MEETING PLANNERS MUST ACCEPT — and even embrace — the role of procurement departments if they are to survive the scrutiny of their CFOs. That was the consensus of the 100-plus attendees of the First Annual Trends Summit, held June 28 to 29 at the Mohegan Sun Resort & Casino in Uncasville, Conn.

“CFOs and CEOs are scrutinizing cost savings on all levels, but meetings have gone unscathed — so far. That is changing, and CFO scrutiny of meeting expenses will be the trend of 2004,” said keynote speaker Ed Rigsbee, president of Rigsbee Research, Thousand Oaks, Calif.

The conference offered research findings and case studies, presented by planning and procurement experts. All argued for the acceptance of procurement partners within the organization.

“Over the past 10 years, the role of procurement has increased dramatically. With strategic procurement, an approach has evolved that has broad buy-in, mostly because of its problem-solving aspects,” said Dick Zeller, vice president, consolidated business solutions, Maritz McGettigan, Philadelphia. “Measuring the value to the organization had been lacking, and it [strategic procurement] has helped this change by raising the level of discipline. Meeting groups tend to think more tactically; procurement groups help them to apply the discipline to think more strategically.”

Panelists were asked by moderator Scott Shuster, former editorial director of Business Week, to discuss how they prove the value of meetings to their organizations; specifically, he asked how and what they measure.

“Financial benchmarks are relatively easy to establish and track,” Zeller responded, but he cautioned, “If you are tracking savings, apply methodology that is consistent across the organization.” Measuring service is less straightforward, he admitted. “We've developed a scorecard that we use when surveying our customers.”

Cost must be weighed against value, said Mike McMahon, chief procurement officer, Deloitte Touche, Wilton, Conn. “We're seeing more sophisticated companies look at outsourcing and off-shoring the meeting planning function, taking it out of the internal planning setting. Any activity that is technology-driven — for example, registration — could be off-shored.” Deloitte Touche spends some $400 million on travel each year, he said, “And that has had procurement's attention for some time, long before meetings did.” Now that meetings are getting a closer look, he said, benefits are multiplying.