The execution of every corporate meeting affects the organization’s overall budget and involves the company in legal obligations via supplier contracts. In those respects, every meeting has company-wide stakeholders, well beyond the department that “owns” the meeting. A strategic meetings management program (SMMP) acknowledges the stake that the entire company has in meetings. An SMMP’s mission, defined by the Global Business Travel Association, is enterprise-wide management of meeting-related processes, spend, volumes, standards and suppliers to achieve quantitative cost-savings, risk mitigation and superior service.
Not only does an SMMP acknowledge that there is a spectrum of stakeholders for each meeting, it also creates a “melting pot” of stakeholders in the sense that all departments become involved in establishing and upholding the program.
The SMMP “touches a lot of people,” in the words of Melissa Nahama, director, SMM solutions, business analytics and program management, Carlson Wagonlit Travel Meetings & Events. And they all have their own perspectives on the SMMP’s value, based on their individual values and priorities. “What is valuable or important about an SMMP can be defined differently depending on what role you play in the organization and the role that you play in meetings,” she maintains. “Whether procurement, finance, sales, R&D or the C-suite, whether the meeting planner, meeting attendee or the meeting owner, a person will look at the value through the prism from which they come.”
Naturally, senior leaders’ perspective on the program is of primary importance; one wants to understand the value they see in SMM in order to deliver that value. “The things we find most critical to the success of an SMMP is that you have senior leadership approval and support, and even a named champion at that level, whether it’s the CFO or the CPO or COO,” Nahama notes.
According to Nancy Teresa, travel and event planning manager for Nestlé’s North America Procurement organization, the C-suite finds SMM especially valuable in terms of data collection for the “meetings that are taking place as well as it provides visibility to risk management. Nestlé Event Planning works closely with the legal team to ensure that all Nestlé’s contractual requirements are incorporated into the contract prior to signature.”
Nahama concurs, “The great value for the C-suite is they have some assurance that meetings are being managed holistically. It is critical to them that they are mitigating risk and that there is oversight.”
The most obvious form of oversight and control that SMM provides is in terms of meetings-related spend, and some planners cite that aspect as being top-of-mind for C-level executives. Two years ago, Susan Dupart, senior director, global travel, corporate card and meetings at Santa Clara, California-based McAfee, began to research ways to centralize meeting spend for the company. “We had a situation where I was asked what our spend was for meetings,” she recalls. “I now have the ability to give executives data that we didn’t have before.”
Lee Ann Adams Mikeman, director, conference planning and special events at Reston, Virginia-based Leidos, a national security, health and engineering company, adds that the spend data improves the ROI assessment for meetings. “Because of our SMM, we’ve been able to assist in demonstrating return on investment through our event technology surveying capability. We can measure attendee experiences and satisfaction through technology reporting and compare that information to our spend data,” Mikeman explains. “If you can quantify attendee satisfaction to senior leadership, that’s a huge value add for your SMMP.”
In general, procurement tends to see the same value in SMM as C-level executives do, namely risk management and spend control, but their perspective on the program is based on more hands-on involvement with supplier relations, including payment and contracting. “The discussion with procurement centered around managing the contracting process to mitigate risk and facilitating supplier payments,” Mikeman relates, “Efficient supplier payments on the front end resulted in rebates from the bank on the back end that offset SMMP costs. Those rebates along with the savings the program generated through leveraged spend with preferred suppliers and favorable contract terms were top priorities for procurement. Prior to the creation of our SMMP in 2004, procurement had witnessed unauthorized staff signing supplier contracts that included less than favorable terms surrounding cancellation, indemnification, attrition and insurance. Our SMMP managed that risk and provided visibility to meeting owners so they could make informed decisions. We also developed contract addenda with outside counsel for hotels, special event suppliers and sponsorships to ensure we had the best possible terms in place for our meetings and events.”
Mikeman also had discussions about SMM with communications and marketing, and those representatives saw its potential to uphold and promote the company image through events that were properly conducted in terms of supplier sourcing, contract negotiation and branding. “It has really helped having a program in place that assures professionalism across all of the meetings and events the company executes; that’s a big one for our communications and marketing team, as well as our branding and community outreach efforts”
And assuming that an SMMP ultimately saves money on meetings, more funds are (theoretically) available to create a meeting with a stronger message to attendees, a benefit that appeals to marketing reps. “I think that very often, people in sales and marketing view (an SMMP as being about) cost cutting, and that’s why they tend to shy away from it. But you can demonstrate to them that you can save them money through a very well-organized approach to sourcing, negotiation and contracting,” Nahama explains.
