Need to plan an unforgettable meeting but can't do everything yourself? Our outsourcing guide will help you find the contractors who can perform for you.

MORE THAN EVER, you need to make outsourcing work for you. But where can you find the best contractors? When should you involve them in your planning? What do they charge? In other words, where do you start?

Right here, with CMI's Guide to Outsourcing. In the following pages, we cover the “5W's” (with the occasional “H”) of outsourcing site selection, meeting and incentive planning, and special event planning and production — everything you need to know to plan your show.

SITE SELECTION FIRM

The 5 W's of Buying Room Nights

What are they?

Researching destinations that fit your group's specs is time consuming. You may know the kind of destination you want, perhaps even the type of property — resort, city hotel, conference center — but you don't want to do all the legwork to find it and book it. Site selection firms sprang up more than 10 years ago; their forerunner was the hotel representation firm. The difference is that a hotel rep firm's sourcing agents are paid a retainer by a hotel to represent them.

The pure site selection firm of today is akin to a travel agent: It collects a commission from the hotel when it books and negotiates room nights for a meeting. It can also be likened to a buyer's agent in the real estate industry. Although a site selection firm makes its money from the hotel (the seller), it represents the best interests of the buyer (the meeting sponsor/organizer).

Roger Helms and Bill Briscoe set up a unique business model in 1992: They licensed a nationwide network of former hotel executives who work essentially for themselves. Each sources meetings for 10 to 12 clients. The model was so successful that many imitations followed.

At first, the world's HelmsBriscoes got a bum rap because planners looked at them as usurpers. They also wondered how a third party could get the best rate if it was taking 10 percent off the top. In-house planners exist because they go directly to hotels to get the very best rate that the hotels have to offer. By the late 1990s, however, site selection firms had proved their mettle; they were negotiating good rates with a large number of hotels because of their overall purchasing power. They earned respect and a niche in the meeting industry.

What do they do?

Based on a client's specs, site selection firms help organizers search for the right destination and property and help negotiate contracts. At HelmsBriscoe, an associate will 1) negotiate the entire contract — room rates, meeting space, food and beverage — until the contract is signed; 2) procure the hotel rooms and space but have the client negotiate the contract; 3) negotiate the entire contract and manage the meeting. (At HB, meeting management costs the client an additional fee.)

What will it cost me?

In most cases, a site selection firm's fee would be paid by the property. Typical commission is 10 percent of the booked rooms' cost for the event, although some firms do collect fees in the 15 percent to 20 percent range.

When should you pay?

Usually, the firm is paid when the event is over and the client pays the bill. HelmsBriscoe's preferred hotels pay the site selection firm half the commission at the time of booking. Conference Direct has similar arrangements with certain properties, while Conferon does not have preferred arrangements with hotels and receives payment after the meeting takes place. HB associates are self-employed and may not earn any income until the meeting takes place.

When is the best time to research properties?

Research happens online via the industry's many hotel databases, by calls to national sales offices and individual properties, and through on-site inspections. Some companies, such as Conferon, have full-time research departments. Conferon also researches using its PlanSoft software. At HelmsBriscoe, preferred hotels “are in the associates' face more often,” says Helms, sending information using the firm's Intranet.

Conferon's full-time staff can negotiate lower meeting costs, they say, because they can do the site search faster, coupled with recommendations that are based on experience, not recommendations that come from reading brochure copy or visiting a Web site.

When should I make contact?

As soon as you know where and when you want to book, call. Some suggest calling before you pick a destination, because they could offer you additional options. Large conferences obviously need more time for sourcing, so contact a company a year or more out.

What do they need to know?

Gather your data on region, the number of guest rooms needed, arrival/departure patterns, the meeting schedule, meeting room needs, F&B, preferable location specifics, personality of meeting, and previous meeting location(s).

What should I ask?

Find out the site selection company's bargaining power, the relationships it has with hotels, and how quickly it can respond to your needs. Some may have agreements with certain properties to promote their hotels or destinations. Ask if such arrangements exist, and find out what they mean when it comes to negotiating the best rates and contracts.

