The Burning Issue: Pharma firms' move threatens live events

Glaxosmithkline's move to stop paying doctors and healthcare professionals to attend or speak at conferences could hit medical events. C&IT gets more industry reaction.

Glaxosmithkline (GSK) shakeup to 'weaken margins' in medical events
Glaxosmithkline (GSK) shakeup to 'weaken margins' in medical events

The news that pharmaceutical giant Glaxosmithkline (GSK) is to stop paying doctors and healthcare professionals (HCPs) to attend or speak at conferences could "weaken margins" in medical events.

In December, GSK announced that it will no longer pay doctors to promote its products at speaking engagements and will stop direct financial support to healthcare professionals attending medical events. Its sales force will also no longer receive individual sales targets.

Chris Parnham, managing director of Absolute Corporate Events, said: "Profits and medical advances have never sat together comfortably, as is usually the case when personal need or survival gets mixed up with commercial gain, but the pharmaceutical industry continues to try to resolve this dilemma.

"For agencies working within the sector this usually means more work and more cost, weakening margins even further."

The drive for greater transparency comes as no surprise to many in the industry and is largely welcomed. GSK's decision follows AstraZeneca's move in 2011 to tighten practices and it is expected that more drug companies will follow suit, which raises a number of concerns for the international meetings market overall.

One obvious problem is that high-ranking doctors and HCPs may no longer be prepared to travel around the world to attend and speak at medical events.

Caroline Mackenzie, commercial director of PCO Contendam, said: "The removal of direct delegate funding will affect delegate numbers for some associations.However, it shifts the onus on to the association to deliver top-quality education to attract delegates.

"GSK's timing - ahead of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations new code, effective from January 2014 - alleviates a huge administrative burden."

INSIDER VIEW

"This action is not surprising and I expect others will follow with similar strategies. If their sales forces will no longer be motivated on pure sales and HCPs are not paid to attend events, pharmaceutical companies will focus on educating patients, payers and prescribers about their products."
Hannah Wilkinson client services director, Grass Roots Meetings & Events

"With an increased focus on transparency and HCP spend reporting, pharma companies' interactions with HCPs continue to be scrutinised. With further multi-marketing channels, we will see the evolution of healthcare meetings, encouraging innovative developments in this sector."
Lee-Anne Penn head of healthcare account management, Zibrant

"It is key to respond to these changing conditions with new methods. Inevitably margins will be reduced for many of the businesses that currently thrive in this space. However, those companies that can innovate and provide new ways for clients to communicate with their audiences will survive and indeed thrive."
David Waldman CEO, Five Hats International

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