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Having recently returned from speaking and listening at the 2008 EphMRA meeting in Barcelona, and with PMRG and PBIRG spring conferences already behind us, the conference season has once again come to an end, and I can put away my conference clothes until next year.

From someone who has spoken at these conferences and attended most of the sessions, may I offer the following observations. First, the trend in declining attendance has been reversed, with significantly larger numbers of people attending these conferences than in recent years. The number of clients attending the conferences, however, remained a small minority, making these events more trade shows for agencies. Thus, many agency managers wondered why they were there, and bemoaned the time and expenses that attending had taken out of their dwindling revenues. 

Also relatively pervasive across the conferences was a sense that many of those who were there this year would not be next year, as cuts in pharma marketing research budgets would put them out of business. The international crowd at EphMRA was perhaps the most sedate, having been used to running leaner and under more governmental control than their US counterparts. 

Speakers and presenters were of high quality, although as usual they focused on describing how to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, or on some shtick that had nothing to do with the topics at hand. The oppressive role of procurement departments was bemoaned, and in one case made light of in a skit, but in no case was a solution offered as to what to do about it. I think it was the unusual attendee who walked away with something that could be put into action, but most at least walked away with the confirmation that everybody else was in the same boat. 

Richard Vanderveer is group CEO, GfK US Healthcare Companies
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