A NEW STUDY from American Express, undertaken by Chicago-headquartered management consulting firm A.T. Kearney, shows that companies can save as much as 10 percent to 15 percent of their annual meeting spend by implementing a comprehensive meetings management program.

At the same time, the survey finds that even though companies are looking for ways to gain more control over spending, many are failing to put the kinds of meeting-management best practices into place that can help them to achieve those savings.

“Our new study shows that, as companies examine every kind of expense to buoy profits, many have begun to more closely review their meeting costs,” said Mark Webb, senior vice president, Global Client Group, American Express Global Corporate Services, in a press release announcing the survey results. “But the study also indicates that firms can make even further gains in controlling meeting costs by implementing more extensive improvements over all areas of meeting planning and management.”

While 82 percent of companies surveyed said that meeting and events management would be an “important” issue to them over the next two years, many have yet to take the steps to control expenditures. For example, just 61 percent of respondents use preferred suppliers for meetings and events, and only 39 percent of those respondents combine meeting and events spend with transient travel spend to get the greatest negotiating leverage.

The study also found that the surveyed firms use disparate payment and data-collection methods. Seventy-two percent report tracking meetings and event spending, but use up to five different data resources to do so. For example, 50 percent use accounts payable reports, 42 percent use expense reports, and 36 percent use corporate credit card reports to track spending manually. Tracking spending in such a fragmented way, American Express argues, makes it more difficult for companies to get a complete picture of expenditures.

American Express and Kearney also found that only 20 percent of respondents have a dedicated meeting policy although 29 percent have some meeting and events language within a broader travel and events policy, and 36 percent have informal guidelines. (See chart.) In addition, 29 percent of respondents said they have neither a dedicated internal planning department nor use an external meeting planner.

“Dedicated planners live and breathe a company's meeting policy, so they're key to helping control expenditures,” said Jay Roseman, American Express business travel vice president. “Often, companies that rely on planners but may not have a corporate meetings policy fail to use those planners consistently across the organization, thereby missing opportunities to aggregate spend and consolidate savings.”