The Outsourcing Story at Penn Mutual
Leanne Acton's story reads like the opposite of what some planners fear about the big third parties. In a sense, she owes her in-house meeting planning job to Maritz.
Back in 1996, Penn Mutual Life Insurance Co., Horsham, Pa., decided to outsource all of its meeting planning to Maritz. The result? Penn Mutual's meeting planning became less efficient.
Tim Bruins, senior account executive at Maritz, picks up the story: “We needed a liaison to help us understand their goals for their programs,” he says. And frankly, Maritz just needed to be able to get someone's attention within the company — someone whose job priority was to make sure Penn Mutual's meetings were successful rather than someone who had meetings tacked on to the bottom of an already full list of job priorities.
In 1998, Leanne Acton, CMM, was hired as manager, conference planning and travel services. “The company realized it needed a high-level in-house meeting planner to talk to the third-party suppliers,” she explains. At the time there were two in-house meeting coordinators working with Maritz, focusing on logistics. In the years since Acton came on board those roles have developed into professional planning positions, and Acton has been promoted from manager to director — all while working with a third party. “People are worried about losing their relationships with management and hotels if they use third parties,” she says. “I actually have a better relationship with management because of working with a third party. I think it can give an advantage to the planner to be more strategic.”
As an example, Acton mentions the security document that she created for her company and has shared with peers during presentations at ICPA meetings. Because she wasn't consumed by the “nuts and bolts” of conferences, Acton could take the initiative to produce this document that her company really needed. “I'm able to think ahead and outside the box to bring new and necessary ideas and programs to my company that they appreciate,” she says. “I get respect from my management because I do that.”
Bruins of Maritz says he and his team serve as Acton's “arms and legs. She can look at the bigger picture rather than worry if the signs are being done correctly.” He also of course mentions the big advantage of working with a big partner: buying power. Penn Mutual may book a property that it will use once in 10 years, he says, but Maritz might use that property 10 times in one year. Penn Mutual gets to piggyback on that volume. “And they benefit not only from a pricing standpoint,” Bruins notes, “but also from things like favorableclauses and upgrades that they can pass on to their producers.”
Maritz handles eight large Penn Mutual conferences annually, five of them incentives. “I'm the decision-maker,” Acton says. “Maritz is an extension of my team.”
Working with Maritz also means that the Penn Mutual team can grow and shrink as it needs to, without Penn Mutual absorbing all of the overhead. “If they're swamped, we can take on a program we don't usually do,” Bruins says. “We have resources they can draw from.”
In fact, Acton cites the depth of Maritz as one of its selling points when Penn Mutual reviewed thedecision and went through a major RFP process several years ago. “Penn Mutual, like all companies, can sometimes make last-minute meeting decisions. When we need all hands on deck, we wanted to know how many hands that would be,” she says. “We wanted a company with a strong support system behind them, and with a lot of technology available to them. All of our conferences happen within a short period of time.”
The RFP asked the third parties to bid on a particular conference. When the bids came back, they were reviewed by a focus group that included members from purchasing, senior management, and meetings.
The group considered cost, creativity, what the planning team would look like, and what kind of on-site support would be provided. After narrowing the choices to three, Acton and the focus group visited each company to get a sense of their personalities, support systems, and technological capabilities.
“We came up with Maritz as the top choice,” Acton says. “I like the way Maritz is set up. Tim is my senior account executive. He will help with big issues. I have a day-to-day contact, Michelle Erard, who handles all the details and will be on site at the meeting. Within the Maritz framework, Michelle is the person who talks to all of the vendors, both inside Maritz (like those who are involved with promotional materials) and outside. For me, it's just one call to Michelle. She also knows my top producers and what they like. That continues the personal touch which Penn Mutual is always striving for.”
The personal touch extends on site as well, where Acton can devote all of her energy to the producers rather than ballroom setups. “If a producer comes to me with a special request — to change a flight, for example — I can say ‘of course,’ go to my Maritz on-site travel director and get it done.” The upshot, she says, is that “everyone is happy. The producer is happy because I was able to do him or her a favor, that makes me happy, and subsequently my management is happy. We've met our goal of making our producers feel very, very special.”