by Jonathan Vatner | January 01, 2008


Skip the traffic:
For little more than
a car service in some cities,
attendees can be
helicoptered from
the airport to
their destinations.

Treating doctors to warm hospitality can be one of the trickiest tasks that pharmaceutical meeting planners face. On one hand, it takes a great deal of effort to impress physicians, who generally expect to be treated like royalty in their travels. On the other hand, any substantial expenditure on gifts or special experiences might be seen by the government or the media as a waste of money, or worse, a bribe to influence prescribing practices.

Here’s one solution: Make them feel welcome with impressive yet inexpensive touches. Limiting gifts to $100 per person (the maximum amount as prescribed by the PhRMA Code) is one way to ensure that. The following 20 ideas were suggested by hotels and professional gift companies to brighten up a physician’s day and create experiences to treasure. Not all will be permitted by the most stringent of compliance departments, but they should serve as a reminder that a friendly gesture isn’t necessarily forbidden, and they can spark other ideas for impressing any VIP.

Unexpected pleasures

Take a look at the nuts and bolts of the meeting, things attendees take for granted, and inject an element of surprise into them.

$100: Instead of the typical town car from the airport, a little extra money can procure a helicopter ride. The Hotel Park City (Utah), for example, offers a chopper to and from the Salt Lake City airport. It’s three times faster and infinitely more exciting than driving. Retail price for the flight is $125, but the hotel can offer it at a discount for groups.

$95: Though many pharmaceutical companies need to shy away from hallmarks of excess like filet mignon and lobster, mealtime doesn’t have to feel spare. Spending extra to give the event a special setting or to incorporate a wine tasting can be a cost-effective way of leaving a good taste in attendees’ mouths, says Tracy Lynch, director of corporate and group sales for the Emerson Resort & Spa in Mt. Tremper, N.Y. The resort’s chef’s table, for example, costs about $95 per person, not much more than a regular banquet.

$50: Perks don’t have to be targeted to individual guests. Banyan Tree Desert Spa & Resort in Bahrain places small essential-oil burners on the meeting room tables. The scents are mild and can be tailored to the goals of the meeting. For example, Kaffir lime is thought to enhance mental clarity as well as memory, and pine is used to help attendees relax. Moreover, the $50 expenditure is enough to let attendees take the burners and oil home as keepsakes.

Datexx SuperBatteryPhysicians (and their cell phones)
will get a charge out of
the Datexx SuperBattery.

High-tech gifts

“Useful technology is a hot thing these days,” says Larry Cohen, president of Axis Promotions, a marketing, promotions and events company specializing in the pharmaceutical sector, based in New York City and with offices in Boston and Los Angeles. “It’s not just stuff, it’s things they’re going to use.”

$79: At Ocean Edge Resort & Club in Brewster, Mass., on Cape Cod, a recent pharmaceutical group gave out iPod shuffles, onto which can be loaded a podcast of the conference proceedings (or a doc’s favorite songs).

$32: Instead of having to carry around a half-dozen plugs for on-the-go or at-work charging of the myriad portable electronics people carry, a universal docking station, offered by New York City-based promotions and marketing company The Complete Package Inc., does it all by itself.

$20-$50: Linda Rubin, president of The Complete Package, recommends a digital desk clock that displays the weather. More expensive versions download the five-day outlook via satellite. “We concentrate on high perceived value,” Rubin says. “Items that have the same ‘wow’ factor as something you may find in the Sharper Image, but less expensive.”

$20: Cohen favors a wireless mouse that allows doctors to operate a PowerPoint presentation without going near the computer. A laser pointer is built in.

$15-$3: USB flash memory drives are the kind of item most tech-savvy people can’t have too many of. Cohen stores prescribing information on the drive, and through a new technology, the file is automatically updated every time the information changes. Physicians need only to be connected to the Internet.

$5-$40: Especially on business trips, it’s common for a cell phone or BlackBerry to go dead without any prospect of recharging in sight. Axis Promotions offers a portable cell phone charger, which is essentially a rechargeable battery that jump-starts a failing phone. The less expensive models use AA batteries.

$2: “A gift’s recipient is more likely to get that warm, fuzzy feeling if someone went to the effort to put a name or initials on it,” says Larry Cohen. For electronics or pens, laser engraving is discreet and elegant. For leather goods, Cohen would deboss them without gold foil, to be subtle.