Why should I go with a big company? Why a small one?

Many reputable “mom and pop” site selection firms do good work, offering personalized service. HelmsBriscoe, Conferon, and Conference Direct are considered the big guys and have more people working for them. Theoretically, the larger you are, the more purchasing power you have.

Who signs the contracts?

In most cases, a representative of the client (the planner or a higher executive, depending on the company) signs a contract with the hotel.

What if I have to cancel?

Ask a site selection company about its cancellation policies. Since most are not paid their commission until the meeting takes place, they miss out on income when meetings are canceled. At HelmsBriscoe, where associates are paid half at the time of booking when working with a preferred hotel, Helms says they return the money to the hotel if a meeting is canceled.

What credentials do I look for, and how can I find them?

There is no association for site selection companies. However, most people who work for these companies are members of the major meeting planning organizations. For references and reputations, ask a site selection for names of its clients before deciding to work together.

SOURCES

Conferon Inc.
Twinsburg, Ohio
(330) 425-8333
www.conferon.com

Conference Direct
(877) 262-2076
www.conferencedirect.com

HelmsBriscoe
Scottsdale, Arizona
(480) 718-1111
www.helmsbriscoe.com

INDEPENDENT PLANNERS

The 5 W's to Finding Your New Right Hand

What are they?

Independent planners are used not only by companies without full-time meeting planners but also by companies with planners on staff. These professionals can handle every aspect of planning, from site selection to setting up tours for spouses.

Twinsburg, Ohio-based Conferon — the largest independent meeting planning firm in the country — is also the first, having been founded 31 years ago. The company, which books between 1.3 million and 1.5 million room nights per year, paved the way for a slew of smaller firms, some of which specialize in specific niche industries.

What do they do?

These companies do whatever you need, including site selection, logistics, billing, on-site management, tour or partner program planning, work with suppliers, negotiation and planning of F&B events, contract management, program design, negotiate airline costs, registration, and housing. Most independents say that they usually work with an in-house planner; hiring an independent frees the in-house planner to focus on the content of the event, rather than things such as logistics and site selection.

What should I ask?

Is the planner active in industry organizations? What was the most interesting contract negotiation? What about the most challenging experience on-site? Have you had any crisis management experience — were you involved in a meeting on September 11?

What's the advantage to working with a big company?

Larger meeting planning companies offer volume benefits: larger potential discounts because they book more room nights and events each year. However, smaller firms may offer more personalized service. It all depends on your organization's needs and preferences.

Conferon, for example, negotiates for 1.5 million room nights each year. The company says its standardized contracts offer more protection than planners could get on their own. That gives clients more time to build, promote, and direct the meeting so that they receive better recognition for getting the job done well.

What should the contract specify?

The contract should outline the responsibilities of the planners, timelines, fees, payment schedule, and cancellation clauses for all sides.

What if I have to cancel?

“Cancellation is always spelled out with all the details of dollars” in the contract, says Joan Eisenstodt of Eisenstodt and Associates, Washington D.C. Eisenstodt strongly recommends to her clients that they not sign contracts that contain one-sided cancellation clauses. “We also in most cases negotiate that if the facility cancels, they will pay for a new site inspection, consultant fees (if applicable), etc., and put caps on the dollars. That's for hotels. There are other provisions for other vendors.”

What credentials do I look for?

Check the independent's qualifications, their credentials, to see if they've worked with comparable clients of the same size/type of meeting; find out about reputation and relationships with properties and suppliers.

Many independents earn the most recognized meeting planning credential: the Certified Meeting Professional designation from the Convention Industry Council. And Meeting Professionals International offers Certification in Meeting Management, for advanced planners.

Where do I find them?

MPI offers an independent meeting professionals directory online (www.mpiweb.org), and the Alliance of Meeting Management Consultants offers a member directory (www.ammc.org).

SOURCES

Conferon Inc.
Twinsburg, Ohio
(330) 425-8333
www.conferon.com

Eisenstodt Associates
Washington, D.C.
(202) 543-7971
eisenstodt@aol.com

Professional Meeting
Planners Network
Durham, N.C.
(919) 419-8242
www.pmpn.com

PRODUCTION COMPANIES

The 5 W's of Producing Pizzazz

What are they?

