“When selecting a third party, take your time and do the math. You are going to be working with these people day in and day out. You have to trust and respect each other. And if there are personality clashes with you or your management, it is never going to work.”

  1. Leanne Acton, CMM, Penn Mutual Life Insurance Co.

  2. “You need someone who knows your company. That takes relationship-building. It works best for companies that know they need help on an annual basis.”
    Steve Clark, CMP

  3. “An RFP gives a lot of exposure about your company, so don't go out to the world. We requested proposals from seven companies and narrowed it to two for a final in-person presentation.”
    Lynne Schueler, Principal Financial Group

  4. “Be very clear about exactly how you want bids to be priced, and make sure you understand what is in each of the responses so you can compare them appropriately.”
    Lynne Schueler

  5. “Rather than hire the larger incentive companies, hire experienced independent planners to work on a project basis. The big companies do a great job, but they have to pay all their overhead. There isn't a thing they do that they don't charge you for.”
    Linda Bourbonnie, Corporate Events Planner

  6. Create your initial list of meeting planning companies or independent consultants through referrals from peers in the industry. Or ask vendors you like and trust to recommend meeting planning companies or independent planners who have impressed them.

  7. Get an idea of the previous experience of the companies you're considering. Have they worked with sales forces like yours? What size programs are they accustomed to managing?

  8. Make sure the company you ultimately choose is on good financial footing.


The Future Is Here: Why Outsourcing Is on the Rise

Many insurance and financial services companies today have experienced, efficient in-house meeting departments. They've consolidated, they've cut costs, they achieve major savings through negotiation. From management's perspective, it's smooth sailing.

But under the surface, these departments are working like crazy to balance their workloads, staff sizes, and budgets. In a business world where procurement officers come looking for exact numbers, meeting planning remains an inexact science, especially with event calendars fluctuating like never before. A last-minute program means planners' plates are overflowing; a cancellation creates a lull.

That's where Steve Clark, CMP, sees a place for outsourcing. In December 2002, after 18 years at CUNA Mutual (with whom he is still under contract), Clark left his full-time position to start an independent consultancy. He's quick to say that he believes in internal corporate meeting departments. “An independent planner can't fully replicate an in-house department,” he says. “There are too many pieces of the puzzle.” However, he adds, “the future of in-house departments will be better and stronger if they embrace strategic outsourcing.” When Clark left CUNA Mutual, he had just begun to outsource, and he could see where the meeting industry was headed. “There's a lot of corporate meeting business out there,” he says. “And Corporate America is trying to get away from benefits and insurance. So they use contracted vendors because they don't want you under their umbrella.” That can help in-house departments pitch hiring independent planners: Fees can be paid out of the budgets for specific projects.

Clark gives examples from his own clients: In one case, he took over a series of meetings when a staff person left the company. In another, he helped with site selection. In yet another, a client canceled the program Clark was to work on. If he'd been on staff, they'd still be paying him.

“You have to find the right fit for your company, somebody you trust to help you with whatever volume you can't handle,” he says. “You still control it, you still own it, and the person becomes like an employee — but one you use as needed.” He understands the reluctance of some planners who feel they are opening themselves up to a third-party takeover. “You have to trust your independent contractor,” Clark says. “I tell potential clients, ‘I don't want your job. I already had it.’”