An increasingly bright spotlight is shining on the relationship between doctors and the dollars at pharmaceutical companies. As new compliance codes impact the healthcare industry in the United States and Europe, medical meeting planners recognize what that spotlight means for their success. While there are many private conversations about navigating the future of medical meetings, one of the most important issues that every medical meeting organization must address is arguably the most public portion of the meeting: the marketing campaign.
“Always keep in mind that it may not just be potential attendees who are reading your marketing materials,” Dermot Ryan, Congress and Events Manager, European Academy of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, says.
From sponsors to regulatory officials to acclaimed late-night talk show hosts, the list of people scouring a medical meeting’s website or social media handles for potential issues is long. To make sure those eyeballs don’t happen to find anything that questions the integrity of an educational medical gathering, here are four steps to reshape the approach to marketing a medical meeting.
1) Press pause on the party music.
While conference marketing materials have historically highlighted cocktail hours and opening night parties, Ryan says promoting those events creates big problems in the new normal of medical compliance.
“Get it wrong, and it could have serious consequences — not just for your revenue but also for your long-term relationship with sponsors,” Ryan says.
Celebration, festivities, bash — if it sounds like a party, eliminate it from the meeting’s vocabulary. However, the marketing campaign can highlight the ability to connect with experts and like-minded peers who are working to solve today’s pressing healthcare questions.
“A networking or welcome reception conveys a very different message to a party,” Ryan says.
2) Leave leisure out of the equation.
Meeting planners have historically leveraged opportunities to explore the host city as add-on benefits for attendees. However, it’s important to recognize that dining at the city’s best restaurants or catching a sporting event are not appropriate uses of sponsorship dollars.
“Some background information on the city where the meeting is being held can be offered,” Ryan says. “This could be cultural, architectural, historical or geographical.”
While Ryan says that information on a host city’s cultural significance is appropriate, meeting planners must know where to draw the line.
“Do not highlight tourist attractions to visit or mention shopping possibilities,” Ryan warns.
In addition to evaluating language on the meeting’s website, Ryan recommends taking a close look at accompanying images.
“An iconic photo of the city is acceptable, but avoid including any elements that imply leisure opportunities such as photos of the beach,” Ryan says.
The EFPIA’s monitoring system, e4ethics, is calling out concerns, too. For example, in its pre-assessment of the upcoming 11th European Paediatric Neurology Society Congress, the organization warns that “entertainment, sporting or leisure events are organised in connection with the event.”
3) Rethink your room block.
In addition to worrying about what attendees can do outside the host hotel, today’s medical compliance landscape puts serious pressure on what’s inside the property. Some attendees may love the chance to indulge in extravagance, but that opportunity should not be advertised at a medical meeting.
“A four-star property with a connotation of leisure or luxury in its title from ‘resort’ to ‘beach’ to ‘club’ is a no-go,” Ryan says. “Even the description of hotels in your block as five-star, luxury or Category A can be problematic in some countries such as Spain.”
4) Don’t let guests give away the wrong impression.
Plenty of attendees may choose to extend a meeting into a vacation once the education is over, but promoting the ability to bring a guest or a spouse to any of the meeting’s programmed events will raise eyebrows of those at the EFPIA. Consider the warning that appears on a range of EFPIA pre-assessments including the European Congress of Radiology 2015 and the 10th European Congress of Menopause and Andropause:
Concern may arise with regard to EFPIA HCP Code provisions, for the following reasons: non-healthcare professionals/accompanying persons shall not be invited to the event.
5) Look ahead, and stay educated.
As the world steadily moves toward more transparency surrounding the use of pharmaceutical sponsorship dollars, meeting planners must dedicate themselves to staying ahead of the curve.
“It is now imperative to understand how guidelines, codes, and laws around the world can have a significant effect on our US-based medical meeting revenue,” Davide Veglia, President of ABTS Convention Services, said at the HCEA Marketing Summit in Boston last month. “This information is available and accessible through resources like the Red Book for Medical Meetings.”
The Society for Worldwide Medical Exchange, the nonprofit behind The Red Book, and The Rome Group, an international group of experts in the field of continuing medical education, will be holding a free webinar on the EFPIA Disclosure Code and the New Medical Meeting on Friday, May 15, 2015. The live format of the webinar allows meeting planners to participate through chat in real time, ask questions, make comments, and steer the discussion towards topics of further interest. More information and a detailed schedule will be available at The Society for Worldwide Medical Exchange and The Rome Group websites later this month.
This educational article was brought to you by ABTS Convention Services. With over 20 years of experience delivering global internationally-focused sales and integrated marketing strategy solutions, negotiating internationally-friendly group housing and providing on-site expertise to manage your international groups, ABTS is recognized as one of the leaders in medical association management. If you need help moving your medical association forward in today’s global meetings market or would like help managing and growing your international attendance, click here to get in touch with ABTS.