If you only need someone to hook up speakers and lights, hire an AV technician. But if you want to add pizzazz, call a production company.

Of course, production companies take care of the AV details, making sure your event sounds and looks exactly as you envisioned. But they do much more. John Slack, CEO of Media Design Group, likens what his company does to “business theater.” Production companies can design the theme and oversee every detail.

What do they do?

Production companies help planners conceptualize the theme and then make it a reality, doing everything from designing the staging to creating customized video. Some offer other specialized services: Production Group International, for example, will help coordinate dine-arounds, while Jack Rouse Associates offers speech coaching. And Media Design Group can also create CD-ROMs and Web sites.

What will it cost me?

This depends on what the client wants. Most companies bill on a line-item basis and collect fees in increments based on when payments are due to vendors, with the balance due upon completion. For example, the bill might be broken out by speaker, entertainment, AV, etc.

For something such as entertainment, mark-up would likely be in the 10 percent range. For most other outsourced services, the general range is 15 percent to 30 percent, depending on the item and whether it was billed on a per-day rate or on a per-event basis.

When should I make contact?

Most production companies like to be involved at least three to six months in advance. Of course teleprompter copy and graphics can be tweaked moments before a speaker hits the stage.

What do they need to know?

They need to know what its client wants attendees to walk away thinking. After that, give the company all the details: location specs (Is there room in the ballroom for the required staging? Hook-ups for sound and light?); local union restrictions; budget; audience demographics, etc.

What should I ask?

Find out a company's reputation, its length of time in business, if it has produced similar events, if it owns or rents equipment, how it charges, what it considers its core capabilities, size experience, staff skills, and what staff they send on-site (freelancers? employees?).

Who will I work with?

An account executive will likely oversee your project. Others involved depend on the project and company. Jack Rouse assigns a staff writer and designer to each team. Media Design uses freelance writers for speech writing, contracting with specialists who know the industry in question.

What if I have to cancel?

Most production companies base refund policies on what work has been completed, as well as on terms of the agreements with subcontractors.

What credentials should I look for?

There is no industry certification for production companies. Dale Tesmond, senior vice president of Jack Rouse, says many of his staff have theater degrees. Additional education often takes place in the form of classes from equipment manufacturers for some specialties, while others might take seminars from the Media Communications Association-International. Be sure to check references.

Where do I find them?

Listings of industry professionals categorized by specialty are on the MCA-I Web site (www.mca-i.org).

SOURCES

Jack Rouse Associates
Cincinnati
(513) 381-0055
www.jackrouse.com

Media Design Group
Winter Park, Fla.
(407) 628-1755
www.mediadesigngroup.com

Production Group
International
Arlington, Va.
(703) 528-8484
www.pgi.com

SPECIAL EVENT PLANNERS

The 5 W's of Hiring a Third Party for Your Party

What are they?

In the corporate arena especially, event planners serve as much more than mere party planners. They help you choose the theme, decorations, and entertainment for your event, and then they produce it. Some companies operate locally; others work with clients nationally.

What do they do?

Event planners do everything from decor, entertainment, sound, lighting, and transportation to booking speakers, purchasing gifts for VIP attendees, planning and negotiating F&B, and even designing invitations and signage. Some wear other hats; Empire Force in New York City is also a destination management company.

What will it cost me?

The industry standard is 18 percent to 20 percent commission, which is based on total event cost. This can be billed in various ways, depending on the client and the type of event: you can often choose between a flat management fee or a built-in mark-up fee on line items, for example.

When is payment due?

A 50 percent deposit is usually due at the start, with another 25 percent due before the event and the remainder upon completion.

When should I make contact?

Venues fill their dates quickly, especially in big cities, so the more lead time you provide, the better. But there really is no standard; EventWorks has planned events with a week's notice.

What should I tell them?

