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Monica Dickenson Pharma Forum
Monica Dickenson, CMP, SMMC

Pharma Forum 2017 Takes National Harbor by Storm

Pharmaceutical meeting professionals gather for education and networking undeterred by Winter Storm Stella.

As the Eastern Seaboard hunkered down for the cold winds of a major snowstorm, the 13th Annual Pharma Forum kicked off with warm camaraderie, bringing together more than 700 pharmaceutical and life sciences meeting professionals and suppliers at the Gaylord National in National Harbor, Md., for three days of education and networking March 12–15.

After Sunday’s Senior VIP Summit, lead by conference co-chair James Vachon, CMM, associate director, events, meetings and conventions at Takeda Pharmaceuticals, and a lively opening reception, hosted by World of Hyatt, the conference got under way in earnest Monday morning. Day one co-chairman Monica Dickenson, CMP, SMMC, head of global meetings and events at Shire, guided the audience through a morning of content-rich speakers.

The first, Jocelyne Côté, SMMC, global managing director at American Express Global Business Travel, shared takeaways from her organization’s 2017 Global Meeting and Events Forecast and its research into healthcare providers, “The Physician’s Perspective on Meetings and Events,” underscoring four issues: 

  • Mergers and acquisitions in the supplier market
  • The importance of high-quality conference content (HCPs see content and the number-one area for conference improvement.)
  • The increase in the use of mobile devices
  • And, for those working to hold meetings in China, the need to adjust to the differing needs and expectations of that audience.

Côté also shared best practices for companies working toward globalizing their strategic meeting management program and discussed the changing skillset needed for today’s meetings managers. “It’s not as easy to have a robust pipeline of planners,” she said, especially in the pharmaceutical market, where understanding accounting and reporting can be as important as the more logistical side of the job. Experienced meeting executives, she argued, must work to influence the meeting curriculum being taught at universities, give back as guest speakers and professors in those programs, and invest in internships.

Paul Van Deventer, president and CEO of Meeting Professionals International, took the stage next to speak with Pharma Forum attendees both as the head of MPI and in his role as co-chair of Meetings Means Business, an industry coalition working to showcase the business value of conferences and exhibitions. Safety and security were among the topics Van Deventer discussed, revealing that risk management has jumped to the number-one concern of MPI’s members. In a 2015 survey, he said, only 17 percent reported risk management as their top concern. In 2016, that had jumped to 48 percent. 

The final presentation of the morning may have been the most anticipated. Michael Mahoney, director meeting and convention services, Genentech, laid out the final results of the Pharma Forum’s second annual survey on pharmaceutical company meal cap policies. He was joined on stage by two hoteliers who discussed a companion survey on supplier meal cap issues, Julie Hills, managing director corporate group sales, Hilton Worldwide, and Kristen Fuller, HMCC, global account executive, Marriott International. Laura Caruso, CMP, manager of surgical education, Bard Davol, was also on the panel, which looked at, among many issues, the challenges around rising food prices (and rising gratuity percentages), how to communicate realistic caps to decision makers, and the ethics and issues of raising room rental fees to allow hotels to deliver more expensive meals within the meal cap pricing.


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