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MICHAEL BURKE, CMP
Manager, Conference & Travel Services
The Hanover Insurance Group

PAST Burke began his career in hospitality 26 years ago, behind the front desk at the Worcester (Mass.) Marriott. After working on programs with a local insurance company, Paul Revere, Burke got interested in the meetings business, and when the chance came to join Paul Revere in 1995, he made the leap. He joined The Hanover two years later, after Paul Revere outsourced its meeting planning. His hotel background has served him well, he says. “I understand the abilities and limitations of hotels. We don’t ask for things that are unreasonable.”

CRED Burke’s expertise was tested with this year’s President’s Club meeting. He’d booked a resort two years earlier, but when he returned for his planning visit in August 2010, he was uncomfortable with what he saw. “The economy had crashed and many properties were not maintained at a high level,” he says. Knowing that the property could no longer deliver the experience he needed for his group, he made the tough call to pull the program half a year out. Cancellation fees were paid, but mitigated because of a strong contract, and a new resort was found because of a strong relationship. As a bonus, Burke signed the contract with the new resort along with a second contract for an international program in 2012 using the same brand.

“Relationships are as important as ever,” he says. “Multiyear agreements help with rates, concessions, and consistency.”

STREAMLINING The recent recession and perception troubles were less troublesome for The Hanover because it already was working efficiently. “We have always been thoughtful and cost-conscious. We do great programs but they are not over-the-top. We don’t spend a ton of money in production.” Instead, the investment is made in “taking care of [attendees] and providing networking opportunities. We have great leadership support. They understand the importance of face-to-face interaction with agents and of doing it in the right environment.” They also understand the importance of the meetings team. “We are not looked at as logistics providers. We’re not in the background. We interact with everyone. We’re hosting tables on the final night. We understand the culture of the company.”

SUCCESS STORY Burke served on the board of directors of the then Insurance Conference Planners Association (now Financial & Insurance Conference Planners) during a time of huge changes for the association. First, it signed on with association management company SmithBucklin, ending decades of self-management. And while Burke was president, the association broadened its focus and changed its name. “It was a great experience for me,” he says. “It pushed me to develop in areas I was uncomfortable with, such as being on stage.”

AHA MOMENT “We have ‘aha’ moments weekly. I think when you stop having them, it’s time for you to do something else. We’re always learning. —Alison Hall