Six years ago I found to relatively easy to tell my mother what I did for a living, if not exactly explain it. I could wibble on about actin polymerization and spaghetti, or messenger RNA export, or why I’d spent a year of my life trying to repeat an experiment that our collaborators had published only to discover that the buggers had effectively made it up. She’d nod wisely and assume I was super smart, which suited us both, really.
Nowadays the conversation is more along the lines of,
“So what is it you do?”
“Uh, I write stuff. And edit stuff.”
“Slides. And brochures. And 3D animations. And stuff for meetings. And iPad apps. Oh, look at this book we made!”
“Did you write it?”
“No. But then again…”
Blogging about the day job is just as difficult, but for different reasons. The things that make blog posts interesting happen all the time, but I can’t really write about most of them in anything other than vague generalities (unless I wanted to be run out of town by a horde of angry—and suddenly unemployed—pharmaceutical executives).
But there are some things that I do that I can talk about, and one of these is running a reasonably large meeting for healthcare professionals to learn about the evidence for, and responsible use of, certain treatments in their everyday practice. Obviously it’s not something I do myself—there’s a good dozen of us in the company who will be eating, drinking and breathing this particular meeting from now until the last delegate is safely on their transfer back to the airport in the middle of June, and that’s not counting our Production and Creative departments who, while not involved in the organization and programme, will work their magic on the venue and the materials.
The way this all works is that we approach Major Pharmaceutical Company, Ltd, with a grant proposal for running an educational meeting for around 1400 delegates. With luck, Major Pharmaceutical Company, Ltd agree to the proposal and gives us a wodge of cash to appoint a chair, select a steering committee, and work with those people to recruit a faculty (that is, speakers) and design a programme. In the case of the project that’s just kicked off, later this year we will be running the fifth of what’s turned into an annual event. The first one was before I joined the company, but I have had a key role in each of the three since—and will again be involved this year.
Although the cash comes from Major Pharmaceutical Company, Ltd, it has no role in the development of the programme or selection of the faculty. We get the programme accredited, and delegates are eligible to receive continuing medical education credits. The pharma company selects and pays for delegates to attend (although it’s also open to anyone else who wants to pay the registration fee), and we work with their logistics supplier, but that’s about it. We could, theoretically, have a day and a half worth of speakers saying that everything Major Pharmaceutical Company, Ltd produces is crap and kills patients, but I suspect our chances of hosting the event again would be slim. Fortunately for us there are at least three other companies in the same drug space with competing products, not to mention the other treatments that have been around for years. This makes achieving educational fair balance relatively easy.
So we book a venue, we organize the speakers, we work with the steering committee to produce a thought-provoking, relevant and hopefully practical programme; we sort out the logistics and book hotels and whatnot; what else?
Well, before I have to dust off my suit and go on site, we actually have to brief the speakers as to the educational content of their presentations, whether lectures or workshops. What do the chair and steering committee want attendees to take away from the meeting? How do we help them achieve this goal?
We call each of the speakers—and we’re talking at least 20 internationally recognized doctors and researchers—and talk them through the programme, suggest a topic, get their feedback, refine the programme, and then spend 6 weeks chasing them for their slides or at the very least an abstract so we can give our Production and Creative departments the content they need to produce a programme book in time for the print (or this year, digital device) deadline.
The end is in sight…
And we—that is, my Editorial team and I—have to edit the faculty abstracts and biographies (and in some cases write the damn things to start with), as well as check the presentations against the educational objectives of the meeting. There’s a whole heap of slide editing work in there too: has the speaker included their disclosures? Is every slide with data on it fully, correctly referenced? Is there fair balance? Are there annoying little formatting inconsistencies that make consecutive slides appear to jump around? Are there random slides from another talk in this presentation? Has the speaker included all relevant information (and omitted irrelevancies)? Are case presentations sufficiently anonymized? Can we suggest anything—content-wise or structurally—that might improve the educational value of the talk?
That last might seem a bit odd: after all, they are the world leaders in their field and we’re ‘just’ a medical communications agency. But 3 years spent looking at presentations and papers gives one quite an insight into a field, and we’ll often be able to draw a speaker’s attention to a paper only recently published, and they have learned to trust and respect our knowledge. This is particularly valuable when it’s 2 in the morning, the speaker arrived in the country just in time for dinner and has only just now got to the dingy hotel room we’re using for slide previews, with slides we’ve never seen before, and is giving the first talk in just six and a half hours’ time.
There’s the content and design of the Save the Date, the Invitation, the programme book itself, the signage at the meeting… all of which at some point involve an argument between Editorial and Production, or Creative and Production, or Account Management and Creative, or (more likely) all four, usually terminated by the phrase “The print deadline is at 12, TODAY!”
And on top of all that there’s that book I didn’t write.
Or did I? Next post, perhaps.