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Linda Hamilton (at podium) accepts the 2022 Trailblazer Award during the recent Pharma Forum conference.

Insights from a Prolific Pharma Planner

Shionogi’s Linda Hamilton coordinates more than 75 meetings per year with no internal staff. How? Transparency, trust, and persistence.

At the fall edition of the Pharma Forum conference held in Bethesda, Md., the event’s annual Trailblazer Award went to Linda Hamilton, HMCC, senior meeting planner for Shionogi Inc.

The Trailblazer Award recognizes a planner who demonstrates passion and professionalism as she builds learning and networking experiences for internal colleagues as well as healthcare providers. With responsibility for over 75 meetings each year—and with no other internal staff dedicated to that meetings portfolio—Hamilton collaborates with a handful of independent planners plus hotel partners and destination management companies to meet her attendees’ needs and her executive team’s objectives.

A Jill of All Trades
Hamilton handles product launches, clinical investigator meetings, advisory boards, sales training, C-suite meetings, and incentive programs both internationally and domestically for Shionogi, a smaller firm specializing in infectious-disease products. Her events have anywhere between 10 and 350 in-person and virtual attendees. She finds that “the most important thing in my work is transparency between me, my planners, and my supplier partners.”

With her independent planners, Hamilton takes the time to train and guide them on specific meeting elements so that she doesn’t need to handle everything for a given program. “It’s beneficial to me, but it also helps them to be more successful in the future,” she says. “I feel a responsibility to teach and help people grow rather than just tell them what to do.”

It’s when something goes wrong that Hamilton’s guidance might be most important. “I emphasize that we are here for one another,” she says. “If there’s a mistake, it’s not the end of the world. Let’s address it as soon as possible—be honest, ask for help, and we’ll find a way to make it work. If we walk side by side, we will all get to where we need to be.” Further, “I emphasize that you certainly don’t need to tear someone else down to raise yourself up.”

Hamilton’s push for transparency extends to hoteliers and other suppliers she works with. “With the rising cost of goods and services, we need to be partners, not adversaries. If a hotel is short of front-line staff or housekeeping, then tell me that me up front—not after the contract is signed. I don’t want any surprises as we’re moving into the space. And with food and beverage, let’s get your culinary team to be creative beyond the standards and staples.”

At hotels that demonstrate transparency and creativity, Hamilton will gladly bring more meetings. “I’d much rather build relationships and rebook hotels than do more RFPs right now. So many experienced salespeople are gone and their replacements are either new to the hotel or the industry, so they negotiate strictly by the book rather than meeting me in the middle. It’s frustrating.”

To get the best service in this environment, Hamilton has started using smaller hotels for nearly complete buyouts, letting the hotel keep a small segment of rooms for transient business travelers. “We got tired of being a small fish in a big pond; it feels like my groups are just filling quota numbers for many of the big boxes.” she notes. “When I do buyouts, I get to know everyone on staff, so it becomes more personal, and it feels more like a family for the week we’re on site.”

To combat job stress, Hamilton enjoys adventurous pursuits such as riding dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles in rugged environments (photo below). “My partner Brian and I really enjoy being out in nature—we also love to canoe and kayak. We’re empty-nesters now, so the hobbies are a bigger part of our lives.”

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