Instituting a strategic meeting management program in the United States is one thing; expanding it globally is quite another. Corporate travel and meeting buyers gathered May 7 to discuss challenges to multinational SMMPs at a panel discussion during the Association of Corporate Travel Executives' Global Education Conference in Miami. About 100 attendees filled the room to hear the panelists' key takeaways: Companies should expect challenges overseas in data discovery and country- specific market conditions, and partnering with a multinational supplier can help to unify a meetings program across several countries.

Panelist George Odom, leader of travel and meeting services for pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Co., said his company began to roll out a formal preferred-hotel vendor list in Europe in 2004. Odom said it is important to adapt the company policy to fit local market conditions while keeping overall goals in mind. “We're trying to make sure that everybody has the same purchasing practices. We're starting to share suppliers more. You have to be very flexible and keep it in a model that fits what you need from a corporate policy and procedure. They say, ‘Think globally, and act locally,' and I think that really fits with meetings planning, especially in consolidation,” Odom said.

Michelle Harper, global supplier manager for Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel Corp., said the company expanded its meetings management programs into Europe and Asia at the end of 2002. “Our first goal was to have a truly global program, so we wanted to have one supplier that could meet 80 percent of our needs in Europe, Asia, and the U.S.,” she explained.

Getting the initial data on global meetings expenditures was difficult, Harper said, and the company went through each entry in its purchase order system to find meetings-related spend. Though all organizations have a different definition of what a meeting is, Harper said that Intel excludes from its purchasing policies events related to branding and others with high-production values.

The concept of strategic meetings management is shifting in Europe from a focus on procurement to a new drive to measure the effectiveness of meeting content and return on investment, said Didier Scaillet, vice president of global development for Meeting Professionals International.

“We are rolling out, at the end of July, a strategic meetings management module that really looks at the two components. On one hand, there is what has been described as ‘meetings consolidation,' which is the data, getting control of the spend, using a preferred-supplier program, and basically getting control over what your enterprise is spending within that area,” Scaillet said.

The other component of the module, he said, is measuring meetings as a strategic communication tool. Both elements need to be part of a strategic management program, he said. “We've seen some corporations really starting in on the ‘meetings effectiveness' element.”

Panelist David Holzer, director of meetings and events at American Express, said a growing number of customers are asking for multinational meeting services and products, including payment solutions in multiple currencies, consolidated spend data, Web-based tools for online reporting, and technology to automate logistical tasks.

“The bottom line is that these days, companies that are growing their business globally are more aware than ever that they can't do so without a dedicated meetings management program,” Holzer said.