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by Michael J. Shapiro | July 01, 2011

Bill CooneyTen years ago, face-to-face was the predominate mode for MedPoint Digital (then named MedPoint Communications), a Chicago-area meeting planning company working chiefly in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. "We were doing a lot of planning for companies like Glaxo Smith Kline, Lilly, Pfizer and Astra Zeneca, to name a few," recalls president and CEO Bill Cooney. But in the intervening decade, a number of trends in the biopharmaceutical industry have grown in significance, pushing clients away from some of the traditional events and more toward virtual and hybrid meetings. "We looked at that and thought, that's an exciting area, why don't we run in that direction?" says Cooney.

Today, MedPoint more often than not leaves the face-to-face logistics to others. "About 95 percent of what we do now is virtual and hybrid," notes Cooney, who adds that his company's planning expertise has been channeled through a different medium -- a shift increasingly being replicated across the medical/pharmaceutical industry.

Why Virtual Makes Sense Slashed budgets combined with technological advances have caused many companies to consider adding a virtual component to meetings, across a variety of sectors. For medical meetings in particular, regulatory forces have shone an even more intense spotlight on budget and payment concerns, adding that much more appeal to the approach. Cooney breaks down some of the reasons for the burgeoning interest in virtual solutions in this highly specialized realm.

• Time constraints. "Our audience is primarily physicians, and physicians are really, really busy," Cooney says. "They have to work harder to make the same amount of money, and they have less time to go to meetings."

• Economic shifts. Doctors aren't the only ones who must work more efficiently to make money. "The economics of medicine have changed for pharmaceutical companies as well," notes Cooney. "They're under a lot of pressure to provide more cost-effective products and lower the costs of promotion."

• Evolving regulations. Industry codes such as PhRMA and AdvaMed, along with state and federal legislation, have placed limits or restrictions on spending and reporting. "There's a whole regulatory regime that's pushing back on travel and costs associated with it," Cooney explains, "like entertainment, dining and so on."

• Technology advances. More sophisticated virtual meeting platforms and increased bandwidth have made meeting this way more natural, and in turn more participants have grown comfortable with it. "It's become a lot more popular and mainstream," says Cooney. "You can do a lot more things today than you could 10 years ago, and just in the last two years the explosion of mobile devices is adding even more to that trend."