“A holistic approach is essential to understanding your total meetings business,” says Debbie Gittinger, global travel operations manager at Cincinnati-based The Procter & Gamble Co. “I don't think it's enough to just manage the procurement part.” Exactly, say the folks at Mount Laurel, N.J.-based American Express Meetings & Incentives, the meetings management arm of American Express Corporate Services, which held its first customer forum in June, just months after the March launch of its Interactive Meetings Solutions team.

The event drew about 40 current and prospective corporate clients. For many who came to discuss the latest meeting trends and tools, an end-to-end “holistic” strategy is still a ways off — although some have made significant advances. Gittinger, for example,estimates her approach is 80 percent holistic. Two years ago, she switched from a homegrown data warehousing system to online registration via B-There Corp. P&G, which uses American Express to manage air spending, also adopted B-There's OneForm software, which tracks meeting data. And Gittinger plans to adopt an online air booking tool for meetings this year.

“These days, it's not enough to just address one aspect of managing meetings, let's say, setting up supplier deals,” says Jay Roseman, vice president at American Express Meetings & Incentives. “Sure, you may reap lower airfares and room rates, but without creating rules on use of preferred vendors as well as measuring adherence, those discounts won't last long.”

Roseman offered some further advice on creating an end-to-end meeting strategy:

  • Develop preferred supplier deals and draft consistent contract language.

  • Consider tools, such as a meeting charge card, that offer data consolidation and purchase controls.

  • Adopt technology that streamlines tasks, cuts costs, and supports preferred supplier strategy — for instance online booking and attendee management tools.