Vascular Insights - Sponsorship or Partnership?

By Chip Draper, Vascular Insights, VP of Marketing

There are two general approaches which are often used when looking towards industry financial support for congresses and societies. Sponsorship usually includes the opportunity to commercially sponsor a booth or another advertising opportunity. The other is a partnership where the society or congress engage and partner with industry in a meaningful way to help advance healthcare by fostering communication and collaboration. Longstanding synergy between industry and academia has helped to deliver better patient care in a meaningful way. These partnerships will garner larger contributions and become even more important in the future.

Investment decisions are important for all organizations, and perhaps even more so for smaller organizations. For example, many facets need to be considered such as the need to commercially partner with advertising opportunities. Online and social networking opportunities are important. The commercial investments made in congresses, symposia and societies whose constituents make up their customer base are also to be considered.

I was asked to describe what factors drove our increased support to AVF in 2015. The answer is relatively simple. American Venous Forum proved an apt partner when considered by our own qualification matrix. In addition, the leadership of the AVF which has demonstrated a willingness to partner with industry in a meaningful way to advance topics important to their members.

2014 turned out to be a banner year for mergers and acquisitions in the endovascular market space. While this is good for business, it can be worrisome for the recipients of their industry support. When acquisition activity increases it is often accompanied with a decrease in the number of potential contributors to key symposia, societies and congresses. These groups benefit by industry participation and financial contributions by offering their membership quality programming which in turn helps to deliver quality healthcare for their patients. To that end, some have asked how smaller companies construct their decision making process for investing in these programs.

To offer context, our organization, like so many others, participated in greater than 20 symposia and congresses in 2014 and we were invited to participate in greater than 30 symposium or congress domestically in 2015. While it would be ideal to support everyone who asks for a commitment, of course it is impossible. Our team went to work on a critical decision making tool for the selection and investment in a handful of symposia, congresses and societies for 2015. As any good financial stewards of our organization’s dollars, we undertook a review of the symposia and congresses we supported with the goal of reducing the number of overall partnerships and increasing our investments in a meaningful way to those symposia, congresses and societies which met or exceeded our criteria.

To be sure, these were difficult decisions. In many cases I had to personally call the course directors of symposia and congresses to offer my explanation why we wouldn’t be investing or we were reducing investment in their event in 2015. In most cases I would walk them through the decision making matrix we used in order to help them strengthen their attractiveness, where possible, in 2016.

In order to guide our commercial partnership decisions, we used a matrix to lead us to an objective answer in several categories:

  1. Basic Qualifying Questions
  2. Reputation and Nature of Meeting
  3. Leadership &  Management Company communication and professionalism
  4. Policy partnerships

Basic Qualifying Questions: The basic geographic, disease state and demographic questions must be a fit. The primary mission of the event, symposia, congress or organization should be in alignment with the company’s target demographic, disease state and geographic considerations. Questions which are often considered may include:

  • Are the primary disease state(s) addressed by this congress, symposia or society aligned with our product(s)?
  • Is the disease state a primary purpose/mission of the meeting or an adjunctive/add on course?
  • How many Attendees Expected?
  • How many countries are represented by the attendance?
  • What medical or surgical specialties are represented at the meeting?
  • Is the geographic location of the meeting accessible to its membership and to industry partners?
  • Does the demographic align with our primary or secondary audience?
  • Does the congress represent the associated disease state and the audience you wish to work with?
  • Is the Audience International or Domestic only?

Reputation and Nature of Meeting: Provided the partnership in question meets the affirmative criteria for the basic questions, when then move on to more advanced questions determining the level of partnership or commitment which would be a fit with current needs. Is the organization creative and interactive and does the reputation, drive and nature of the event, symposia, congress or organization align with your product/procedural mix? Questions for consideration may include:

  • Is the Symposia, Congress or Society considered scientific or practical or a combination of both?
  • Does the symposium or congress have a reputation for being scientifically and evidence based driven?
  • Is the primary mission of the symposia, society or congress to advance the treatment for patient or increase access to treatment?
  • Does the symposia, congress and its leadership actively advance the scientific investigation, policy and agenda of the disease state attempting to improve patients’ lives?
  • Does the symposium or congress have a reputation for impacting patient lives?
  • Does the symposium or congress have a reputation for cutting edge and groundbreaking sessions consistent with its mission?
  • Is the symposium or congress and its leadership associated to journals aligned to its mission?

Leadership, Management company and Partnership: Additional considerations include professional commitment of the leadership team to its industry partners AND the management company who administer the event. As an example for the last several years the American Venous Forum Foundation has been meeting with industry supporters in a one on one format during the annual meeting. In addition, they’ve demonstrably shown that they are listening by attending the next meeting prepared with notes from the previous year. To be direct, this is rare. While some will send a survey or even offer an industry appreciation breakfast, or even a group meeting  there is simply no substitute or comparison  to having 15 minutes with leadership allowing them an opportunity to understand your organizations priorities and allowing first hand feedback of the meeting. In addition, the organization responsible for administering the annual meetings and adjunct meetings have consistently demonstrated professionalism toward industry sponsors. Questions often asked and answered about the leadership team and Management Company may include:

  • Does the symposium or congress have a reputation for partnering with industry in a meaningful and equitable way?
  • Is the management company wiling to engage in conversation and have a reputation for holding to their commitments to industry partners?
  • Will the Symposium or Congress offer partnership and educational opportunities which advance patient care and awareness of your product? 
  • Will the symposium or congress offer an opportunity to listen to both its constituents and industry in a meaningful and action oriented way?
  • Does the symposium or congress team communicate well and offer equitable representation to small companies and large companies?
  • Are our Key Opinion Leaders Members or Leadership at this Congress?
  • Is the symposium or Congress accessible to its constituents?
  • Is the Symposium, congress and its leadership open to creative and interactive ideas consistent with education and its mission?

Policy Partnerships: Healthcare policy is key to partnership opportunities today. While the United States has a long standing history of industry and clinical community teaming to invent products without policy and access the products cannot impact patient lives. Thus, the leadership of any society, symposia or congress should prepare themselves to take a position on the newcomers and to that end the ability to partner with industry in this area (within ethical confines) are sure to increase attractiveness towards the potential partnership 

  • Has the congress and its leadership developed a committee to partner with industry on market access and healthcare policy?
  • Is leadership actively working to shape policy and can they help you navigate uncertain policy waters?
  • Will the leadership engage in open discussions and guidance toward gaining support from the society?

The partnerships between congress and societies are essential to moving treatment modalities forward. While there is no lack of meetings for industry to attend or societies to support, the fact is that the quality of the partnerships matter. Leaders running congresses and societal organizations that understand and harness this will win the race for industry sponsorship

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