Event architecture. Visual dynamics. Kinetic engineering. Return on event. Dianne Devitt, CMP, president of The DND Group Inc., New York, takes meeting and event planning to an entirely new level. She passionately believes that the only way planners can advance their careers is to elevate how they view their jobs and their bottom-line impact.
In addition to planning events for clients ranging from PricewaterhouseCoopers to Colgate Palmolive, Devitt has taught at New York University for the past 15 years. Corporate Meetings & Incentives caught up with her in Manhattan.
Corporate Meetings & Incentives: Why do you believe meeting professionals should view themselves as consultants?
Dianne Devitt: I recently sat in an executive forum for meeting and event planners and listened as one woman — I'll call her Amy — shared a moment of personal transformation. She told the group how, in her “department of one” for a Fortune 500 company, she reached a career turning point after observing some of the consultants they hired. She noticed the way the consultants carried themselves and the questions they asked — and noticed, too, the respect and cooperation they received in return. She compared their high-level relationships with key people in the organization to her own frantic attempts just to keep up with the piles on her desk.
The first step was for Amy to transform her own view of herself from a meeting “order taker” to a professional who specializes in meeting planning. That changed her perception of the value of the service she provides to her internal customers. And the change in her perception created a dynamic within the company that enabled her department to grow and be recognized at the top.
CMI: So you're saying the first step is for meeting planners to stop operating in reactive mode?
Devitt: Things are changing from reactive mode — simply following tactical instructions without quantifying or qualifying data and defining goals — to proactive mode, in which clients are expecting consultative responsibility for executing the organization's message. The next level is integrated mode, where organizations will recognize that meetings and events are specialized, with no two ever alike, that they support overall strategic goals, and that they are the result of unique business partnerships.
CMI: What is the future of meeting planning?
Devitt: I believe it's time for the creation of a different structure, one that allows us to elevate the meetings department to the level of corporate communications and that positions meeting planners as “account executives.”
Like advertising and public relations professionals, we are key players who are directly accountable to the executive team. As in advertising and PR, we coordinate an extended team of specialists who perform various tasks: site selection, registration, production, entertainment, destination management. And like advertising and PR professionals, we are responsible for encrypting intangible objectives and goals, and applying learned skills and techniques in support of those objectives.
There are strong structural parallels. Duncan Maurer, director of media for [French beverage company] Pernod-Ricard described how he relies on different specialists for his company's campaigns: “We have secured the services of a media agency and creative agency. The industry is evolving with different agencies offering their own specializations and services, and some overlap. For the most part, the media agency is the resource for assisting us in defining and building a campaign to get the advertising message across. They are strategic. Once the plan is approved, the creative agency is employed to encrypt the message into the various parts of the campaign. And the industry now has sub-specializations, including the Internet and other new emerging services.”
Do any of those dynamics sound relevant to our world? Of course! I believe the structure and methods of advertising and PR professionals should be our blueprint for the 21st century.
CMI: How do events tie into the larger objectives of, say, a product launch?
Devitt: Everything that takes place in a meeting or event must be a deliberate choice that supports the executive team's objective. Meetings and events, advertising, and PR professionals working on a branding initiative or a product launch must have the same understanding of their responsibilities regarding the objective, or the result is going to be a major disconnect.
That means everything that happens before, during, and after the event is part of a larger branding and marketing initiative. The connection for the attendee should come in all forms — from pre-collateral such as invites; to every theme, color choice, piece of music, activity, or graphic idea that presents itself during the event; to post-event follow-up, evaluations, and reminders that extend the live event experience.
Otherwise, there are lost “touch points” — lost opportunities for emotional hooks that capture the attendee and convey the message. These are lost chances to make one of the typical six to eight “touches” that are needed to reach someone effectively and make a brand impression.
We may be using different tools than our advertising and public relations peers use, but we are using them in service of the same goals.
Thinking tactically about such issues — and about the measurable return we are delivering — is the key to establishing a more direct correlation with advertising and public relations, which are really our sister disciplines.
CMI: Will meeting and event planning one day be included in all business school curricula?
Devitt: One day, yes. It's an exciting time to be doing what we're doing, almost a revolutionary period. We must make the most of the time, and hasten the day when the great business schools of our nation are as insistent that their students pursue electives in meeting and event planning as they are about electives in PR and advertising.
Until then, we must continue to market ourselves as the professionals we are, and continue to educate the internal customer about the power of the event.