Eric McDonald, director of the meeting department at Parke-Davis, Morris Plains, N.J., estimates that his company spends $30 million each year on the several hundred meetings it holds. But he has never had a detailed picture of the company's meeting activities--until now.

Parke-Davis will soon be using a software tool called CORE Discovery, which was created by Philadelphia-based McGettigan Partners, to track and consolidate its meeting activity.

McDonald's seven planners will be able to enter their own meeting information and readily view all the details on all the other company meetings in the works, as well as meeting histories. The biggest benefit is buying power: McDonald can easily check what room rate the company has paid at specific hotels or how many passengers were booked in the past for specific meetings.

"For the first time, we will be able to approach a hotel chain knowing exactly how much business we are doing with them," he said. "We can identify how much we do with the Marriott chain or Hyatt, nationally. We might learn, for example, that 42 percent of our overnights are at the Marriott. With that knowledge, we would expect to get improved results in negotiations."

Growing Strong During the first quarter of 1999, Parke-Davis plans to hire two additional staff members at its Morris Plains, N.J., headquarters. Then, as part of their partnership, McGettigan Partners will assign five to seven of its staff members to Parke-Davis on a full-time basis. They will be stationed around the country, handling meetings for seven central business units (CBUs), as well as its sales training unit.

The meeting department's expansion strategy is directly linked to the introduction of the software. Christine Duffy, a division president with McGettigan Partners, explains: "The people in Parke-Davis' field sales offices said, 'My managers are involved in meeting planning and I want them focused on business issues.' They suggested putting planners in the offices to handle the smaller meetings that don't go to headquarters, where the focus is often on large, complex events."

This soon-to-be-released CORE Discovery 5.0 is capable of tying all of the company's CBUs together with headquarters and each other. Suppose a Chicago group books an incentive meeting in Southern California, but finds it can't attend due to a business conflict. In the past, the CBU would have been penalized for the change, but now it can broadcast the property's specs and possibly find someone within the company to pick up the booking for a similar meeting.

McDonald projects that savings like these may cover the introduction of the new software, plus costs like planner salaries, by the end of 1999. According to Duffy, the savings can be substantial. "In the first year of consolidation, you can look for 10 percent savings, after the costs of buying software and educating employees. In the second year, that could go as high as 18 percent. Beyond that, there are companies that have achieved 20 percent and upwards."

Meanwhile, McDonald expects the department's rapid growth to continue. "We may be doing $40 million in business by the year 2000," he says, then pauses to speculate: "We're probably doing close to $40 million now--we haven't tracked the business done in the CBUs before." Soon, he'll have the full picture.

McGettigan launched the first version of its consolidation software in 1995. About 15 companies rely on the current offering, called CORE Discovery 4.0, to streamline operations. Users include Microsoft, Bayer, Parke-Davis, Eli Lilly, and AT&T. Version 5.0 will be released early this year.

How does it work? Internal customers call their meeting department with initial specs for an upcoming event: the date, the number of people, the location, and the meeting space required. The planner puts those specifications into CORE and it churns out a listing of the hotels that meet that criteria. Next, it sends the criteria out by fax to potential hotels, so they can respond with availability, cost, etc.

CORE also helps planners build the meeting budget. If the initial cost is too high, planners can simply click on different components. Subtracting the reception before dinner, the room gifts on the first night, or switching from an open bar to just beer and wine all reduce costs. The program will instantly revise the budget.

The software also manages details ranging from registration to rooming lists to name-badge generation. People from inside and outside a corporation can register themselves for meetings through CORE via the Internet or a company's intranet. Also, registrants can fill in additional information--everything from T-shirt sizes to room preferences.

McGettigan expects to add an even more advanced version of the software in April. It will offer an air travel interface for corporate travel agencies to enter clients' air information directly into CORE, providing yet another level of consolidation.