The head of exhibits at Ashfield Meetings & Events on the quirks of pharmaceutical exhibitions and his role at the company.
“I picked up a number of experiences working in the automotive and also the finance industry, which I find is quite valuable for me to be able to cross-fertilise some of the ideas. The learning you can pick up from different sectors I think has been of great value, although working in pharmaceuticals is obviously the most restrictive of those.
“Pharma is restricted by a particular code around what you can and can’t do. Once upon a time you used to be a lot freer; you used to be able to have games, you used to be able to give away items, but for a number of years now you haven’t been able to do that. It harks back to actually trying to persuade doctors to prescribe one particular drug over another. There was a period of time when people were being quite underhand about that, so they had to really stamp on it.
“That in itself is not always a negative. I think that having some of those restrictions actually just forces you to be more creative in finding ways around them.
“You couldn’t be seen to be trying to curry favour with a doctor to prescribe your drug over another; it had to be about the science and about what made that drug better.
“That really extended into the events world as well; suddenly you couldn’t put doctors up in five-star hotels, you couldn’t have giveaways on stands and you couldn’t trivialise what you were doing by trying to engage with them through games on stands.
“What it does do is force you to be more creative and to find a way around these things and still engage with doctors all over the world, which is what we do, engaging with them in a way that’s going to be interesting and educational for them.
“Our clients are now looking more and more to have one supplier to turn to rather than multiple, and that’s partly due to – I think – procurement departments becoming a bit more savvy. They’ve learnt what the events industry is, whereas five years ago they didn’t really understand the industry particularly well.
“There are so many businesses that form Ashfield as a whole that cover medical communications, logistics, sales training, events, meetings and exhibitions. We‘re all one big company and we’re one of the few that can actually do that, so we’re finding that we’re getting a lot of interest from the big pharma companies because they want to be able to have one company to turn to that can do all this.
“As head of exhibits, I’m looking at the whole business and the whole of that sector. It’s run as a separate business unit within the business and I’m responsible for that overall. I’m looking at not just the new opportunities that are coming in through our business development team, but also how we’re running operationally, what we need to improve upon, our supplier network and looking into the profitability.
“We know this industry is very much about peaks and troughs, and we know it can be fickle, so you can’t just sit on your hands. You have to keep pushing.”