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The right agenda

Ensuring a good return on meetings relies on good pre-planning and post-evaluation

A pen resting against a checklistGood meetings don't just happen, they are planned and created. Obtaining a good return on investment (RoI) is as much about pre-planning and post-meeting evaluation as it is about the meeting itself. The goal of any meeting should be to foster attendee participation and for all participants to feel as if they have learned or accomplished something from the session. Good planning and follow-through are essential for ensuring that the meeting delivers against these intentions.

Good intent
First and foremost, it is important to clearly define the meeting's purpose and objectives. These should be specific, quantifiable, achievable, time-based, and relevant to the company's business model and business goals.

In an article entitled Organising Productive Meetings published in Pharmaceutical Marketing's Meetings and Venues 2008, Andrew Winterburn, European development director at WorldEvents says: "Set down your vision for your event at the beginning of the planning process in consultation with other stakeholders, including medical affairs or medical education teams." This could be anything from sharing information, or changing of customer attitudes, to problem solving, setting KPIs, or obtaining increased share of voice.

Purpose will define content and an understanding of who should attend the event, what needs to be discussed and the type of meeting format that will be required (the type you choose will depend on the people, content and purpose).

Winterburn also suggests that budget planning is critical to defining the scope and scale of the event. "If budget is limited, it is much better to produce a smaller, high-quality event with a carefully-selected audience."

What makes a meeting fail?
Generally attendees complain about meetings that are not properly planned, where the wrong people are in attendance, and where there is no real reason for – or clear outcome from – the session. Negative feedback is also received when attendees feel the same thing could have been accomplished through other means, or when they believe the content was redundant and covered the same issues repeatedly without meeting expectations.

Good communication
All facets of business require effective communication, but meetings more so than most. Persuasive pre-communication is important to ensuring that attendees understand the meeting's purpose and anticipated outcomes. In other words, make your intentions clear. Not only will this guarantee you get good support for your meeting by the right people, but it will also facilitate helpful participation, which will make the meeting more productive.

"Never underestimate the importance of communication. If something goes wrong, it is almost always due to a communications breakdown. While tedious, minuting meetings and following up verbally agreed actions in writing is the best way to avoid confusion later," says Lucie Flint, managing director of Medivents, in her article entitled Seeking Agency Expertise.

Meetings that encourage participation and share information can foster the feeling of being part of a community and/or the solution.

Effective post-communication of positive results is also important and can have a significant influence on future company decisions.

Stay on track
Good RoI requires that you keep your meeting productive. Rely on your agenda when moving from one issue to the next as it is very easy to get side-tracked when issues are raised. A strong facilitator will be proficient at keeping participants focused on the key message and objectives. Your chairperson should allow discussion, but must stay in control of moving the agenda along and ensuring every item is discussed at an appropriate level.

Starting the meeting properly is important, but so is ending it well with a definite conclusion. Wrap up and summary is thus vital. Sometimes there is a consensus, but at other times you need to just wrap it up to give attendees a sense of completion. This will ensure they walk away feeling positive about the meeting and clear on its outcomes.

Post-meeting evaluation
Peter Dommett, MD of mXm Medical Communications provides guidance to effective post-meeting evaluation in Instant Expert on page 21 of Meetings and Venues 2008. He states that when the meeting is over, it is important to evaluate performance and the success by gathering feedback using checklists and questionnaires. A qualified person should record details of the meeting immediately and produce a written record for communication as soon after the event as possible to maximise on enthusiasm and momentum. He also says the length of follow-up will be determined by whether you are looking to create immediate impact or whether you want to develop an enduring response over a period of time. Once the dates have been set, ensure that appropriate measurement methods are in place to monitor the results.

What to measure?
Dommet states that to measure the impact of the meeting you will need to know where you are starting from (a benchmark). Again this requires effective pre-planning. If necessary, perform pre-event research to confirm your starting point. You may even consider the possibility of a control group of non-attending customers. Can differences be seen after the event in their attitudes or prescribing behaviour?

Dommett also states that it is important to identify what to measure and the best way to measure outcomes versus objectives. "Use other company resources if appropriate – such as market research – to assist you in preparing evaluation methods as an integral part of your master plan for the meeting," he says.

"Consider your identified KPIs as a fundamental measure of the success of the meeting; individual speaker performance and relevance to the audience may influence future speaker selection. It is important to gain agreement (or buy-in) on the objectives and measurement techniques from the implicated departments within your company. This will make the results more credible and valuable after the event for influencing future marketing decisions and budget allocation."

Lucie Flint suggests setting SMART objectives, and says that unless these are established at the outset, it is virtually impossible for your agency (or anyone else) to accurately measure RoI.

How to measure?
Feedback forms are a basic mechanism, but are often still the most effective way of obtaining quick and pertinent information. Web-based questionnaires can also be considered as these provide the opportunity to develop more sophisticated analysis. It is imperative that audit data (share of voice, prescription sales) are collected and presented in an appropriate and timely manner.

Analysing feedback
According to Dommett this involves checking results against objectives. Did the meeting deliver the results you had hoped for? What were the successes and what could be done better next time? If there is disparity it may be necessary to reassess your pre-event assumptions to determine if KPIs were realistic.

Dommett also points out that if your meeting has the potential of affecting decision-making in different ways, depending on the regions or countries from which your delegates originate, it is important to ensure your measurement methods can identify the possible variations in response.

Some attendees may not wish to rock the boat and so will keep quiet in the meeting. It is thus important to ask the right questions to ensure all angles have been evaluated before a final decision is reached. This may take longer in the early stages but will save unnecessary reworking later.

Follow through
If meetings are routinely called to ask for ideas but none are ever used, it will mean you lose credibility with your audience. If this happens, obtaining future support will be challenging. A reflective or feedback session is suggested. Primarily this allows the organisers to reflect on the meeting, identify problems that require solutions and set your future direction. These sessions are valuable for creating a strong base to work from and they give an opportunity for other people to weigh in on the issues at hand and take responsibility for resolution. It promotes teamwork and keeps everyone directed. 

In today's changing pharma environment where, more than ever before, share of voice is vital for survival and time is money, can you afford not to take the appropriate steps to ensure your meetings deliver a good RoI?

The Author:
Natalie Uhlarz is editor of Pharmaceutical Marketing
To comment on this article, email

13th November 2008


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