Business partnerships come in all shapes and sizes. Whether you are a corporate meeting planner, marketing agency, CVB, live event agency, DMC, rental company, entertainment agency, technology provider or social media curator, it has become even more important to create cohesive working relationships to provide the end client or attendee with the best possible meeting or event experience.
For Maureen Sojka, event planner at Creative Marketing Alliance, a full-service marketing agency located in Princeton, New Jersey, establishing these professional relationships provides her with a wealth of knowledge and experience.
“For example, when sourcing a location you have never been to, your best option is to reach out to the CVB for the most up-to-date information,” Sojka says. If you come across a new contract clause, you can reach out to your colleagues in the industry and see if they are experiencing the same thing and how they addressed it.”
Colleagues also are a valuable resource when selecting new vendors. However, the vendors themselves also can be helpful.
“I recently contracted with a transportation company who provided a referral for a Trivia Contest emcee who turned out to be the hit of our evening event,” Sojka says.
Building professional relationships is important in most industries, but even more so in the meetings and events industry, which is relationship-based.
As Lynnette Offen Gerber, CMM, CMP, manager of global accounts at HelmsBriscoe explains, meeting a hotel supplier, for example, could help a meeting planner decide between whether they want to do business with Hotel A versus Hotel B.
“It actually can be crucial,” Gerber says. “People want to do business with people they know and trust.”
Relationships have been crucial in Gerber’s own career: In her previous two positions, she had already known people at the organizations, which not only gained her entrée, but helped her ultimately get hired.
“Additionally, if a crisis comes up in a meeting or convention, working with those you have partnerships with will better help you solve the problem,” she says. “With the relationship already established, you are more likely to share information, and you are inclined to work together. You both are motivated as well.”
Patrick Burkhardt, chief idea person at Luxpitality, a San Diego-based hospitality company that connects new-age businesses with unique hotels for corporate events or teambonding experiences, says that his company continually partners with other entities in the meetings and events field to create mutually beneficial outcomes. Luxpitality partners with some of the top hotels and businesses in the U.S. and Europe, and prides itself on harnessing local partnerships to provide clients completely customized group trip experiences. Burkhardt has more than a decade of experience in the hospitality industry and served as president of Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) Southern California, the largest chapter in the world.
“We work with hotels, and that’s what we excel in. However we aren’t as savvy when it comes to executing ground-service activities and offsite venues for our groups,” Burkhardt says. “So we partnered with an amazing company called Hosts Global Alliance. They share the same global footprint as us but excel in all these services. We help them with hotels, and they help us with destination management services.”
Corporate meeting planners and other entities within the meeting-planning sphere share the same goal: to provide memorable meetings and events that provide an impactful outcome for attendees and companies alike.
Take Kathy Miller, for example. Miller is CEO of Total Event Resources, a Chicago meeting and event planning company that produces innovative events for Fortune 1000 companies, major trade associations and not-for-profit organizations She says that the meetings and events industry has changed drastically, especially when it comes to business relationships.
Gone are the days when supplier partners stay in their “lane” when it comes to who manages what. For instance, the off-premise caterer used to manage food and beverage only. Now caterers can be “full service” — offering clients solutions and management for entertainment, tenting, lighting, rentals, venue selection and more.
“There are days when we are partnering with a caterer and other days when we are competing for the same business,” Miller says. “It’s no longer black and white, it’s very gray, which is why one day they are your partner and the next they are your competitor. Hence the word ‘coopetition,’ we partner — cooperate — with our competitors that may also be our ‘preferred partners.’ ”
For Miller, business relationships enhance her company’s learning curve, as their partners bring new and innovative ideas to Total Event Resources on a continual basis, giving Miller and her team the platform to be uber-creative in the proposal process.
“In Chicago, and I believe in other major cities where meetings and events are plentiful, we are finding that venues are popping up all over and are being bought and managed by a variety of supplier partners including scenic design firms, caterers, event agencies and DMCs,” Miller says. “This makes the venue search and management process interesting for the live event agencies like us. Again, one day we are partnering with a scenic design firm to provide all the design elements and the next time we are competing with them.”
For Karen Shackman, president of Shackman Associates New York, relationships, quite frankly, are “everything.” This is especially important when a meeting group wants to book something on short notice.
“Relationships are also important in New York City when traffic can completely alter the timing of an after-hours event or product launch,” Shackman says. “We have worked with the NYPD to speed transportation and meeting logistics when unrelated problems could throw off timing. Relationships also help for meetings on a budget.”
Shackman Associates also has piggybacked luncheons with other groups at hotels to save meeting planners thousands of dollars. Pulling this off successfully is dependent upon continuing communication with key hotel and venue staff.
“Understanding who else might be meeting at a hotel helps us discover potential opportunities for sharing food and beverage,” Shackman says. “When we piggybacked a luncheon at a five-star hotel, we noticed that our group of 750 attendees was similar in size and demographics to another one, so our relationships with the hotel event management team led the same menu to be prepared for 1,500 people, which obviously saved costs with a larger order.”
