PROCUREMENT DEPARTMENTS' growing interest in corporate meeting spend is not a North American phenomenon. One sign of the times is the recent move by two U.K.-based groups, the Incentive Travel & Meetings Association, an association of event management agencies and meeting suppliers, and the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply, to develop educational initiatives aimed at improving communications between event management companies and procurement professionals.
ITMA and CIPS last month agreed, provisionally, to publish co-branded guidelines for best practices in events procurement. (The agreement is subject to acceptance by the CIPS Board in September). The two have also discussed conducting a focus group in September, comprising CIPS members, corporate marketing heads, and ITMA members, to identify key areas of contention and misunderstanding. The groups are also exploring the potential for a number of joint educational events.
Over the past few years, third parties “have had to accept that procurement professionals are not going to go away,” says Sarah Webster, ITMA's public relations representative. “From their original standpoint of bitterly bemoaning purchasers' interference, agencies are now biting the bullet and adapting to this different species of client. This means learning how purchasers think, what they want to know, and what will impress them.” In fact, to adapt proposals to purchasers' needs, Webster says that “the most evolved  agencies are even recruiting senior staff with a corporate purchasing background to facilitate this process.”
While the ITMA/CIPS partnership signals a changing marketplace, Webster does not see meeting and marketing professionals being sidelined in the planning process. “Our experience is that, so far, purchasing departments do not have the absolute power to overrule the decision to hold an event — although they do want to be involved in the selection of suppliers and contractual negotiations. Once the deal has been done, purchasers are not involved with the event-planning process. This remains very much the province of the marketing client. For this reason, the relationship between agency and marketing client remains crucial.”