Meetings require you to juggle a number of competing factors

By: Jigsaw Conference Venues

The ABPI Code of Practice sets limits on the hospitality that can be offered to delegates at any pharmaceutical industry meeting, and strengthens the potential sanctions for breaches of the code. As such, it's important to bear these factors in mind when drawing up a meetings programme, and taking professional advice to make sure that your conference does not breach any rules.

Specifically, ABPI 2006 clauses 18 and, in particular, 19, set out clear rules as to the suitability of gifts, hospitality and other benefits at your conference or industry meeting. Provision of hospitality is limited to refreshments and basic subsistence (i.e. food and drink), accommodation, genuine registration fees and the payment of reasonable travel costs where a delegate has been sponsored to attend.

In weighing up whether or not your proposed industry event conforms to these criteria, several factors should be kept in mind. First of all, the meeting must have a clear educational content. This is not to say that no promotional activity is permitted, but it is a key requirement.

In terms of venue, the venue must be appropriate for the event, and should be selected with the needs of the meeting uppermost in your mind. In particular, a pharmaceutical industry event should not be held at a venue which is lavish or deluxe or where entertainment is the main attraction of the venue – so, for example, a casino would be inappropriate for such a meeting. Sporting venues are also a no-no; if it is absolutely necessary to use the conference facilities at a stadium or other sporting venue then the industry meeting should not coincide with any sporting fixtures at the venue.

The other aspect to bear in mind when choosing a location for a pharmaceutical industry meeting is geography.

The meeting should be held in a sensible location, as scheduling a weekend conference for GPs from the south-east, for example, in Scotland might be thought an additional inducement, turning the conference into a weekend break. When making a decision on venue, it is important to bear in mind the overall impression that is created by the choice of venue and location; would you be happy for the details of the event to be generally known? If the answer is yes, then the chances are that the industry meeting strikes an appropriate balance.

The same is doubly true of meetings held outside the UK. These are not necessarily unacceptable under the Code of Practice, but only if there are valid and cogent reasons for holding a British industry meeting abroad – i.e. that the majority of delegates are from outside the UK and therefore the location of the meeting makes sense. Again, the crucial point to consider is the impression that would be given by hosting the event overseas. As with any meeting, it should be the programme that attracts delegates rather than the associated venue and hospitality.

In addition to these requirements, it's also important to note that a well-organized industry meeting is tailored to the needs of delegates, not the other way around. This has certain implications in terms of venue, costs and so on which must be borne in mind when organizing any pharmaceutical industry meeting, big or small. This is particularly true of hospitality. Under the rules, hospitality may be offered, but this is limited to subsistence; food and drink may be provided, but they should not be the focus of the event. Again, perception is key; a dinner is acceptable, for example, but it should be fitted in around the programme for the industry meeting or conference, rather than the other way around.

The same is true of ancillary activities on offer at the venue chosen for the meeting. For example, if the conference is being held at a hotel, this may offer other services to guests; massage, spa, outdoor activities such as skiing, fishing and the like. These would not be appropriate activities to offer as part of the meeting, because they do not directly relate to the purpose and educational content of the event. The emphasis placed on hospitality in advertising is also important here; events should not be billed as "A dinner with…", and additional benefits available at the venue should not be advertised as part of the programme of events.

The rules for organising a pharmaceutical industry meeting are strict, but with good reasonBusiness Management Articles, and it is as well to seek professional advice on what sort of hospitality and benefits may be acceptable when organizing such an industry meeting.

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