In today's economy, professionals in every industry need to innovate, accommodate and find creative ways to add value if they want to stay relevant—and happily employed. For medical meeting and event planners, the challenges are multiplied by sticky regulations, technology overload and the unrelenting drive to cut costs. Fortunately, event-planning professionals are inventive by nature and uniquely qualified to rise to the challenge.
Let the Sunshine In
Even though PhRMA focused on transparency and accountability long before the Sunshine Act was enacted, the Act's reporting requirements demand a new level of cooperation between medical meetings planners, sponsors, venues and attendees. Some practical tips:
- Negotiate package pricing for meals to avoid tracking and sorting individual purchases. For example, give vendors a per diem rate of $175 per attendee ($25 for breakfast, $50 for lunch, $100 for dinner, for example) and let them create menus within your price points.
- Choose vendors with billing tools capable of providing real-time expense tracking and generating reports with meaningful information. The Starwood and Hyatt chains, for example, employ a Group Bill tool utilizing an interactive PDF document linked to line items in the event budget for real-time expense updates.
- Some states have tighter requirements than those in the federal Sunshine Act: Know where your HCPs come from. Plan meals around the lowest common denominator or offer "opt outs" for individual meals.
- Include an estimate of TOVs with your invitation materials and allow attendees to opt out of reportable activities. 94% of HCPs say they want to preview data that will reported to CMS; being proactive in disclosing estimates is a good way to increase attendance and build good will.
Don't Fear the Hybrid, Embrace It
Take advantage of the opportunity to monetize your event's content. In addition to fees charged to virtual attendees, you can charge on-demand fees for recorded content long after the event ends. Content can also be shared with mobile apps to drive interest to your event and engage potential attendees for future meetings. Hybrid meeting tips:
- Focus on sound. People will tolerate less than ideal video, but dropped audio is a deal-breaker.
- Do a technical rehearsal with your speakers before the event to make sure they are heard and visual presentations are clear.
- Use the right equipment: For most events, an HD video camera and tripod is adequate for large meetings and a rotating roundtable camera works for smaller ones.
- Once you know what works, create a "hybrid in a box" kit that can be shipped to event sites, avoiding the travel expense of a cameraman and A/V crew to travel to the site. Put the camera, tripod, instructions and connectors for the site's A/V equipment in the box and have the site's A/V team (usually included in the event budget) set it up and operate it.
- Engage your audience. Create a Twitter hashtag for each event and monitor the back channel for questions and comments.
- If your meeting has Q&A, encourage the presenter to address remote attendees by name. For example, "I have a question from Mary in Texas," rewards virtual participants and encourages interaction.
- Make your content mobile. There are many low-cost or free event apps (Bloodhound, Twoppy, Guidebook), so you don't need a big investment to expand your reach.
Never Underestimate Your Handshake and Smile
If you follow the news, you've probably read stories about outsourcing trends and reasons why virtual medical meetings will replace costly face-to-face events. These stories can discourage even the most pathological optimists in the event-planning profession. But there is reason to be optimistic: A study by Oxford Economics clearly reinforces the value of personal connections. Study highlights:
- Every dollar invested in business travel yields $12.50 in revenue and $3.80 in profits.
- 85% of prospective customers say virtual meetings are less effective at building relationships than personal meetings.
- 82% of business professionals believe face-to-face meetings are more likely to result in breakthrough thinking.
Medical event planners face an onslaught of challenges, and there is no such thing as security in a sluggish economy. However, meeting professionals who understand and embrace technology and take a proactive approach to PPSA compliance can face the future with confidence.
Want to learn more about how you can better prepare for uncertainties afflicting the medical meetings industry? Join us March 23-26 at PHARMA FORUM 2014 in Orlando, Florida where hundreds of your peers will be discussing these issues in depth!
(Image courtesy of Yamanaka Tamaki)