It's about Purchasing, not Planning

In today's world of “strategic meeting management programs,” or SMMPs, a centralized approach to meetings doesn't typically mean centralizing the planning function itself, but rather centralizing the sourcing and contracting of meetings. An SMMP might include a meeting registry; a companywide technology for sourcing meeting sites, sending e-RFPs, and data management; preferred-supplier arrangements; and meeting policies that improve compliance with these initiatives.

Why a Registry?

The first step for many companies that want to take a more strategic approach to their meetings is to find out where meetings are being held, as well as how much is being spent and by whom. Until a company can track its spend, it doesn't have any leverage with suppliers for negotiations. To force compliance with this kind of data-collection initiative, some companies have a system that assigns a code to a meeting once it's registered. Accounting is not supposed to pay the bills without the code.

Contract Central

When companies begin an SMMP and scrutinize their meeting practices, many find a range of personnel with little or no legal background signing meeting contracts. Moving to a centralized contract signing system can deliver huge benefits in terms of a company's risk of overspending and exposure to liability. For example, the right clauses can protect you against undisclosed fees (such as energy and telephone surcharges) and build in a range of concessions (such as a fair complimentary room night policy, in-room newspaper, or VIP transfers). But perhaps most importantly, a well-negotiated contract delivers cancellation and attrition clauses that are fair, eliminating as much financial risk as possible.

Technology can help

The tech tools that have evolved to help companies with strategic meeting initiatives typically include a sourcing capability, where planners can search for sites, see which properties are preferred suppliers, and send RFPs; a strong reporting system that provides meeting spend data by hotel, by chain, by individual meeting, or by department; policy control features, with processes for proposing, approving, and evaluating meetings; and a calendar where everyone across the company can see where meetings are planned. Among the players in this technology arena are StarCite, OnVantage, and Arcaneo.

White Paper-Palooza

In the past couple of years, Meeting Professionals International and the National Business Travel Association have worked aggressively to inform members about the benefits and necessity of a strategic approach to meetings. Each association has published a series of white papers on the topic. At NBTA, the Groups and Meetings Committee has produced four white papers, one of which is available to nonmembers. (Visit www.nbta.org, click on “Members,” then “Committees, Councils & Task Forces,” then “Groups and Meetings Committee.”) MPI's Global Corporate Circle of Excellence has produced four papers, all of which can be accessed at www.mpiweb.org. (Click on “Publications and Research.”)

CENTRALIZATION 1. (noun) A meeting-industry term referring to sourcing and contracting of meetings by a central department, which allows for companywide spend tracking and reduced legal exposure.

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