Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

December 2012


By Molly Brennan, Contributing Editor
percent over 2009, while “other income” - which encompasses any income that’s not commercial support or advertising/exhibit money — grew nearly 10 percent. Other income now accounts for more than half of total income for CME providers.

Governmental grants and grants from nonprofits fall under the “other income ”umbrella. A number of meeting planners say they’re more aggressively going after such funds. “We’ve started to look at government grants more than ever,” said Wanda Johnson, CMP, CAE, senior director of meetings and education for The Endocrine Society. “We hired a grant writer whose focus is foundation and government grants.”

Another component of “other income” is registration fees &emdash which many meeting organizers either already have raised or are looking into raising. The Cardiovascular Research Foundation increased attendance fees for all events by about 10 percent this year. At the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA),Vice President of Meetings and Education Sandra Harwood, CMP, hasn’t yet raised fees, but expects to soon. She said: “My outlook is, groups like ours will have increasing pressure to raise registration rates to make up some of the difference of shrinking pharma money.”

At the same time, organizers are hesitant to raise fees too much. “After a while, you reach a curve where you’re too expensive and people stop coming,” said Tom Sullivan, president and founder of Rockpointe Corporation, a medical education company based in Columbia, Md. “I know of one annual meeting that has seen its professional attendees drop from 18,000 to 12,000.” Although he can’t attribute the drop directly to rising registration fees, he believes it’s a contributing factor.

Indeed, research suggests that at least for now, physicians are unwilling to pay more for CME. According to a 2011 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, a majority of physician respondents said commercial support of CME programs introduces bias — but only 42 percent were willing to pay increased registration fees to decrease or eliminate commercial support.

While some planners struggle with the question of raising fees, others point out that plenty of industry money is still available; it’s just not being distributed via education grants. Instead, a number of planners say that they’re seeing renewed interest in traditional advertising and sponsorship opportunities - space that is not subject to the same standards and requirements as CME grants because it’s purely promotional, and not educational. While advertising and exhibit income remained almost unchanged between 2009 and 2010, it grew 64 percent over the past decade, according to ACCME.

At The Endocrine Society, Johnson said she’s had success securing industry sponsors for communication centers, which are designated spaces in the exhibit hall where attendees can check email or charge phones or laptops. She’s also seeing more interest in banners and stand-alone advertising kiosks. She said: “It’s easier to get approval for sponsorship money than for grants.”

Cathy Scheck, vice president of education and meetings for the Heart Rhythm Society, agrees. “We’re seeing more promotional dollars going to non-CME product talks on our exhibit floor,” she said. “It’s not accredited CME, and it’s clearly noted that it’s not CME, but they have been very well attended.” To ensure these well funded but non-accredited learning events don’t pull attendees away from accredited CME, Scheck says she tries to limit them to evening hours.

At IDSA, Harwood is seeing more advertising at CME events held in convention centers. But such blatant displays of industry dollars don’t always sit well with attendees or the leadership of the medical societies sponsoring an event, meaning you have to maintain a delicate balance between generating revenue and maintaining your organization’s professional reputation. “The perception among our board has been that it’s somehow distasteful to have blatant advertising within the confines of the convention, ”Harwood said. “But we’re looking at those sorts of things very closely now.”

One way to soft-sell sponsorship is to create more palatable sponsorship opportunities. “We’re trying to divert industry dollars away from the traditional advertising, like billboards or airport ads, to awareness campaigns,” Scheck said. “Instead of Company XYZ buying a banner, we might approach them with a consumer focused awareness-building campaign, something that fits our mission and goals but needs their financial support.”

More Resources:

Convene articles on CME funding and reporting include:

 “The Health-Care Law and You”

"Stronger Than Concern & Weaker Than Panic"

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