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director, travel and meeting services
CIGNA
Hartford, Conn.

A successful meeting planner is both proactive and reactive, says Rob Gingras, CMP, CTE. “You need to be able to react to the latest situation—the volcano in Iceland, for example—so you minimize its impact. And you need to be proactive to accommodate growth”—in your job, your department, and your company.

Gingras is nothing if not proactive. After 10 years planning meetings at Travelers Insurance, he joined CIGNA in 1995, became team leader in 1996, took over meeting services in 2002, and then added corporate travel, executive travel, and T&E policy to his responsibilities in 2008.

At that point, by using the trust and credibility he’d established with senior management, Gingras essentially rebuilt corporate travel. “We brought a new travel management company in house, chose a new car rental company, renegotiated our air contracts, revamped our transient hotel program, and implemented a new traveler profile tool.” The changes, he says, met new goals for service levels, savings, and technology to support future growth.

“Being strategic and consultative must be a meeting planner’s primary mind-set and approach,” Gingras believes. “Force yourself to look at the big picture on a regular basis, and understand what role you play.” How do you get that big picture? “Constant dialogue at all levels,” he says, “at the senior level, the mid-management level, and with the road warriors.”

Know the goals of your clients, but also keep in mind the goals of the finance department, the sales department, the compliance department, the company as a whole. “Then you pull it all together to present the full picture,” he explains.

Of course, with the big picture there is also a need for details. Gingras uses a proprietary database to create reports that can be “sliced and diced” any way he needs them. “You might get a place at the table through relationships,” he says, “but you won’t keep it without detailed, actionable data.” —Alison Hall