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Managing Congresses: Meet Those Making Them Happen

In the fast-paced world of pharmaceutical and life science events, working around congresses requires dedication and passion for detail. It demands a love of travel but is also packed with policy and protocols.

We speak to three people managing congress logistics for our pharmaceutical clients at BCD Meetings & Events and find out about the benefits and appeal of a career in this exciting area.

Large seated audience looking at the stage at a business conferenceKuala Lumpur, Seoul, Paris, Madrid, Rio…the list of places that Carolina Turconi, Senior Meetings Manager at BCD Meetings & Events has visited through her job seems endless. Living in Milan, with plenty of time spent along the stunning Puglia coastline in Southern Italy renovating a traditional ‘Trullo’ house (a lockdown project), her job managing congresses in the pharmaceutical industry has taken her all over the world. “I’ve had the opportunity to visit destinations I would never have dreamed of going. Although now my kids are here, I’m just as happy in the less exciting cities!”

Carolina has worked for BCD Meetings & Events for 8 years, managing congresses and meetings in the life sciences sector. If you’re not familiar with the term, congresses are large scale events where professionals from pharmaceutical and life sciences industries meet to learn about new medical developments, share knowledge and connect with colleagues. Many BCD Meetings & Events customers attend these congresses to meet with their peers, customers, and colleagues, and these events play a critical role in their business strategy for marketed products.

“There are areas in events which look livelier and appealing like fashion or music,” says Carolina. “But once I tried the life sciences industry, I couldn’t go back to anything else.”

Managing Large-Scale Events

The scale of these events is huge. Take the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Annual Meeting (ASCO), the largest oncology congress in the world. Around 40,000 people travel to this event in Chicago every year. The Convention on Pharmaceutical Ingredients (CPHI) event in India last year saw nearly 45,000 people from 116 countries attend, with 1,400 exhibiting companies taking up more than 100,000 m2 of exhibition space. [BCD Meetings & Events does not manage either of those events]. And according to the Meetings Industry Association, the largest sector for business events in the UK was healthcare and pharmaceuticals, accounting for almost a quarter of all events held each year.

Carolina focuses on ancillary meetings & events, managing logistics, sourcing venues, coordinating food and hotels, and providing on-site support. “When on-site, we start early, sometimes 5 am, and finish at midnight. It’s stressful but energizing, and I’m never bored. The challenges and teamwork are rewarding, and you create incredible bonds with both the team and the guests.”

Logistics and Challenges

The sense of reward is something that also chimes with Joanna Powell, Senior Project Manager, BCD Meetings & Events. She has more than 20 years of experience in the events industry. “The job is fulfilling, working with interesting clients and meeting diverse delegates. The satisfaction comes from seeing everything come together, especially during congresses where you see experts discussing their work and knowing you helped facilitate these important gatherings.”

Joanna’s role involves leading tier one events. These host between 600 to 700 attendees. “I lead a team of six people who handle registration, housing, meeting space, dinners, and transfers. My responsibilities include guiding the team and managing the event budget. I oversee and coordinate all activities to ensure the event runs smoothly.”

Joanna also cites the opportunity to travel with the job and says the places you get to visit are “incredible” but be prepared to see “plenty of hotel rooms and exhibition centers!”.

Managing Your Wellbeing

Anita Hui, a Congress Program Manager at BCD Meetings & Events, works with medical clients attending global congresses. “The subjects are fascinating,” Anita says. “You realize how large this world is – single conferences attract thousands for one drug or cancer type.”

Her role demands organization, process orientation, and professionalism. “It’s the little details… did you pay the deposit, did you sign the contract?” Anita travels about 30% of the time but cautions against burnout. “Busy periods are demanding, so take advantage of slow times. It’s not a 9-5 job… expect to work harder as events approach and manage the ebbs and flows in your schedule.”

Navigating Industry Regulations

Event professionals need to navigate a complex regulatory landscape to ensure compliance in the pharmaceutical industry. Read our 7 things to know about compliance in Life Sciences meetings blog.

The IFPMA Code of Practice governs how IFPMA members operate, communicate, and act to ensure ethical standards in a highly regulated industry.

Many local and regional associations rely on the IFPMA Code as guidance for their own codes of conduct. It focuses on the members from the Pharmaceutical Company’s interaction with Health Care Professionals as well as the pharmaceutical products and their uses. This means following the guidelines around hospitality and entertainment and tracking of attendance and spend throughout the engagement. These guidelines aim to ensure industry professionals are not unduly influenced regarding medical products.

Both government bodies and industry associations set these regulations. “I have continual training courses on compliance and regular refreshers to stay updated with new rules,” says Joanna. Carolina adds: “The numerous guidelines may seem overwhelming at first, but once you overcome this hurdle, the job becomes highly rewarding and regular training just becomes part of the role.

Expect the Unexpected

“A lot of unexpected things can happen at congresses, many I can’t repeat in an interview,” says Carolina. “Always be prepared for anything.”

Joanna highlights the unpredictability, recalling getting stopped by excitable Americans in a hotel lift due to her British accent or dodging paparazzi while staying at the same hotel as a superstar A-list singer.

Anita emphasizes the varied roles and opportunities in congresses. “There’s so much opportunity to try different areas, manage different clients, and types of events, from event production to live events… once you step into this industry, you’ll find so many doors to open and areas to explore and grow.”

Head to our central congress management page to find out more.

Originally published 25 June 2024 7:00:00 AM

Written by

BCD Meetings & Events

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