Change at top for producer of physician confabs

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John Connolly
John Connolly
John Connolly has assumed the role of president & CEO of M|C Communications, a shift that may signal a new direction for the education firm.

Connolly takes over the position from John Mooney, who will remain chairman, the company said.

M|C Communications produces the Pri-Med Conference & Exhibitions, one of the largest series of educational meetings aimed at primary care physicians. In 2008, the company forecasts over 150,000 US MDs will attend its sessions, 350,000 globally. The new CEO said he will seek to go beyond the core constituency, while tapping into the expanding array of formats in which clinicians consume information these days.

“We're moving from a live event company to a multi-channel solutions company,” he told MM&M. “We're going beyond primary care to address all specialties.”

Pri-Med already runs a group of smaller conferences and symposia called Updates, as well as med ed programs for psychiatrists, pharmacists, cardiologists and neurologists It will launch into other markets, including oncology, soon, Connolly said. Its big, live confabs aimed at GPs will also see more interactivity, with programming delivered on digital devices.

“The whole visual side of our live events will improve dramatically in the coming year,” said Connolly, who was formerly president and CEO of Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), manager of proxy voting and other corporate governance tasks for public companies. He also wants to expand from a domestic to a global focus.

A number of challenges stand in the way. Physicians are branching out into online and other media, some say at the expense of live meetings. Commercial support to medical education and communication companies (MECCs) slowed from a 12.9% increase in the 2004-2005 period to a 4% rise in 2006 vs. 2005, figures from the Accreditation Council for CME (ACCME) show.

Providers also face future threats to their business. Regulators have hinted that the impact of ongoing plans to shore up CME oversight could be painful for MECCs, especially if changes to the ACCME's Standards for Commercial Support require them to erect new firewalls or take less money from drug companies.

At the same time, the opportunity is great—the number of physician participants for MECC activities rose 40% over 2005. Their divergent learning styles demand use of new media. And the huge number of new compounds entering clinical testing emphasizes the need for medical conferences and exhibitions to act as forums for discussing new developments.

“We're in a unique opportunity to capitalize on this moment,” Connolly said.

Mooney, the departing CEO, led M|C Communications for 13 years, overseeing its spin-off from Boston-based ad agency Hill, Holiday, Connors, Cosmopulos and launch of the Pri-Med Conference & Exhibition educational summits. He stepped down to spend more time with his family, including a three-year-old daughter.

His replacement is no stranger to education. In 1989 Connolly started publishing firm Course Technology, which he sold two years later to Thomson and became CEO of Thomson Media. Before that, he held senior posts with publishers Lippincott Williams and Wilkins and the educational group of Addison-Wesley.

In an interview, Connolly drew comparisons between Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requirements in his previous business—corporate governance for investors—and those of the ACCME in the CME business, whose independence is being scrutinized as never before. He said his "appreciation and skill set" for compliance will serve him well in his new role.

“ISS was on CNBC 20 times in the last 24 months while I was there,” Connolly said.
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