Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

December 2012


By Molly Brennan, Contributing Editor
CMP, director of industry relations and meetings and education for the Cardiovascular Research Foundation (CRF). “It’s a literature review; it’s interviewing key opinion leaders and establishing the true need for the program. You didn’t used to spend hours doing research to justify the program, and now that’s a requirement.”

Even at MECCs, which typically have more staff dedicated to grant proposals than smaller medical associations and societies, are feeling the strain of the new requirements, according to Sullivan. “To write a good grant,” he said, “you have to have a very robust needs assessment. You have to include outcomes and whether or not it helped change what the physicians believe or what they practice. It takes a lot of time and staff effort.”

Because the purse strings have tightened, CME providers aren’t likely to receive full funding from a single proposal. That means meetings and education staff must repeat the arduous proposal process multiple times for a single event. “For just one program, we submit 10 different proposals,” said Cathy Scheck, vice president of education and meetings for the Heart Rhythm Society (HRS). “In a year, we probably submit 35 to 50.” Hathaway Stella added: “We used to get one commercial supporter for an evening program or a breakfast meeting. Now, even for that, we have to reach out to multiple commercial supporters.”

And while most of the large pharmaceutical and device companies have an online grant-submission process, that doesn’t make the task any easier. There’s no universal application form, so every proposal must be customized. “It is onerous, because each company has a different process and a different schedule,” Scheck said. “A big part of our job is just keeping up with the various schedules.”

To help manage the increasingly complicated grants process, a number of CME providers are staffing up. At ISDA, Harwood is looking to bring on a full-time staff person. At the American Society of Anesthesiologists, Chief Learning Officer Diane Gambill doesn’t rely on grants. But in her previous life, she was chief scientific officer for a MECC, where she expanded her staff of medical writers from three to 12 and her CME group from one to five to support the grant-writing process.

At CRF, Hathaway Stella hired a new project manager to oversee satellite programs so she can spend more time writing grants to fund those programs. She’s also brought on people with more clinical expertise to beef up her grant proposals. “We need to be better versed from a scientific perspective in order to meet the needs assessment and demonstrate the practice gap,” Hathaway Stella said. “My current senior grant associate has a clinical background.”

At HRS, Scheck is looking to her association’s members and leadership for that clinical expertise. She said: “We’re relying more on our physicians to help us with our grant writing and articulate our message.”

Gambill also advises physician organizations to tap into their member knowledge base. “A lot of groups use medical writers who might not have a scientific or medical background,” she said. “That’s okay, as long as you have input from the key thought leaders with regard to what the solutions are to closing the gaps that you identify from your data.”

And don’t just seek input from the members of the academic medical world, she added; it’s important to get input from community physician members, too, because they’re closest to the practice gaps.

Another way physician organizations can make use of internal resources is to mine their member data. “The key to success is always to focus on the facts that you have in your hands,” Gambill said. “One of the things that medical societies have is a huge amount of evaluation and outcomes data. The place to invest, in my opinion, is in analysis of that data to create grants based on the gaps that are identified from that data.”

Connected and Collaborative

Whether CME providers look outside or turn inward for help with the grant process, the key is to be strategic with grant submissions. “We used to do a scattershot approach and blanket the landscape with everything we could think of,” Johnson said. “Now we’re more strategic and targeted.”

Another obvious, but too often ignored, piece of advice is to study funders’ clinical goals and interests. Most companies post their educational objectives and priorities online. “If you have a better understanding of their educational goals for the year,” Hathaway Stella said, “you can be more strategic about submitting grant requests.”

Pfizer, for example, recently announced that it was reorganizing its medical education group into two tracks. The majority of grants — 90 percent — will now be allocated through a request-for-proposal (RFP) process and will focus on a narrower group of clinical interests. Even though the company previously listed its clinical areas, said Maureen Doyle-Scharff, senior director of Pfizer’s Medical Education Group, too many proposals were off-target. A majority of those were rejected, and the process was a waste of both parties’ time.

Rather than going it alone, some CME providers are teaming up to go after industry grants —including The Endocrine Society, which has focused on collaboration with other medical societies. Johnson said: “We’re looking for collaborative projects where we can engage in larger initiatives that bigger organizations may be able to help pull together.”

HRS, meanwhile, has partnered successfully with the larger American College of Cardiology (ACC). “We’ve been successful in developing content on cardiac rhythm management and atrial fibrillation to disseminate via ACC,” Scheck said. “We’re basically the content providers, funded by industry, with the money raised collaboratively with ACC.”

Though MECCs are cut off from CME grants by pharma giants Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline (suspicion of bias has always hung heaviest around MECCs because they don’t have members to answer to), that doesn’t mean they can’t partner with a medical society or other CME provider. “We are looking at collaboration with medical education companies,” Scheck said, “where the Heart Rhythm Society might be the content provider and we’re putting our Good Housekeeping seal on a program they [MECCs] do.”

Likewise, a MECC can help an association reach a broader audience and provide more learning environments (local or web-based, for example) — something that funders look for, Sullivan said. But don’t partner just for the sake of partnering. “You need to find a partner with a complementary skill set,” Sullivan said. “It has to be the right partner.”

Gambill recommends that physician organizations explore collaborations with universities and medical schools, which are appealing to funders. “Collaboration with academic institutions is likely to curry favor with pharmaceutical companies,” she said, “because it broadens the reach of the educational activity and those organizations are favorably perceived by the public.”

But collaboration isn’t a cure-all, Johnson cautioned, and should be approached judiciously. “It’s a time-consuming process,” she said. “It’s not a wave of a magic wand and everybody comes together and everybody agrees to what we’re going to get out of it.”

The Shifting Paradigm

In addition to pursuing collaborations, Johnson and most other planners we interviewed are exploring how to boost other sources

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