Part of our ongoing coverage of SMM leaders
With six sessions in a strategic meetings management track at its annual convention this month, the Global Business Travel Association is sticking with SMM as a focus of its time and education. The term “SMM” was coined by GBTA’s Groups & Meetings Committee nearly a decade ago and has become synonymous with consolidating meeting planning and developing strategies, such as smarter and stricter meeting policies, to cut meeting spending.
Linda McNairy, vice president, strategic partner management, for Active Network/StarCite, was vice chair of the Groups & Meetings Committee when GBTA decided to rebrand the group as the Global Meetings Task Force. She now leads the task force, and we asked her about its evolving mission.
Corporate Meetings & Incentives: Could you talk about GBTA’s shift from the Groups & Meetings Committee to the Global Meetings Task Force? How is the focus of the new entity different?
Linda McNairy: The Groups & Meetings Committee was established in the early 1990s and became one of the most prolific and trail-blazing committees at GBTA (then NBTA). As the meetings management industry grew more global, we felt the committee and its goals also needed to expand. The task force was formed in October 2011 to create a vision for what’s next and to think about how to incorporate a global footprint for meetings management. Under the direction of GBTA executive director and COO Michael W. McCormick and the GBTA board of directors, the task force was established to take a look at these challenges, bring new thought leaders into the space, and assess where GBTA should be as the discipline of forges ahead.
CMI: Have any elements of that “new vision” been determined yet?
McNairy: Absolutely! We’re looking across the industry to see how GBTA’s original vision of SMM is being used, how it is being interpreted, and what is not yet being addressed. The original, official definition focused mostly on procurement and financial issues. As the discipline matures, we realize that there are missing elements. Attendee engagement, persistent community, attendee, and event ROI, are among the concepts that need to be addressed. And that’s okay—the original vision brought structure to a previously unmanaged category of activity and spend.
CMI: Was the new task force also prompted by changing member needs? A change in your target audience? Or by what GBTA sees as the future of meetings management?
McNairy: The changes were based on a combination of all of these things. We were hearing from our members that they wanted a higher level of thought leadership and education. In terms of the target audience, we believe this continues to expand as SMM matures. In other words, more and more functional areas are getting involved in the discipline. While previously SMM was led by travel and meetings management, we now see sales and marketing organizations as an emerging audience, and there’s an increased sophistication of understanding coming from procurement, finance, technology, and other key stakeholder groups.
SMM was the brainchild of the Groups and Meetings Committee; however, other organizations have made liberal use of the terminology without appropriate context, and it was time for GBTA to restructure and again take a leadership role in collaboration with affiliated organizations in the industry.
CMI: What is the place of meetings management in GBTA’s educational focus? Is there still a trend toward members handling both travel and meetings?
McNairy: This is a great question as it highlights a fundamental challenge with SMM. The list of stakeholders is broad and ever-expanding. The task force has undertaken an analysis of how to identify these groups and determine the best way to deliver education, best practices, collaboration, and community for each. That said, there is absolutely a continued trend toward travel managers having responsibility for shaping the enterprise meeting strategy. Our focus is to help them understand the landscape and give them resources—education, tools, and collaboration—that will result in success.
CMI: What is the next phase for SMM?
McNairy: This is the exciting prospect before us. We believe that the definition of SMM currently in play occupies a relatively small space on a very large canvas. Our mission is to expand the work to create a larger picture and provide a solid plan for a new and sustainable committee within GBTA. Organizations are beginning to understand the value of managing meetings to create visibility, generate savings, provide duty of care to all attendees, and create efficiencies.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Greater focus on measuring the results and tying them back to the mission and objectives of the organization is vital. Look for more announcements in the next few months.
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