening March 19 to 22 in New York City—MeetingsNet checked in with one of the event’s co-chairs: Brittany Smiley, CMP, HMCC, vice president, life sciences for McVeigh Global Meetings & Events.

Given the strong return to face-to-face in the pharma and medical-device business, Smiley’s plate is full right now. One of the top tasks on her to-do list: educating clients not only on the best ways to deliver learning and networking, but also on the new cost realities for in-person events. 

A 20-year veteran of the meetings business, Smiley is a lifelong resident of Indianapolis, “where Eli Lilly & Co. was in my backyard” and shaped her career. As a senior in high school, she got into a co-op program to work at Lilly as the administrative assistant to the global meeting planner. After graduating from college, Smiley joined Lilly as a contractor and assisted with the launch of [the cardiovascular drug] Prasugrel. After that, she began planning for other healthcare organizations, eventually joining third-party planning firm McVeigh Global.

MeetingsNet: What are the biggest issues that your team, which coordinates events for multiple life-sciences companies, faces as it coordinates employee-facing and HCP-facing events for 2023 and 2024?
Brittany Smiley: The three things that stand out the most right now are staffing, short lead times, and clients’ budgets. First, the volume of events we are dealing with no longer allows our planners to be dedicated to just one client, so we are learning compliance and the other nuances for as many as three accounts. Continually expanding our working knowledge allows our team members to move between accounts, but in some instances we have to turn down projects because we simply would not have enough lead time to ensure that things would go flawlessly.

With budgets, we're having to show clients the figures associated with each element of an event proposal as well as the final invoices for each element, so that clients can see for themselves the difference in prices now compared to late 2019 and early 2020.

MeetingsNet: Is there any other significant challenge you think the life-sciences event industry must contend with over the next 12 to 18 months?
Brittany Smiley: Pharma and device companies must understand that inflation is happening across the board. Meeting clients need to consider and account for [suppliers’] rate-card refreshes because the cost of labor has increased as well as the cost of goods. And to help ease vendor-staff retention, pharma and device companies should be as forthcoming as possible with the expected number of meetings they will hold over the year, to allow all parties to plan properly.

MeetingsNet: What are you most looking forward to when you attend Pharma Forum in March with other life-science planners and industry-focused suppliers?
Brittany Smiley: I continue to come back to Pharma Forum each year to be around all my colleagues who speak the same business language as me. I learn so much from the open discussions with the session panelists and with fellow attendees. Being able to listen to so many different perspectives helps me to take a step back and see my work challenges from other angles.

MeetingsNet: If you had not become a medical-event planner, what other type of work would you have done?
Brittany Smiley: Before I decided that medical meetings were my passion, I had studied for the LSATs to go to law school and become a criminal attorney.

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