Strategic Meetings Management Programmes aren’t a new concept. In fact, the thinking behind what we now call SMMP goes back to the 1990s. Multi-divisional corporate organisations realised that decentralised processes for meetings and events were costing their business money, so they took action to consolidate spend on meetings, to drive savings and improve the procurement of meeting space and hotel rooms.

Fast forward 20 years – the development of Internet-based software systems and the ability to track, consolidate and analyse data on meeting spend have become integral to this industry.  However, it is interesting to see how far different business sectors have adopted SMMP. My opinion is that the pharmaceutical industry has led the way purely out of necessity.

SMMP not only drives value in corporate events but also ensures that processes aimed at expanding global SMMP efforts are maintaining quality and cost-effectiveness. Research has shown that corporates are increasingly under scrutiny and pressure to:

•    Reduce costs and increase savings
•    Improve data analytics and reporting
•    Manage the globalisation of strategic meetings and events
•    Improve event policy compliance

(Source:  Aberdeen Group, 2011)

Historically the pharmaceutical industry had been publicly criticised on its “lavish and inappropriate” spend on “entertaining” healthcare professionals (HCPs). In response, global pharmaceutical companies not only took on board and escalated the principles offered by SMMP to address the above pressures, but in my opinion have also helped shape current thinking with SMMP by driving best practice.

As we know, healthcare meetings are subject to codes of compliance, at both local and international levels, with every interaction between the pharmaceutical company and healthcare professional being closely scrutinised. The days of “lavish and inappropriate entertainment” are long gone. With the imminent EFPIA disclosure on transfer of value, data analytics on delegate spend have to be as accurate as possible. Never before has there been a mandated analysis at this granular level. Development of life science modules onto existing technology platforms is further enhancing the data capture of many strategic meetings management programmes, which have already been established within pharmaceutical companies.

Furthermore, SMMP spend control has resulted in recommendations to use virtual meetings to replace or supplement live meetings, to reduce the number of eligible attendees at specific meetings, reduce the length of meetings and to leverage analytics to identify unnecessary meetings.

A recent study reveals that HCP attendance at meetings is changing and that there is an increased trend towards shorter meetings, with HCPs preferring a length of two days, including travel (Source: Ashfield Healthcare, Science Of Meetings, 2016). We are already seeing enhanced use of technology in meetings, creating hybrid solutions. The Ashfield study also reveals that HCPs anticipate that meetings in ten years will be largely virtual and interactive, with built-in modules to check learning. Finally, it is a well-known that a number of large pharmaceutical companies have already taken the decision not to take attendees to congresses but rather to support medical education in other ways.

Whilst these changes can be largely apportioned to compliance regulations and increasing pressure on HCPs’ time and technological developments, we cannot ignore the parallels with the objectives of a robust strategic meeting management programme. Transparency, good qualitative processes, enhanced data collection, business intelligence and reporting and the analytics offered by SMMP are all now prominent throughout healthcare meetings and the pharmaceutical industry.

But of course, SMMP is not limited to the pharmaceutical industry. With anti-bribery and transparency laws, increased media focus, commercial globalisation and the overall economic climate, other industries are also joining the SMMP journey.  Strategic meetings management is here to stay, but perhaps there are lessons that can be shared from an industry for whom this has already become a well-established path.

Has the pharmaceutical industry led the way with Strategic Meetings Management Programmes?