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Every second counts

European marketers are increasingly busy and most guard their work-life balance closely. Attracting these key professionals to a meeting and keeping them motivated throughout requires careful planning and organisation

A stopwatch faceHaving a meeting is something which a large percentage of the corporate world spends much of its time doing. It seems a very straightforward thing, yet it fuels an industry worth tens of billions of Euros. It is therefore vital that such a fundamental part of the marketing spend is utilised efficiently and that every educational or investigator meeting, expert panel and advisory board is productive and worthwhile.

In European pharma the relationship between the supplier and the purchaser is tightly regulated, to the point where direct interaction between the producer and the end user is not allowed at all. The relationship between the producer and prescriber is permissible, but only within the confines of a highly-controlled environment. Most within the industry would agree that on matters as emotive as patients' health it is wise to keep the marketer and the consumer at arm's length. Within such an environment, making the most of the opportunity of face-to-face meetings with the highly educated individuals, who will ultimately be key influencers on your bottom line, is crucial.

It is vital that marketers understand the regulations in every territory within their sphere of responsibility. Regulation is something that the industry is familiar with, it is the diversity of regulation which causes confusion. In an increasingly global marketplace it is important that meetings which bring together healthcare professionals from areas as diverse as Russia,  Turkey and  Germany address the requirements of the codes of practice in each of these countries.

It took several decades for the established European pharma markets to change the way that they conducted their business

Pharma is a global business and the practice of applying the  strictest code of all of the participating countries at a meeting will generally be followed. This is an admirable approach, but perhaps a little simplistic. However, if there is ever to be a truly pan-European code of practice for meetings and hospitality, it will be one which will have as its starting point this 'lowest common denominator' strategy. It took several decades for the established European pharma markets to change the way that they conducted their business and it is a challenge to ensure this new thinking prevails in the newer markets, inside and outside the EU. These markets are increasingly important to pharma  and must be analysed, understood and their requirements addressed, within a global forum.

In order to attract the right people to your meeting you need to make sure that they are able to attend. This seems a simple point but one that is overlooked surprisingly often. Increasingly, people are time poor at work and have very busy home lives. With so many demands on the key professionals who can make the difference between the success and failure of your products it is crucially important that you invite them to meetings early and give them good reasons to attend.

Too often in my 20 years as a meeting planner clients have  had to cancel meetings because they have found out too late that they clash with other important events in a particular therapy area. Do your homework, make sure you pick the right date, and in the case of pan-European meetings, make sure you avoid holidays in all of the participating countries. Bear in mind that a weekend in Europe is not necessarily a weekend everywhere in the world.

Even the highly-educated target market is influenced by human psychology. If a meeting will be attended by the key influential professionals others are much more likely to attend. If those invited believe that they are going to hear some kernels of wisdom from the leading lights in their therapy area, you will have no problem filling your quota.

If those invited believe that they are going to hear the leading lights in their therapy area, you will have no problem filling your quota­

The days of entertaining customers on the golf course or holding quasi-educational meetings in luxury hotels on the Cote d'Azur are long gone. When planning any event, where a representative of your organisation has the opportunity to stand up in front of a group of your customers and convince them of the value of your products, the focus must be on the message and its delivery. Of course you have to create the right environment for that message and a professional meeting planner with an in-depth understanding of the healthcare sector and the codes of practice in each market should be able to work with you to achieve this, and to get the best return on your objectives, while working within the regulations.

If you don't get your message across, you have achieved nothing. No matter which territories your audience have come from, the most successful meetings are the ones which have given the greatest amount of care to the planning, delivery and argument of the key messages.

Even at meetings and events where a great deal of effort has been put into detailed planning of the message itself, the method of delivery is equally important. In an increasingly crowded marketplace this can mean the difference between a prescriber or payer favouring your treatment over a competitors. If the healthcare professional is likely to support, prescribe and encourage others to prescribe your products he or she must: understand the mechanism of action; have been convinced by your arguments; and ultimately believe that the drug will benefit their patient's condition at least as well as its nearest competitor. The fact that your marketers are in a position to stand in front of these people and convince them of the efficacy of your product is an opportunity that they must be fully prepared to make the most of.

