en01.jpg (8435 bytes)If you are familiar with the children’s party game, musical chairs, you understand why the prospect of a merger between the Clinical Lab Management Association and the American Association for Clinical Chemistry is repugnant to both groups. When the music stops, someone is left without a place to sit.

However, at this birthday party, the parents are insisting the game take place. The Big Six — Abbott, Bayer, Beckman Coulter, Dade, Roche and Ortho — themselves the products of industry consolidation, see no reason to attend more than one large, national clinical lab industry tradeshow per year. Bayer made a statement by pulling out of this year’s CLMA. Vendors complain that the number of healthcare decision makers attending both shows are down. Exhibitors are frosted by their annual requirement to spend a million dollars on two tradeshows that are less than 30 days and 500 miles apart. This year the CLMA meeting is in Anaheim, Calif., and AACC is in San Francisco. Next year, the meetings are in St. Louis and Chicago, respectively.

There are many reasons for consolidation. Among the strongest is that both AACC’s and CLMA’s customers — manufacturers, pathologists, laboratorians and hospitals — have all gone through it.

Ironically, both organizations have presided over a multitude of educational sessions on how to implement and survive a consolidation. Unfortunately, they were not able to practice what they taught.

After several months of discussions, a letter from CLMA went out in May saying that neither organization found it in the interest of their membership to pursue a joint exhibition at this time. One failed proposal involved a joint meeting starting with AACC’s educational programs and ending with CLMA’s. Straddled in between would be the vendor exhibition hall days. Sounded good to me. As a charter member of the white-knuckle flying club, I’m not looking forward to my third roundtrip flight to California in as many months.

    Did the problem start back in 1999 when CLMA switched the month of its annual meeting from September, following the AACC to June. CLMA maintains the change was member driven; many lab managers are parents with small children who start back to school in early September. Some portray the change as an attempt to steal AACC’s coveted spot as the meeting for launching new products. One diagnostics industry vendor, unhappy with the new schedule, said that in the old days, if you couldn’t get your new product out the door in time to launch at AACC, there was always the option of launching at CLMA. A word to the nostalgic, the meeting chronology won’t be changing any time soon. CLMA, like AACC, is locked into convention center and hotel contracts that would stiff them with hefty penalties for pulling out.

    When you read between the grumbling about the so-far failed consolidation, it’s clear that CLMA is the favored underdog and AACC is the over-powering 800-pound gorilla. One reason — AACC outsources its exhibitor sales and customer service to New York-based Scherago, a professional marketing services and meeting management firm that one anonymous vendor described as, “shark-like.” On the other hand, CLMA staff handles sales and service for its meeting.

The word on the street is that CLMA came to the table ready to deal, but AACC was only interested in one word from CLMA — Uncle! The two jointly issued a politely-worded statement about the stalled discussions, and both Richard Flaherty, Executive Vice President of AACC and George Linial, Executive Vice President of CLMA are sticking to it. At this writing, CLMA has invited the Big Six diagnostic companies and AACC to a meeting in Anaheim, so the door has not completely slammed shut on the possibility of an amicable solution.

If our two reluctant suitors can’t work out their differences, something is sure to do it for them. Mike Wagner, director of marketing communications at Ortho Clinical Diagnostics summed it up best, “Either the associations get together and take care of this on their own, or the market forces will take care of it for them. That can be the difference between a soft landing and a crash landing.”

The writing is on the wall, so please read it. Try to remember what you learned in kindergarten about sharing before the de-escalation begins in force.

Coleen Curran