Tell your event planner the event's purpose; the dates considered and flexibility within those dates; number of guests; format (black tie, informal); budget; event history; what you're serving at other meals during the meeting so the planner can avoid repetition. Some companies need to see a budget estimate to get a realistic idea of what the event they want will cost, notes Frank Goldstin, president/CEO of G/M! Productions.

What should I ask?

Find out about the event planner's background, client listing, references, and places they have done business; do a credit check, and ask for case histories for similar events. Check the planner's level of creativity, fee structure, if the planner is insured and belongs to industry associations. Does the planner own his or her props? Has the planner won industry awards?

Who will I work with?

Most planners appoint a team leader or executive producer to the account, who coordinates the event with the client.

What if I have to cancel?

Individual planners/companies have their own policies, which depend on how close the event is to the cancellation date. Many fees are nonrefundable because the event planner has already done the contracted work. Policies also depend on what is in vendor agreements — if talent is booked, you're likely to have to pay whether the event happens or not.

What credentials should I look for?

The International Society of Event Specialists (ISES) offers the CESP (Certified Special Events Professional) designation.

Where can I find them?

Local convention and visitors bureaus can provide you with a list. To get a list of CVBs, visit the International Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus' Web site: www.iacvb.org, or call (202) 296-7888. G/M! suggests checking with area hotels to see who they consider the top-notch event planners to be. The International Special Events Society has a finder service on its Web site (www.ises.com) that is searchable by chapter location and service/product.

SOURCES

EventWorks
Los Angeles
(323) 321-1793
www.eventworks.com

Empire Force Events
New York, N.Y.
(212) 924-0320
www.empireforce.com

Extraordinary Events
Los Angeles
(818) 783-6112
www.extraordinaryevents.com

G/M! Productions
Chicago
(312) 397-9100
www.gmproductions.com

DESTINATION MANAGEMENT COMPANIES

The 5 W's to Hiring Local Help

What are they?

DMCs are local companies that can serve as local liaisons for meeting planners. Once thought of as strictly local transportation providers, DMCs can do much more. They can orchestrate events, recommend off-the-beaten-path venues, and basically take care of whatever you need, from props and staging to entertainment.

Although DMCs typically work only in the city in which they are based, many belong to national and global networks. So if you had a good experience with a DMC in Denver, you can expect comparable service elsewhere by looking to the same network for a referral.

The main benefit of using a DMC is its in-depth local knowledge. They may have more leverage in the local market when it comes to negotiating with vendors.

What do they do?

Destination management companies find venues; find and hire entertainment; arrange tours, F&B, theme parties, sporting events, props, and transportation; help to purchase welcome or spouse gifts. They do “everything a planner wants to do outside the hotel,” according to Chris White, CEO of Global Events Partners, a network of 50 DMCs (20 of which are national, 30 international).

What will it cost me?

DMCs work on a fee basis. White of GEP notes that, depending on how a client prefers to be billed, some can quote a net management fee that is broken down by the number of attendees, or a line-by-line itemized account with a built-in management fee, usually in the 20 percent range and negotiable.

When is payment due?

Most DMCs require a deposit up front. Usually, 75 percent to 80 percent of payment is required in installments before the event.

When should I make contact?

If you just want to do a few dine-arounds, that can be booked quickly. If you want to hold an event at a venue such as the Smithsonian, which allows a limited number of bookings per year, you will need much more notice. And some smaller tier cities — such as Nashville, where Helen Moskovitz & Associates is based — have a limited number of attractions, so you will need to book early.

What do they need to know?

Tell your DMC what you hope to achieve with the event. Is this an incentive or a sales meeting? Or is it being held purely for entertainment? Considerations include budget, F&B needs, and demographics such as the attendees' gender, profession, and age.

What should I ask?

Does the DMC know the right subcontractors? Does it have good relationships with local vendors? Can it ensure that vendors are insured? What is its bargaining clout? Can it provide bank references? How long has the company been in existence, and how much of its business is repeat business? How large is its staff? What are the cancellation policies and payment terms and schedule? Is it involved in industry associations? Is it considered the preferred local partner of other industry firms.

What if I have to cancel?

