No question the economy has hit meeting management companies—and their clients— hard. But while many are struggling to remain profitable, and some even shutting their doors, Caledonia, Wis.–based Meetings & Incentives is adapting its business and growing its international offerings.
Agnès Canonica, CMP, CMM, was tapped earlier this year to serve as director of M&I’s new international services division, and despite the downturn, demand is on the rise, she says. In 2008, international events represented 15 percent of M&I’s business—up from 10 percent the previous year. And the company has already grown its international business by 10 percent for 2009. “We are forecasting a 15 percent annual growth rate for future years, and expect to surpass that once the economy stabilizes and incentives pick up again,” adds Canonica.
In fact, demand has been so great that M&I has hired three new planners for the team, bringing the total number of full-time planners handling international services to seven. And M&I plans to continue to grow the division and open regional offices in Latin America and Europe in the next 18 to 24 months.
“It just made sense [to provide this service] for our clients,” says Canonica. “We are seeing a trend toward moreof meeting services, especially in the pharmaceutical space. Companies are looking for ways to consolidate spend, and they want to work with an agency that is familiar with their expectations and can execute them both domestically and outside of U.S. borders.”
When it comes to managing regulatory guidelines for pharma meetings, local agencies in other countries are not always aware of what is and isn’t allowed, she notes. “We are very familiar with the regulatory guidelines, such as spending caps on meals and restrictions on bringing spouses to meetings, and can help ensure compliance outside the U.S.” In addition, the international services team provides expertise in all areas of meeting planning, from managing international travel and visa challenges to keeping cultural differences top of mind.
Although the demand for outsourced meetings management has created opportunities for M&I, Canonica notes that the past year has provided challenges as well. “The incentive side of the business has almost disappeared, and forecasting incoming business has been tremendously difficult,” she says. But having the flexibility to shift with the market has been instrumental to the company’s success. “We service clients that span all industries and geographic regions, which has helped us buck these tough economic times.”