“And by saving dollars in that respect, you can funnel money back into the system for them to use in other ways that hopefully will better support their customers. That can mean having a longer meeting, or one that has more money to spend on content production or potentially guest speakers that can drive a more impactful message. To (marketing reps), the value really is in producing the best meeting possible, and so the trick is to get them to understand that the SMMP as a whole will enable them to do that.”
The meeting planner is often the catalyst for an SMMP and thus involved in making a case for it to the various stakeholders. But an argument for the program will stand a better chance of success if it is predicated on an understanding of what each stakeholder would find most appealing about enterprise-wide oversight of meetings. The job of the planner (or whoever is in fact the program’s catalyst) “is to make sure they take all the views, objectives, and desires of all the different stakeholders and try to bring them together and have them work cohesively,” says Nahama. The idea is “to make sure everybody has a seat at the table. It’s not that everybody gets their way or that you can please everybody all of the time, but you can make sure people have a clear understanding of what the program’s goals are and what needs to be accomplished. They have a sense that they’re being included in the process, and therefore you can move things forward much more easily.”
It’s also important to stress that an SMMP’s goal is not to take away each department’s control of its own meetings, such that individual departments will no longer make decisions about strategy, objective and content. As Dupart clarified to stakeholders toward establishing McAfee’s SMMP, “ultimately you’re still the meeting owner. The only things we’re taking out of your hands are the sourcing and the contractual piece. And because we’re doing that, it protects you as a meeting owner because you then can be assured that the correct terms and conditions have been agreed upon.”
The “melting pot” approach not only applies to the establishment of an SMMP; it also can be taken with regard to the planning of an individual meeting that is of particular significance to the company. Provided they have the time and interest, stakeholders apart from the meeting owner often can helpfully weigh in on the event’s conceptualization and design.
“We try to get people to be more collaborative around the objectives of the meeting and whether they are in line with the business objectives of the organization,” says Nahama. “So if, for example, an organization is in a growth year, then you may choose to do a meeting in a very different way. It may be more celebratory and upbeat. However, if you’re in a cost-cutting year, you want to make sure that the design of your meeting (sends that message).”
Some organizations achieve this collaboration through “meetings about meetings” or planning committees.
The planning committees for Leidos’ major meetings “usually involve a big cross-section of the company, representatives from many of our functional areas, and that helps us make sure we’re engaging properly and covering all of our bases,” Mikeman says. The various representatives typically include “our communications organization, a senior leader, our security team, somebody who’s representing the technology component and procurement at times, depending on how much supplier spend (the meeting entails). It’s usually a good approach because we see things from multiple perspectives, which strengthens the program overall. We have to stay organized during every planning meeting to be effective (maintain task time lines, action items and agendas).”
Adds Teresa, “Our host looks to us to be the experts in sourcing and negotiating their meeting for them and ensure our policies and procedures are incorporated. By engaging the SMM team early in the process, we are better able to influence the decisions and promote use of our preferred suppliers, leverage our spend and provide logistical guidance when needed. By working together in this manner, we can save the hosts both time and effort in securing a contract.”
The melting pot can, and arguably should also include attendees themselves; after all, they are stakeholders in the meeting insofar as they are investing their time. “It’s really important to engage the attendees around your business and meeting objectives, and that doesn’t necessarily have to take place after a meeting, which is the traditional way that planners survey their attendees,” says Nahama.
“If you want a return on your objective, not just your investment, you should really be engaging with your attendees before, during and after, and there are multiple ways to do that, including surveys, focus groups and social media. Focus groups could target attendees from different generations, levels of experience or vertical markets, and you would want to make sure that you have a broad-based understanding of the people who attend your meeting and what are the ways that they seek to get information and what helps them retain it.”
Feedback from attendees might reveal, for example, the best means to deliver information about the company’s financials or future direction at the annual meeting: who should make these presentations, and what kind of presentation would the audience find most compelling? When attendee feedback suggests answers to such questions, attendees effectively gain a seat on the planning committee. To put it more colorfully, they become yet another vital ingredient in the melting pot. C&IT