Among those who have true passion for their work, there are no setbacks on the road to fulfilling their vocation, only occasional detours.
For proof, look no further than Vanessa E. Bass, CMP, MMP, HMCC. Prior to an unexpected corporate reorganization in late October that downsized her entire meetings team, Bass was senior director of events at Healthcare Consultancy Group for four-plus years. Across her 12 years of planning meetings for both pharmaceutical-firm employees and healthcare professionals, Bass’s deepest interest has been to create experiences where professional colleagues learn from each other in a variety of environments so that every attendee type is satisfied.
As a result, Bass is presently using her passion for creating impactful in-person interactions to benefit other medical-event planners: She is one of three co-chairs for the 2024 edition of Pharma Forum, happening March 24 to 27 at the Tampa Marriott Water Street in Tampa, Fla. There, about 300 planners from pharmaceutical and medical-device firms as well as medical societies will gather to hear from events-industry experts and to share challenges, insights, and solutions with each other.
MeetingsNet caught up to Bass in early November for her take on today’s medical-event-planning landscape, and why she will always want to be part of the medical-meetings field.
MeetingsNet: How did your event-planning career begin, and what has been your path?
Vanessa Bass: It all kicked off in 2003 with a summer internship at La Casa de Don Pedro, a social-assistance organization in New Jersey where I first got a taste for planning events. It wasn't all I did there, but it is what I loved the most. After that, no matter where I worked, I ended up being the go-to person for setting up group gatherings and training events. It just seemed that I had the knack for bringing people together and creating interesting experiences.
My leap into the medical communications world in 2011 felt like falling into a good book—I just couldn't put it down. I started out managing data entry at the company but quickly found myself on the planning team. Fast forward 12 years, and I still enjoy healthcare communications, putting together educational events that are as enjoyable as they are informative. Recently, I was more focused on the engagement and marketing aspects—keeping the audience engaged and making a lasting impression. Even with the momentary hiccup in my career path, I’m still totally in love with what I do.
MeetingsNet: What do you like the most about the work?
Bass: What really gets me going is the opportunity to meet new people and build connections. I get an adrenaline rush from networking, swapping insights, and just seeing the cool things others are doing in our industry. I am all about crafting standout moments at every event, ensuring that people walk away with something memorable, be it a nugget of knowledge or just a fantastic moment in time.
For me, the magic is in creating something spectacular from scratch, then seeing it all come to fruition. But the kicker is hearing the buzz afterwards, when attendees share what the event meant to them. That is when I am reminded of the impact of my work, and it feels so good. It is absolutely a high-pressure job, but the rewards are many. And I have woven a tapestry of friendships with people from all walks of life, which is so rewarding.
MeetingsNet: What were the two biggest issues your team was dealing with as it coordinated employee-facing and HCP-facing events for 2024?
Bass: For the employee-facing events, we were really feeling the pinch with budgets and the logistics of physical distance. Budget cuts meant that we were doing less celebrating in person, and although we were nudging people towards more time in office, cost was putting a damper on get-togethers. Also, distance had become a major factor—so many folks moved further away during the pandemic, and now the commute is a major headache, throwing work-life balance out of whack.
When it comes to HCP-facing events, time is the precious commodity. Healthcare professionals are out there doing critical work and trying to stay on top of their game but also juggling their personal and family commitments. They’re pressed for time and drowning in paperwork, making it difficult to commit to events without ample notice.
We were handling all of that by being empathetic. For our internal meetings, we made the planning an inclusive, fun activity—getting everyone's thoughts and perspectives into the process. It is amazing to see the creativity that comes out when people bring their passion into the mix. Plus, it is a chance to spark new ideas that can actually enhance how we do business.
For the HCP events, the strategy was simplicity. We were fine-tuning the experience, cutting through the clutter to deliver what HCPs need most. We were talking with them, not at them, to nail down their wants and needs, and then doing our best to deliver.
Across the board, the goal was to craft experiences that don't just add to the noise but genuinely enrich people's lives. It is about being there for them and making a difference, but without adding stress.
MeetingsNet: Is there any other significant challenge you think the pharma/medical-event industry as a whole must contend with over the next 12 to 18 months?
Bass: Navigating budget cuts is something that just keeps coming at us in the medical-events field. Unfortunately, there is a gap between what people think goes into an event and the actual effort it takes to make it happen, especially with the tight regulations and compliance hurdles we have. It is not just about putting together an agenda and booking a location; it is a complex dance that requires skill, industry savvy, creativity, and a solid network.
I think the next year or so is going to push medical-event planners to get vocal about the value we bring to the table. We will need to be more creative than ever, not just in planning events but in highlighting the return on investment they offer. We will need to play our own trumpet a bit louder, showcasing the benefits we deliver, and how we nail it each time.
Although it won't be easy, it is definitely time for us to pull back the curtain and give everyone a glimpse of the resources and effort that go into crafting these experiences. For instance, I was posting more on social media; it’s a fantastic tool that allows planners to share knowledge and experience with the world.
MeetingsNet: What are you most looking forward to when you attend Pharma Forum in March?
Bass: It is refreshing to be in a space filled with people who get it—the shared passion for our field is what reignites me. The day-to-day grind can wear you down, but Pharma Forum is a breath of fresh air. It is this special chance for us to exchange stories and realize that we are mostly facing the same hurdles. While I do not expect us to solve every problem, I am certain that we will leave with more solutions than we arrived with.
I am also excited for the opportunity to deepen my collaboration with suppliers. After all, planners and suppliers both have a strong hand in crafting these in-person experiences.
Pharma Forum 2024 isn't just another meeting; it really is a lifeline for those of us in this field. We must reach beyond our organization and tap into the collective wisdom of our industry.
MeetingsNet: If you had not become a pharma-event planner, what else would you have done for a career?
Bass: I am driven by a philanthropic spirit—I have always felt an urge to step up and make a positive mark on the world. Injustices strike a chord with me, and I dream of a world where everyone can chase their full potential and seize what they desire and deserve. So, I would be pouring my heart into philanthropy full-time, steering a non-profit organization while also sharing inspiration as a motivational speaker. And who knows—there is still time, and I believe that I can also wear those hats in my journey.