by Jennifer Bechan , , October 19th, 2023

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If you’ve ever socialized with work colleagues, then you understand how difficult it can be to steer the conversation away from work projects or concerns and focus on the present moment. This is especially true if work concerns are high stakes and might impact an entire business.

When it comes to pharmaceutical meetings and events, it’s easy to get lost in concerns about compliance and forget other event goals, such as celebrating achievements, marking milestones, and building teams. Those other event goals aren’t less important, so understanding how to plan and execute a pharma event that balances both is crucial.

Fun at pharma event- 3 women pose in star sunglasses at photobooth

The Focus of Pharma Events and Meetings

It’s true that some pharma events are focused on HCPs, including investigator meetings and clinical trials; those types of events have research and development as their main focus. However, many pharma events include a wider variety of attendees (such as national sales meetings) with goals shifting outside of the clinical space. As such, these events need to reflect that shift in tone, which means carefully considering your event venue, speakers/sessions, and more.

The reality of pharma events is they can have a wide variety of goals, and in most cases, HCPs and their needs are only a small portion of the events. For example, product launches and shareholder meetings or advisory boards require understanding how to create an event that delights a majority of your attendees (non-HCPs) while adhering to guidelines for HCPs.

Though this often is a balancing act, it can be accomplished. It just requires event planners to cater to the majority while providing for the minority. That means planning an event that will wow attendees and deliver on goals.

HCPs and Entertainment at Pharma Events

So you’re hosting a pharma event that has HCPs in attendance, as well as many others, and the goal of your event is to celebrate. What’s the best way to handle that?

The truth is, when hosting HCPs at events like product launches where the focus and tone are a bit more celebratory than clinical, it can be difficult, especially when you’re including entertainment.

While Open Payments does offer a category for entertainment, defining it as “Attendance at recreational, cultural, sporting or other events that would generally have a cost,” other guidance states that these categories should be avoided when dealing with HCPs.

Open Payments and the Sunshine Act merely identify what must be reported; they don’t codify regulations or establish industry standards. For that, pharmaceutical companies and event planners must look to PhRMA Code and the EFPIA Code, and both are clear.

PhRMA Code states
“To ensure the appropriate focus on education and informational exchange and to avoid the appearance of impropriety, companies should not provide any entertainment or recreational items, such as tickets to the theater or sporting events, sporting equipment, or leisure or vacation trips, to any health care professional who is not a salaried employee of the company.”

EFPIA Code states:
“Hospitality shall not include sponsoring or organizing entertainment (e.g., pre-congress sightseeing tours or post-congress sightseeing tours, concerts, theatre or similar spectacles, museum visits, sporting) events.”

In short, while the federal government does not limit what you can provide for an HCP, industry standards provide more clarity and input regarding ethics and the appearance of ethical behavior between pharmaceutical companies and HCPs. These organizations do not allow HCPs to be the beneficiaries of entertainment or off-site ticketed activities for the sole purpose of entertainment.

Does that mean you limit entertainment? For HCP-focused events, yes. But given the need for pharma events that focus on other goals and other attendees and given the desire to create events that build excitement and energize your team, then the right entertainment and activities can be pivotal.

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Tips for Creating Fun, Engaging Pharma Events for Attendees

One of the biggest challenges to corporate events is creating events that are memorable and engaging. For many pharmaceutical companies and event planners, factoring in compliance may cause one to think creativity and excitement are limited, but that need not be the case.

1. Focus on the event goal
HCPs are in attendance; compliance is a must. However, this does not mean you abandon your goals. Keeping your eye on the primary event goal will help plan more effectively for a majority of the attendees who aren’t constrained by compliance. Though the HCPs will not be in attendance for entertainment and activities, these elements are a crucial part of the planning process for a successful conference.

2. Plan for fun, accommodate HCPs – not the other way around
Don’t let HCPs be the reason you don’t plan engaging entertainment or off-site activities that leave lasting memories. Planning your event based on what HCPs can and cannot do means you’re neglecting a majority of your audience. Instead, plan fun activities and then work HCPs around them; don’t plan for HCPs and work events around compliance limitations.

3. Work with venues and vendors who have pharma experience
Ensuring that you’re working with venues and vendors who are familiar with the kinds of meetings and events you host can be a huge benefit in the pharma space. Vendors and venues experienced in this industry understand your needs and can tailor their services accordingly. Take meals for example; they should be memorable. Creating fun, exciting menus that are not only creative but also act as a dining experience will be something your attendees will talk about for days or weeks to come.

Compliance concerns shouldn’t limit your menu. Instead, work with venues and vendors who have experience in the space and know how to create menus that are cost compliant for HCPs and taste compliant for everyone.

4. Don’t skimp on creative
Creative event design can do wonders for setting the tone and immersing your attendees in your event. Theme, design, colors, lighting, and flow all contribute to the overall event experience, and everyone gets to enjoy that. Creative also helps set the tone before the event and is, without a doubt, a way to engage everyone before, during, and after the event.
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5. Work with experienced pharma meetings and event planner
Pharmaceutical meetings and events are all about balance. You don’t want those who are not HCPs to feel short changed because you were more concerned with compliance. In many cases, HCPs are all too familiar with compliance and reporting, and will often opt out of certain

segments of the planned program. An event planner with industry experience can find ways to leverage the overall event experience, so they still feel part of the group.

Additionally, event planners with pharmaceutical event experience will have a network of venues and vendors who can modify to be both engaging and compliant.

If you want to celebrate a win, gather your team, and create an amazing experience at your next pharmaceutical meeting or event, let’s talk. Because the team at Bishop-McCann cut its teeth in the pharma space, we have decades of experience ensuring your event wows attendees while staying compliant. Get in touch, and let’s start planning!
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