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On the mark

Clause 19 can have real benefits when creating focused, educational conferences and events
A green dart in the bullseye of a green target with red targets either side

In 2008, the ABPI introduced Clause 19 to the Code of Practice, stating that 'companies must not provide hospitality to members of the health professions and appropriate administrative staff except in association with scientific meetings, promotional meetings, scientific congresses and other such meetings, and training.'

The rules may have changed, but if you select the right venue you can actually create a product launch, sales conference or a motivational event that's actually more effective that it would have been under the old regime.

Pharma organisers are, in most cases, realising that this opportunity exists. They are actually happy to have thrown off the burden of trying to out-do their competitors in terms of lavishness and generosity and are welcoming the challenge of creating an event that has optimum impact because it is an excellent event in its own right.

While the priority is now to ensure that an event addresses the education of delegates or guests that doesn't mean events are becoming homogeneous; even within the rules, there is still a great deal of scope for creating a distinctive event that is therefore not only effective in terms of communications, but stylish and memorable.

But how do you optimise that process?

Starting point
It goes without saying that in choosing a location, it is vital to find one that can not only demonstrate that it knows about Clause 19, but that it understands the demands it creates.

The next - and probably the most important - job of all is to find a venue that addresses, as precisely as possible, the specifications of Clause 19. That has meant looking away from those that epitomise the 'five star' standard and finding a venue that is best suited to the purpose of actually delivering the message most effectively.  

It means looking for a more focused, practical environment: a venue whose business is communications rather than glamour and overt hospitality; an environment that is comfortable and welcoming.

Fit for purpose
A venue that specialises in conferences and meetings, rather than having these events as part of a wider portfolio of activities, is in a great position to meet the requirements of Clause 19.

Many people don't realise that such venues exist. Until recently, many organisers thought that planning an event inevitably meant ensuring a hotel wasn't five star, or in some case even four star, and that would do. In doing so, they are missing a major opportunity, because there are many specialist conference centres that provide an alternative solution.

Wyboston Lakes, as an example, has two dedicated venues on the same 350-acre rural site, the Waterfront Conference Centre and the Robinson Executive Conference Centre, with facilities for events for up to 270 delegates. These are fully focused sites, with no other irrelevant activities going on such as groups of tourists waiting for their coach, children running about or waiters rushing around with drinks. The feel of every meeting is that it is special.

Like other specialist providers, all the rooms, facilities and staff are fully focused on events. Each centre has substantial residential facilities, but the only people staying overnight are event guests or delegates, and staff supporting the event if required. Our pharma business is growing progressively, with an increasing number of training courses, assessment days, medical education or clinical development meetings, and product launches.

Clear evidence
Centres like these address precisely the requirement of Clause 19 – that the purpose of any pharma event is education and communication. They provide an environment that is conducive to learning, so that delegates can really concentrate on the educational content of the meeting, helped by the fact that they are comfortable, relaxed and focused.

What's also important about specialist venues is the message they put across to the authorities, shareholders, boards and other opinion-formers. They are a manifestation of the organisation's determination that it has the right priorities – caring for delegates or guests without excess.

Clause 19: Meetings and Hospitality

19.1 Companies must not provide hospitality to members of the health professions and appropriate administrative staff except in association with scientific meetings, promotional meetings, scientific congresses and other such meetings, and training. Meetings must be held in appropriate venues conducive to the main purpose of the event. Hospitality must be strictly limited to the main purpose of the event and must be secondary to the purpose of the meeting ie subsistence only. The level of subsistence offered must be appropriate and not out of proportion to the occasion. The costs involved must not exceed that level which the recipients would normally adopt when paying for themselves. It must not extend beyond members of the health professions or appropriate administrative staff.

19.2 Payments may not be made to doctors or groups of doctors or to other prescribers, either directly or indirectly, for rental for rooms to be used for meetings.

19.3 When meetings are sponsored by pharmaceutical companies, that fact must be disclosed in all of the papers relating to the meetings and in any published proceedings. The declaration of sponsorship must be sufficiently prominent to ensure that readers are aware of it at the outset.

The complete ABPI Code of Practice, including supplementary information for each clause, can be downloaded from the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMPCA) website.


A better all round message

The pharma industry is to be congratulated for taking firm steps to address excessive hospitality.

But what the APBI Code achieves, perhaps incidentally, is that it actually encourages organisations to prove themselves and their products and services by taking sophisticated and professional approach to their events.

An event that runs smoothly, that shows the organiser has spent time and effort making everything work properly and that is warm and welcoming for invitees, can really impress guests and delegates.

Right place… right message
Other factors must be considered when selecting the right venue and then working with it to optimise the event.

Location
Can the invitees actually get there without any undue delay or inconvenience? Is the venue close to railway stations or bus links? If people are flying in, are you within easy reach of an airport? And for car users, are there enough parking spaces available?

City and town centres may provide more choice, but can be inconvenient to access and are unlikely to offer parking, especially for free. There are several out of town venues which are easy to reach, and have plenty of dedicated, no charge parking areas.

All-day comfort
You've found a nice, air-conditioned conference room with plenty of daylight, space, good acoustics and no ambient distractions. Now, you have to remember that your guests may have to sit there and listen for most of the day. A dining chair isn't normally any good for that, yet that's what many venues will give you if you don't ask.

Many specialist venues will offer ergonomically designed seating and other furniture that actually encourages listening and learning in comfort.

The availability of breakout rooms can also be important. Dingy, dark or congested break-out rooms can impair the image you've worked so hard to create.

Digestion
Lunchtime is a crucial stage of any conference. You want guests to come back relaxed but ready for action. Check out food quality in advance if you can and don't forget to check for any hidden extras!

Flexibility and response
Overall, you must have a feeling of confidence about the venue and its ability to cope with your demands, including any last minute changes or issues that crop up during the conference itself. Does the venue give you the impression of versatility and responsiveness?

It is inevitable that sometimes things won't go quite right: a speaker may arrive late, a power point presentation might not function, a microphone might fail or give unacceptable feedback. You need to be able to count on the people who represent the venue to help you address such problems competently and without fuss.

The issue of responsiveness is especially important where you may have a hotel on your shortlist of venues. Obviously, most hotels offer facilities for events, but have a difficult balance to achieve ensuring guests are not made to feel second best to a corporate event. Dedicated conference providers don't have this difficulty as they do not deal with what the industry calls 'transient business'.

A real opportunity
Since the introduction of Clause 19, the pharma industry, having been compelled to re-evaluate its methods, has made great headway. The majority of organisers have come to realise that tighter controls on hospitality don't mean that all events have to follow the same pattern and needn't jeopardise the quality, style or impact of their event… quite the reverse.

Organisers who commit time to the careful investigation and selection of potential venues can still find scope to create prestigious, distinctive events which bring credit to themselves - and business for their companies.

The Author
Clive Bache is sales and marketing director of Wyboston Lakes, the UK's largest privately owned single site specialist conference venue, located between Cambridge and Bedford. It has had clients in the pharmaceutical sector for many years, but has seen a significant and progressive increase in business from the sector since the introduction of the ABPI Code of Practice clause relating to hospitality.

To comment on this article, email webeditor@pmlive.com

25th August 2010

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