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Getting Started with Strategic Meetings Management Programs

Getting Started with Strategic Meetings Management Programs

A step-by-step action plan for starting a strategic meetings management program.

The first step in developing a strategic meetings management program is one of the most challenging — getting your arms around meeting spend. Spend is typically decentralized and rarely falls into a consistent “meetings and events” line item in the general ledger.

In my previous role as director of meetings at a large biotech company, I had some idea of what our corporate spend was; however, until we compiled the data, my estimate and the reality were very different. The standard is that meetings spend will be approximately 1 percent to 3 percent of your company's revenue. So if you are a $5 billion company, your total spend would be between $50 million and $150 million.

SMMPs see cost avoidance of 10 percent to 25 percent within the first year of implementation. Using a conservative 10 percent savings figure, that means a $5 billion company would save $5 million to $15 million by initiating an SMMP.

Define Your Universe

The best way to start is to define the meetings and events in your organization, and then use that definition consistently throughout the process. How many meetings are there, and from which management centers? What size are they (number of attendees and total spend)? Which hotels are being used and how often? How much is spent per chain or independent venue? (Note: It's important to consolidate your company's hotel business travel spend with the group spend to get a total picture.) What are negotiated savings per hotel contract, destination management company, and audiovisual supplier? How many meetings are handled per staff member? How many meetings per third-party supplier? How much spend per supplier? How many suppliers are being utilized?

Next, look at the volume of your own department; this is the most easily accessible data. Then reach out to those people in your company who plan meetings. I identified administrative staff who planned meetings regularly and gathered information on their meeting spend.

Here are some tips for finding data on spend:

  • Review meeting files and invoices.
  • Data mine in an existing meetings and events database.
  • Ask hotel chains and other suppliers to provide their information on your spend.
  • Collaborate with the travel department on business travel spend.
  • Examine finance department reports on specific suppliers.
  • Assess reports from corporate purchasing and T&E cards.

After identifying where you can find data on spend and volume, create a time frame in which to examine the data. The length of time needs to be material, such as a 12-month span, but also reasonable given your accounting systems.

Now that you have this data, what do you do with it? Communicate it! Your team, travel, audit, compliance organizations, and suppliers will find it useful. Your senior executives must first understand the significance of the meetings category of spend before they will sponsor your strategic meetings management program.

Make Your Case

After gathering data, the next step is creating your business case.

So what exactly does this look like? To start, determine the way your executive team likes to review information; is it a slide presentation or an executive summary? Establish the key messages, organize the data to support the points, and stay away from minutiae.

It's important that you structure it in “executive speak”: brief, compelling, data-driven, and results-oriented. It should identify consequences if no action is taken. For this audience, less is more.

Identify a couple of compelling headlines, such as “Our company spent $22 million on meetings last year,” or “Our company uses 82 different meeting suppliers.” A little shock treatment can go a long way to get the attention and support of your executives.

As you work through the process of discovery, data collection, and development of your SMMP, it's critical to include an array of stakeholders from many disciplines. (See chart, opposite page.) Let people know what's in it for them, and why they need to support the changes.

Produce a Policy

In addition to gaining buy-in throughout the organization, you need to develop a clearly defined and mandated policy. Best practice indicates that the policy requires support from the C-level and that it must be enforceable. Your executives have to understand that a lack of policy puts your company at risk.

Ideally, the meetings policy should stand on its own and not be embedded in travel policy. Depending on the various meeting types at your company, you may need distinct meetings policies for company employees, customers, and suppliers.

As you develop the policy, review the draft with various internal organizations, including but not limited to accounting, procurement, human resources, and legal. This will avoid any major rework once you have a final version to submit for executive approval.

Your meetings policy should include specifics such as the approval process, how contracting is done and by whom, and the use of preferred suppliers. It's important to define who can plan meetings, locations that can and cannot be used for meetings, as well as who can attend meetings. Include a green-meetings policy if there is one. This would address alternatives to in-person meetings in addition to conservation measures, carbon offsets, and recycling requirements. Finally, you must determine if your policy will be rolled out on a global or regional basis.

By proactively getting buy-in for your strategic meetings management program and by driving meeting policy, you will be viewed as an essential and indispensable leader in your organization.

Create a Communication Plan

“Communicate, communicate, communicate.” How often have we heard this phrase yet not really put it into practice? When developing a successful SMMP, communications planning is a critical component. It's not enough to send out a corporate-wide e-mail telling everyone about your new SMMP — you need to spread your message frequently, using a variety of approaches to reach a diverse audience.

The content, purpose, frequency, and format of the communication also needs to be tailored to the audience. And it's important to be culturally sensitive, so, when developing communications that will be distributed outside the United States, use terminology and nomenclature that is universal to all nationalities. If your company has a corporate or marketing communications department, ask if they will assist you with all of this.

How do you determine what type of communication is best for which group? With executives, you need to keep them informed of goal achievement and success metrics on a high level. In most organizations, this can be done successfully with quarterly and annual executive summaries or dashboards. Typically, you can use the same procedure for clients and other stakeholders, such as travel, legal, and regulatory departments within your organization. If you are collaborating closely with your procurement department, you may need comprehensive weekly meetings and monthly updates.

It's easy to overlook formal communications with your own team, but never assume your staff knows what you know just because they are part of your team. Develop a deliberate and frequent communications plan, as well as written standard operating procedures that can be accessed via the company intranet. If members of the team are spread out nationally and internationally, use periodic audio- and videoconferences.

Ideally, a face-to-face kick-off meeting is the best way to communicate the goals and processes of a new SMMP. Depending on the size of your company, an in-person meeting can be organized regionally, nationally, or globally.

Start communicating early in the planning process. Conduct focus groups with “occasional” planners in your organization. Ask what's important to them, and explain how the program will benefit them in their jobs. Set up conference calls with your service providers and hotel partners so they know what changes are coming. Seek their opinion and ask their advice; this will make implementation and the education process more effective.

Sidebar: SMMP Stakeholders: why Include Them?

Senior executives Key to driving acceptance
Meetings staff Must understand and support the SMMP and become change agents
Clients Have a vested interest in how changes will affect success of their meetings
Procurement Will help give credibility to processes
Travel Collaboration will provide you with optimal results
Occasional planners Can work against you if they do not support the changes
Legal/regulatory Processes you may want to implement may have ramifications
Corporate audit Do new processes fulfill corporate audit requirements?
Finance Will need to assist with data collection, payment processes, and compliance

Sidebar: 5 Tips for Creating an SMMP

  • Start the SMMP process early and communicate continuously — once or twice isn't enough.

  • Tailor the frequency and type of communications to your audience.

  • Communications can take a variety of forms: in-person, dashboards, conference calls, Web-based, e-mail.

  • Determine the purpose of the communication: Is it to train, broadcast a company message, collaborate?

  • Avoid jargon and use terminology all parties will understand.


Betsy Bondurant, CMP, CMM, is president of Bondurant Consulting, Coronado, Calif. She is the former director, meeting, planning, and trade shows with Amgen, where she oversaw the strategic meetings management program. Contact her by e-mail at [email protected].


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