Today's business environment demands to see a return on every business activity. Within the meeting and events field it is remarkably simple to address this: by measuring the return on the specific objectives of a meeting, and by measuring the success of these objectives, you can measure the overall return.

Two important question before you read on:
1. Do you personally want to measure ROI from your international meetings?
2. Are you willing to commit budget and/or time specifically to evaluating these activities?

At the UK's PM Society seminar on ROI in November 2007, only about 10 per cent of the 80 plus delegates were from pharmaceutical companies - the remainder represented different areas of the service sector. Were 90 per cent of the people really there because a client had asked them about ROI during a recent pitch? What does this show about the attitude of pharmaceutical  companies towards measuring results?

Trying to measure the positive effects of sponsorship is further complicated by not knowing which delegates have taken part in activities

During and immediately after international meetings estimating ROI, can be particularly complicated because of the numerous factors that are out of your control, such as the geographically diverse nature of the audience and the range of disciplines they work across.

A typical delegate at an international congress may be a prescriber, a researcher, a patient or a pharmaceutical company employee. How can you define your performance with such a group, especially when you may not even know who they are and where they come from?

In addition, you need to consider how any ROI analysis is to be communicated after the event. It is important to get everyone across the company to 'buy in' to the ROI process and gain consensus on any assumptions to be fed into it.


How will ROI analysis be used post-event?

Get buy-in across company for the ROI process to be used

Get consensus on any assumptions before event

In complex situations, try a pragmatic approach

Plan ahead to capture delegate information/feedback/sales data

No two delegates are equal - how do you determine differences?

Discuss results objectively - remove personal issues

Agree learning points and ensure continuity for future projects

Many companies see their involvement and activities at congresses as individual events or projects - the satellite symposium may be organised by a different team than the exhibition booth, for example. For the individual delegate, however, the impact of your activities at the congress will develop from the combined contacts that they have had with your brand.

Each delegate will be exposed to many influences to change prescribing, both positive - from the company and independent speakers - and negative - from competitors and those with a negative perception or experience of the drug. Trying to measure the positive effects of sponsorship is further complicated by not knowing which delegates have taken part in which activities and how they reacted to each. There will also be uncertainty about what proportion of attendees are non-prescribers.

Even for those delegates who are prescribers, how many patients do they actually manage, and therefore how much opportunity will each have to put what you tell them into action?  Once you have taken all this on board how then do  you measure the relative impact - positive or negative - of each activity?

Our experience has been that post-event web surveys generate a high level of response - from 20 per cent to over 40 per cent


Consider what positive prescribing impact you expect each activity to have on potential prescribers. If none, why are you doing it?

Plan ahead to capture delegate information, feedback and sales data

Recognise that no two delegates are equal, so decide how to determine the differences

Discuss results objectively and remove personal issues

Agree the learning points and ensure continuity for future projects

A serious commitment from the company to measure ROI, and to use the results in future decision-making, will benefit current and future projects

By building a model - which will inevitably include some assumptions - then a calculation can be achieved which will give some measure of the actual ROI. Beyond this, the opportunity to capture data and follow up with further research will generate data and benchmark performance to help set future objectives and compare performance.

Our experience has been that post-event web surveys generate a high level of response - from 20 per cent to over 40 per cent - even without incentives. With appropriate questioning, linked to the model and assumptions, the attendance and impact of each activity can be assessed for each respondent.

An alternative method to evaluate whether a congress or meeting has been worthwhile is to assess how much it would cost to achieve a similar level of contacts in other ways. By adding this to estimated prescribing achieved through the event, a pragmatic measure of ROI can be achieved.

When planning evaluation programmes for international meetings, there are several areas we have found useful to consider. Finally, you must decide how you will evaluate any Return on Investment of the ROI process itself.

The Author
David Waldman and Peter Dommett

15th February 2008


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