Outside of the Box Thinking

A client requested competitive bids for a 180-site Clinical Trial (60 locations in the US, 50 in Europe, 30 in South America and 40 in Asia).  The RFP specifically requested bids for a three-day meeting program, leading off with a joint US and South American program in Miami approximately three months out. 

The structure of the meeting required each site to bring three participants.  Each would be required to attend 2 ½ days of meetings.  A full day CRA Training Session would precede the meeting.   Separate meetings were proposed for European and Asian Attendees at venues to be determined as site selection was completed.  The RFP called for preparation of a budget, but was silent as to whether that budget should include Program Production, Dedicated Audio-Visual Services, Binder and Protocol Printing, Flash Drive Loading, or a host of other elements which might have been identified.

The RFP was drafted by a committee consisting of the Study Manager, a procurement representative, an accounting representative, and another clinical scientist.  A round of oral presentations was scheduled for conference-planning companies which made “the cut” by presenting viable solutions. 

How do you respond to this RFP?


Summit’s Analysis

Summit Management’s Mission Statement indicates that we work with our clients to create optimal results and quality meetings at the lowest possible cost.  Earning the trust of a client, especially a new client, is a difficult task made more so where a fundamental premise of the RFP appears flawed.   Responding to an RFP with a “Thinking Outside the Box” solution is hard to do, and even harder to sell.

Other bidders did exactly as the client requested, and created a budget for a 100-site joint meeting at a perfectly suitable four-star hotel in Miami.  After dutifully confirming South American attendees would indeed be flown business class to Miami, the air budget included a whopping line item for 90 South American delegates at a projected average cost of $6,000 per person – or $540,000.  The estimate didn’t include the need for pre-booked rooms at the host hotel, since many flights from South America arrive before 7 AM.

This notwithstanding, not a single competitor referenced the significant increase in the degree of difficulty to obtain a US entry visa for site staff.  While many physicians have multiple entry US visas and are usually fluent in English, study staff must usually apply for permission to travel to the US.  A visa application usually requires an in-person appointment at the US Embassy, extensive fees, and the expense and time required to travel to and from the appointment.   Further, while South American study staff may have general familiarity with English, they are often lost during complex medical discussions in English.   This question was not even addressed by other Vendors. 

Summit’s solution was to recommend holding two separate meetings -- first in the US for the domestic and European sites, and then later in South America for the Latin American sites.  This new and complex protocol had never yet been presented, and many issues raised at the first meeting were indeed unexpected by the Study Team, which turned out to be yet another benefit.  By the time the South American meeting was held, the protocol had been revised and the presentations were much more clearly defined.

Of course, one huge benefit came in the form of net air fare savings of nearly $500,000.   Instead of bringing 90 South Americans to Miami, the second meeting held in Argentina reduce the average airfare to under $600 per person for coach tickets.   True, 30 staff and presenters had to fly to South America for the second meeting, reducing the overall savings.  But the program was presented at a slower pace, with inexpensive simultaneous translation, and on weekdays (in accordance with local custom) as opposed to the weekend presentations preferred by US-based Investigators, who must close their office to attend weekday meetings.  Audience response testing showed comprehension levels were excellent.  As nearly full attendance was achieved in the absence of visa application requirements, data submission has been more accurate and required fewer correction.

After considering the cost savings and the many other issues raised by Summit, including our capacity to record the meeting live for future distribution to study participants, our client recognized the value of a true partnership rather than the safe “name” planner with which they had been working.

The Bottom Line                  

While we’ve left out many other differentiating factors, we trust the point is clear.   Summit Management works actively with our client to create solutions that lower costs and improve the overall meeting experience. 

We are much more than “order takers” – we participate in the process by asking questions and providing information which otherwise would not even be considered until it’s too late and expenses are post-budget or out-of-control.