Policies depend on how far out you cancel. Vendor contract policies play a huge role. If you booked an entertainer who held the date, you can expect to pay his or her fee. If you are only days away from an event and your caterer has purchased food, they are not likely to be very flexible.

What credentials should I look for?

The Association of Destination Management recently introduced the Destination Management Certified Professional designation.

Where do I find them?

Convention and visitor bureaus can give you the names of DMC members. Associations such as MPI (www.mpiweb.org) and the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives (www.site-intl.org) can also direct you to member DMCs, as can The Association of Destination Management (www.adme.org), which has an online member directory that is searchable by location.

SOURCES

The DMC Network
(312) 726-5060
www.dmcnetwork.com

Global Events Partners
Washington, D.C.
(800) 206-9005
www.globaleventspartners.com

Helen L. Moskovitz & Associates
Nashville, Tenn.
(615) 352-6900
helen@nashdmc.com

INCENTIVE COMPANIES

The 5 W's to Working with Incentive Houses

What are they?

Maritz and Carlson carved a niche for themselves by helping companies not only create award trips for qualifying sales executives, but also to develop an entire program: the goals, the online site, the promotional campaign. Today, some companies focus on incentive marketing, some specialize primarily in trip delivery, and some provide the complete spectrum of services.

What do they do?

Incentive firms can prepare pre-trip promotional materials such as direct mail pieces; develop program Web sites; recommend sites; hire vendors on-site; coordinate F&B events; and even plan award shows, entertainment, and special events. Some companies, such as World Travel BTI, focus solely on incentive travel, while others, such as Cornerstone, also provide merchandise and debit card programs. Carlson Marketing Group also plans consumer events.

What will it cost me?

Becky Pappas, director, McGettigan World Class (a division of McGettigan Partners), notes that because every trip is unique, there is no set price structure. Some trips are billed on a commission basis; others are based on a flat fee. If World Travel is handling the entire trip, it will usually bill a management fee; if the client is purchasing services a la carte, then fees will be per-person. Many companies collect commissions from hotels. Carlson's Kim Streeter notes that fees vary depending on how customized an incentive trip is; a cruise for which the location and agenda are fixed is less labor-intensive (and costly) than a trip to several Hawaiian islands. While larger groups might get volume discounts, logistical issues, such as arranging transportation for all those people, can drive the cost up.

When is payment due?

Schedules differ depending on the timing of the meeting and other variables, such as the type of event and whether the incentive house has previously done business with your company. A deposit is typically required, followed by a schedule of payments based on when payments are due to vendors.

When should I make contact?

To get your preferred dates and destinations, try 18 months in advance, and two to three years out if you have a particularly large group.

What do they need to know?

Important data include the size of your group, age and other demographics, what you want to accomplish, previous and preferred destinations, preferred activities, and any anticipated challenges.

What should I ask?

How many people from the company will work on the event? How many will be on-site? Will they use freelancers? Has it produced similar events before? How is the fee structure based? Can they provide references?

Who will I work with?

Usually, you'll be assigned a salesperson or account executive who will coordinate the event, including hotel registration, airline booking and operations, with the other departments in the firm.

What if I have to cancel?

Most firms follow the policies of hotel and airlines contracted for incentives and incorporate vendor contracts into their own contracts. As for their own fees, they would consider what work has already been done as well as the reason behind the cancellation.

What credentials should I look for?

Are they members of the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives (www.site-intl.org) and have they achieved their CITE (certified incentive travel executive) designation, awarded by SITE upon completion of required educational sessions.

Where do I find them?

MPI and SITE offer online searchable membership directories.

SOURCES

McGettigan World Class
Winchester, Mass.
(781) 584-5600
www.mcgettiganworldclass.com

World Travel Meetings & Incentives
World Travel BTI
Atlanta
(404) 728-7800
www.wtmionline.com

Cornerstone
Marlboro, Mass.
(508) 460-1900
www.cstoneinc.com

Carlson Marketing Group
Minneapolis
(763) 212-4520
www.cmg.carlson.com

Maritz Travel Co.
Fenton, Mo.
636-827-2445
www.maritztravel.com