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On a bright, but cold, spring Monday morning in New York I arrived at the Marriott Marquis for Pharma Forum 2016 – the world’s largest gathering of stakeholders dedicated to elevating the life sciences meeting experience.

Having attended five previous forums I always block the Pharma Forum dates in my calendar when they are announced and then eagerly await the agenda. Having reviewed the content it promised to be three full days of collaboration, education and innovation – the three pillars of the conference.

With over 800 attendees the exhibit hall was bustling on the first morning. The landscape of the US domestic hotel industry was a big topic of conversation on the first day. With spend and occupancy increasing, demand and rates are also increasing – something that can be a challenge when considering pharma spend caps. The overwhelming message from the discussions was that more transparency and closer collaboration is needed between hoteliers, agencies and pharma in order to continue to facilitate effective partnerships.

In the afternoon Michael Dominguez, from MGM Resorts International, put a different perspective forward from the hotels by delivering an insightful key note into the top event industry trends. The session resonated well with the audience – I believe we are sometimes too narrowly focused on what is happening in the field of life sciences events and often miss inspiration from other sectors.  The ‘disrupt or be disrupted’ message from Michael is something affecting businesses across all sectors and, as Ashfield, it is a conversation we have been kick starting with our clients through our SPARK THINKING brand.

As the forum progressed the number of conversations and networking opportunities exponentially increased. This is one of the reasons I love attending the show – having the ability to converse and learn from multi-level stakeholders. For us it is hugely important to gather insight from different stakeholders – we need to know the macro and micro environment and what is impacting our clients and our suppliers, as well as, our own event agencies; not only now but what could be lurking around the corner.

Collaboration, education and innovation at Pharma Forum

As an attendee I had the ability to customize my agenda with a variety of tiered and segmented educational offerings. I personally enjoyed the fact there was a variety of sessions focused on innovation, engagement, message retention, psychology, behavior and technology.

Our industry trade shows tend to talk a lot about compliance, transfer of value (and Andy Powrie-Smith from EFPIA did a great job on cross border compliance at this one) and SMMP programs. The shows can often forget about the fact we are delivering experiences, and we need to think about uncovering insights to help shape content, produce effective stage sets and learning environments and storytell effectively to engage with our audiences. Well done to CBI for getting the balance right.

It was also great to see the physician exchange panel discussing how pharmaceutical regulations are impacting their practice. Ashfield recently undertook a physician survey investigating their behaviors and preferences in relation to attending scientific meetings. It was great to see so many of our key findings resonating through these discussions.

I am lucky that Ashfield has the same ethos as myself and recognize the value in attending events such as the Forum. It is seen as best practice to have time away from the day to day pressures of my job to learn and discuss important issues for the future of the healthcare meetings industry.

We also recognize this with our clients. We encourage them to schedule two different types of review meetings with us. One more traditional and focused on monitoring service level agreements, key performance indicators and management reporting. And a second, in an offsite environment, to  focus on the future. As a business we present new technologies, challenge current thinking and strategy, deliver workshops on innovation and creativity, offer alternative meeting formats and generally help to start conversations in areas that will help our clients stay ahead of the wave of change. Inspiration and learning happens best when you create the environment for it to be nurtured.

All in all it was a fantastic event. It was great to see so many familiar faces, meet even more new ones and create partnerships rather than supplier relationships. If we continue to learn from each other in environments like the forum we will continue to be ingenious in how we deliver new solutions for our clients. Events like this allow us to talk, listen, better understand objectives and the market and hone our network of expertise to deliver events with certainty and impact.

Collaboration, education and innovation at Pharma Forum

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