The Rent is Too Damn High – Pharma Edition

Pills + dollar bills

by Sven Larsen (@svenplarsen)

Got $2000 to spare?

Never mind, I think I already know the answer.

In this “do more with less” decade, the idea of “spare budget” or discretionary funds is pretty much non-existent. And companies that are continually slashing sales forces and other key parts of their organization aren’t normally inclined to shell out a lot of cash for their employees’ professional development.

Unfortunately, no one seems to have told the Pharma conference organizers this.

Now we’re not trying to cut off our noses to spite our faces here. Pixels & Pills is well known for our conference coverage and we couldn’t bring you the videos and other helpful content we do without the strong support of companies like EXL, IXI, and BDI or folks like Kevin Kruse or Shwen Gwee. We see the best (and the worst) conference content that’s offered every year. And it pains us to realize that when there’s a really standout presentation from someone like Tom Goetz or Ceci Zak only a very limited amount of the Pharma community are going to see it. Worse, our current “pay for play” model means that small startups who have great ideas but limited budgets aren’t even a part of the conversation. It doesn’t have to be that way and it hurts growth and innovation in our business.

One of the best conferences we attended over the last year was the PSFK conference in New York City. This conference, focused on innovation and the latest technologies is relatively cheap to attend (under $400) but full of the kind of people you want to hear from. Artists and entrepeeurs, technologists and designers, the people who are shaping our future before we even know it. Past speakers at the conference have included Shepard Fairey, Andy Spade, Dernnis Crowley (founder of FourSquare) and Richard Fine. Yes, only one of those speakers is directly related to healthcare but the mix of different disciplines and individuals is what gives conferences like the PSFK event, TED and SXSW the opportunity to identify what’s coming before it reaches the mainstream. And that’s something we’re sorely lacking in Pharma conference programming.

The low admission price also ensures that attendees are not just senior personnel from attending companies. Your organization could send five people to a PSFK conference for the same price as a ticket to an average Pharma event. That means you could take along that bright young junior manager or even that intern who shows such promise. The kind of people who might really embrace some of the new ideas being discussed and figure out how to apply them to your business.

There are alternatives of course. TEDMED and the main TED conference have created a terrific model for sharing highly educational content online. And free events like New York’s upcoming Social Media Week (with it’s Health and Wellness hub) provide a valuable alternative to traditional Pharma conferences. But ultimately we need to democratize both the speaker and attendee process for our industries major events. Conferences were never meant to be about spending thousands of dollars to hear paid speeches by big Pharma companies. They were meant to be an opportunity for the best and the brightest in our industry to come together and share ideas and best practices.

And that’s a model we need to return to.

What do you think? What would you do to make Pharma conferences better?



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