It’s not quite brain surgery,
but meeting planning for brain surgeons and other medical
professionals likewise can benefit from steady hands and a cool
Medical meeting planning presents myriad strategic and
logistical hurdles, often daunting even to seasoned professionals.
From an ever-changing matrix of regulations to complex
site-selection criteria, the field demands a high level of
M&C talked to a number of medical planners and the
vendors that serve them to explore the problems they face and the
solutions they have found.
One morning this fall, a stream of international attendees from
pharmaceutical/health-care giant Novartis arrived at the
Westminster Hotel in Livingston, N.J. Planner Uwe Tittman asked to
speak with the general manager. He wanted to schedule a meeting -
starting at that very moment.
"They just drove up to the door and said, ‘Look, we’d like to
have a meeting for 30 people,’" says the surprised GM, Richard
Verruni. Fortunately, a meeting room was available, and the
Westminster banquet staff went into high gear, setting up in 15
minutes while the attendees waited in the lobby.
"It’s the first time I’ve seen that in all the years I’ve been
in the hotel business," Verruni says.
For his (and Novartis’) part, Tittman claims it was a unique
situation "based on a misunderstanding of the administrators
planning the event" that is "unlikely to happen again." Typically,
Tittman says, such meetings are planned at least two weeks in
It’s better than 15 minutes, but two weeks seems brutally short
for organizing even a brief event. Yet, Verruni continually sees
meetings for pharmaceutical company employees planned just days in
advance. These meetings are generally for 30 to 50 attendees and
last for two or three days. They usually consist of a general
session with breakouts and require a sizable amount of A/V, as well
as wireless Internet.
"Yes, lead times are getting shorter," attests Laura J. Smith,
operations manager for Novartis Centralized Sourcing and Meetings
Express, based in East Hanover, N.J. Smith is an employee of
Philadelphia-based Maritz McGettigan, which was enlisted by
Novartis to leverage buying power and save money across
advertising, promotion and meetings. Six other pharmaceutical
companies are working with Maritz McGettigan on similar
With budgets tight, Smith notes, money for meetings often is
freed up at the last minute. And, in her case, because meeting
space at Novartis’ headquarters is quickly being converted into
offices, meetings must go off site. "Competition for internal
conference rooms is fierce," says Smith.
Fortunately for Novartis, the six-month-old Meetings Express
program, part of a broader consolidation effort, was designed
specifically to streamline events of fewer than 60 attendees. Since
many internal meetings of that size have similar needs, they are
run similarly, using the same contract addenda and a standard
agenda, depending on whether the focus is a tactical discussion,
team building, a special event, or a sales or marketing
"Meetings Express isn’t necessarily here to address short-term
meetings," says Smith. However, she points out, most of them are
planned only about a month in advance. Meetings devoted to
marketing a recently approved drug aren’t handled by Meetings
Express and are planned with even less lead time, because Novartis
- or any pharmaceutical company - wants to get the medicine on the
market as quickly as possible.
Lead time for educational meetings also is shrinking, says Mila
Kostic, director of continuing medical education for the University
of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. "There is so much new medical
information coming out. For any medical meeting that historically
took a year or two to plan, we don’t have that luxury anymore," she