Today, much of the meeting and events business is built upon reputation and word of mouth. David Jacobson, who has more than 15 years of professional events experience, is the CEO of TrivWorks, a corporate entertainment and teambuilding company. He understands that to be successful, meeting and event professionals cannot operate within a vacuum. Collaborating with other industry professionals not only extends the planner’s reach, but also provides access to talent, venues and offerings they otherwise wouldn’t be able to deliver on their own.
“Be bold and approach those whom you genuinely feel there is the potential for a mutually beneficial collaboration,” Jacobson says. “The best types of strategic partnerships are those where both sides stand to gain tremendous value over the long-term; when seeking out potential partners — be it individuals, organizations or venues — think about what you have to offer, as well as what you could potentially do together as far as synergies. But don’t be shy — the worst you can be told is ‘no’ ”!
Jacobson says the biggest mistake corporate meeting professionals make when trying to establish partnerships within the industry is only thinking of the immediate, short-term benefit, and only thinking about what they’ll get in return.
“That probably won’t get you very far. You will likely be much more successful if you approach partnerships not as quick hits, but as strategic investments, where both you and your potential partners’ interests are well-aligned, and a mutual benefit is clearly outlined upfront,” Jacobson says.
Richard Heby, marketing manager at LiquidSpace, a network for on-demand workspace, including event spaces, says corporate meeting planners should know what they expect to offer and what they can expect to receive from the partnership, but they shouldn’t be afraid to reach out if they don’t have a complete multiyear plan. “It’s so easy to connect these days — so go and connect,” Heby says.
Strategic partnerships have been the key to LiquidSpace’s success, because the company works to connect venues with professionals, startups and other enterprises looking for space. “We partner with coworking spaces, business centers, hotels, private companies and direct landlords,” Heby explains. Their network benefits everyone involved by injecting speed, technology and simplicity into the space discovery and rental process. That includes space for meetings, events, training sessions, team offsite events, flexible office space and more.
And great partnerships often will pay dividends in exclusivity and referrals.
When establishing professional relationships within the meeting and event industry, planners are advised to reach out and identify those people or companies they prefer to work with, understand the value they can offer potential partners and what is expected from them in return.
Sojka recommends networking at industry events such as IMEX, PCMA, MPI, SITE, etc., and reaching out to the CVBs regarding upcoming site visits to learn more about their destinations.
Gerber also stresses that establishing relationships is easiest through joining a professional organization and becoming involved with it. Gerber was on the executive board of MPI Minnesota twice and she says that it has been crucial to her success.
“Not only do you get to meet people, but you also get to demonstrate your abilities and knowledge to them,” Gerber says. “That can be priceless for your career. It is definitely worth the time you invest in it.”
And it’s important to remember that sometimes long-term partnerships begin with simple gestures, such as connecting via professional websites including LinkedIn, which can be a very powerful tool for connecting with industry players and generating business leads. Having a LinkedIn page facilitates engagement with followers, sharing potential meeting and event opportunities, and being available as a trusted resource.
LinkedIn also allows planners to connect with potential industry partners by sharing industry-related blog content, participating in Q&A sessions or even displaying a call to action in your summary. As an added feature, LinkedIn provides analytics, which enable users to measure just how effective their updates are.
Providing industry-related blog content on LinkedIn also is an excellent strategy for gaining exposure from new audiences, while catering to an existing network and industry partners. But the goal is to provide shareable content — something followers would be genuinely interested in seeing, and would consider sharing to their own followers. The result is exposure that increases exponentially, particularly when content goes viral.
Participating in Q&A sessions related to the industry is a powerful way to build stronger connections and demonstrate industry expertise. The key is to add value to the conversation. The end goal is to establish partnerships with others within the meeting and events industry.
“If our partnership with a vendor is unique, it gives a selling edge over our competition. Referrals are an obvious bonus of partnerships,” says James Bennett, president of Firefly Team Events in Los Angeles. “A less obvious benefit is that each of your partners may be a privately owned business. As a small business, we have growing pains and struggles. I can reach out to some of my partners and have a heart-to-heart with an owner who’s probably gone through similar situations. It’s extremely valuable to have a network of peers that know your journey.”
Recently one of Firefly Team Events’ planner partners added all of the company’s products to their website. For Bennett and his team, that is like having an additional sales team promoting their clients.
“It allows us a wider reach and gives our partner a larger service offering,” Bennett says. “It’s a beautiful win/win for both of us.”
Bennett has found that industry events are great for a first introduction, but it is vital that meeting planners follow up after those connections are initially made.
“Many of our partnerships with fellow suppliers are forged in the heat of battle while working for the same clients,” Bennett says. “With our hotel partners, we reach out to them quarterly and try to schedule face-to-face time with their teams as well as FAMs.”
Sojka advises other corporate meeting planners to avoid the common mistake of not moving outside of their circle. “The more inclusive, the wider the range of contacts, the broader the base of knowledge,” Sojka says.
And reputation is everything. “Nothing is worth losing your reputation over. Be honest, hardworking and true to your core values,” Bennett says. “For us, we’re trying to keep our clients happy, healthy and engaged.” C&IT