Coming out of the Covid pandemic, medical-meeting planners have their hands full. In addition to regulatory compliance, they face the contractual and logistical challenges that go along with the strong return of in-person meetings.
One person who for many years has focused on educating life-sciences and other medical-event planners as well as hotel and restaurant managers on medical meeting issues is Pat Schaumann, CMP, CSEP, DMCP, HMCC. Currently the director of life sciences development for McVeigh Global Meetings and Events, she is also president of Schaumann Consulting Group, maintaining various clients in the life-sciences industry.
In addition, she is the manager of the Healthcare Meeting Compliance Certificate program for Meeting Professionals International— a program Schaumann started independently in 2013 and which MPI later purchased. Along the way, she wrote the book Breaking the Code to Healthcare Compliance; the fifth edition was released just last week.
Schaumann recently took a few minutes to speak to MeetingsNet, addressing five issues around planning HCP-focused events that are front and center at this moment.
MeetingsNet: Meal caps are a sore spot right now, with inflation and a shortage of foodservice personnel making F&B costs almost untenable. How are life-sciences companies dealing with this?
Pat Schaumann: I think that life-sciences companies are realizing that they might not be able to continue to use their top list of preferred hotels because, for example, a $35 breakfast in 2019 is now $50 or more. As a result, many are rethinking their preferred-vendor list, with rising prices being a primary factor. One pharma firm’s meetings department recently said that it had always kept a preferred list of 15 hotels but has had to get rid of all but three of them because of [increased] pricing. This could start to become the norm at other firms.
I would suggest that companies begin to look at second- and third-tier cities as alternatives to their traditional first-tier sites. Prices might be lower to begin with, and these destinations might be more willing to negotiate. As far as planners taking the issue to their procurement department or the executive team [to inquire about raising internal meal caps], I think that’s a given.
MeetingsNet: Even with in-person events returning, virtual meetings are not going away. In fact, Advamed stated in its 2022 regulatory revisions that planners should consider whether an event’s objective can be met through a virtual event. How much do you think virtual meetings will be used for HCP events in the near future?
Schaumann: I don’t believe that virtual meetings will ever go away. With inflation being what it is, it makes more sense than ever to switch to virtual for cost savings—no outlays for travel, hotel, F&B, and other elements. And I think we need to pay attention to the World Health Organization’s prediction that we will see a strong return of Covid through a new strain in late fall or early winter.
Besides that, in recent interviews with physicians, I learned that they really do like the virtual format. They don’t have to take days to travel and they don’t have to be away from their practice. With all the new technologies and platforms out there, planners should have already developed some type of engagement strategy for attendees, along with an analytics plan to measure outcomes.
Because we are still seeing many virtual and hybrid meetings, planners should review the Joint Guidance on Virtual and Hybrid International Medical Congresses from the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).
MeetingsNet: Demand for hotel space is high. Are non-compete clauses, which guarantee no competing firm will be in house, more problematic now for life-sciences firms when trying to book hotel or venue space?
Schaumann: I am seeing more and more hotels and venues refuse to include a non-compete clause in their contracts. Hotels are realizing that they have more revenue opportunities by opening the door to all meetings, and I don’t think we can fault hotels because they already have to follow a litany of rules to comply with medical-meeting requests such as meal caps, room-rate caps, and other items. But I know of many scenarios where non-compete conflicts arose after contracts were signed, and there have been numerous lawsuits in the U.S. over non-compete adherence failures by hotels. It is a topic that planners and their firms should not take lightly.
MeetingsNet: What specifically should they do to take on the issue?
Schaumann: The non-competition provision is often the most fiercely negotiated component of an agreement. Fortunately, the law provides some protections. The best protection is to have each entity enter into a non-compete, non-solicitation, or non-disclosure agreement. The allowable scope and duration of these agreements varies from state to state, but the key is to have something in place before the meeting begins. The Uniform Trade Secret Act is also useful to know. If a group can prove the exposure of information [to an outside party] that is a trade secret, then a court can issue a temporary restraining order to protect the group and the trade secrets, and possibly award damages.
Before it comes to that, however, planners should consider the following:
- Is a non-compete and non-disclosure agreement truly necessary for the meeting?
- Does the hotel honor such agreements?
- Are you providing the hotel or venue with sufficient information on competitors and who specifically is prohibited to share the hotel?
- Does the hotel have tracking mechanisms in place for all hotel salespeople to see that your business is on the books, even if not yet confirmed?
- Regardless of whether there is a non-compete and a non-disclosure in place, protect your meeting intel by creating a security checklist for spaces and information alike, and a method to verify all attendees.
MeetingsNet: What other issues do planners need to be on top of for their upcoming events?
Schaumann: Another big challenge right now is dealing with the “Great Resignation.” Third-party companies and agencies are turning down business because they do not have enough staff. But I think most every company is dealing with higher turnover rates, sudden departures where an employee takes intel to a competitor, difficulty with screening potential replacements, and more.
When employee numbers get too low, there can be a real downturn in efficiency even as people are more productive. And the stress and exhaustion from having to wear many hats can really damage staff morale, causing more departures. It’s a very difficult situation right now.
MeetingsNet: What do you make of the new program MPI is running for venues who want to be certified as a preferred location for medical meetings, called HMCC Verified Venues?
Schaumann: To be honest, I presented the concept to MPI in 2016 and I helped put together the new version of the program. Currently, we have over 4,000 HMCCs across 19 countries, and more than 35 percent of them represent hotels, restaurants, CVBs and other suppliers, so it seemed logical that we give them an opportunity to showcase their medical-meeting experience. HMCC Verified Venue recipients will be listed on the MPI website, and I think that many planners would choose to hold their meeting or event at a venue that understands the complexity of collecting [compliance] data.