Getting your arms around meetings spend is one of the most challenging aspects of developing a strategic meetings management program. Spend is typically decentralized and rarely falls into a consistent “meetings and events” line item in the general ledger.

In my previous role as director of meetings at a large biotech company, I had an idea of what our corporate spend was; however, until we compiled the data, my estimate and the reality were very different. The standard is that meetings spend will be approximately 1 percent to 3 percent of your company's revenue. So if you are a $5 billion company, your total spend would be between $50 million and $150 million.

SMMPs see cost avoidance of 10 percent to 25 percent within the first year of implementation. Using a conservative 10 percent savings figure, that means a $5 billion company would save $5 million to $15 million by initiating an SMMP.

Define Your Universe

The best way to start is to define the meetings and events in your organization, and then use that definition consistently throughout the process. How many meetings are there and from which management centers? What size are they (number of attendees and total spend)? Which hotels are being used and how often? How much is spent per chain or independent venue? (Note: It's important to consolidate your company's hotel business travel spend with the group spend to get a total picture.) What are negotiated savings per hotel contract, destination management company, audiovisual supplier? How many meetings are handled per staff member, how many meetings per third-party supplier, how much spend per supplier, how many suppliers are being used?

Next, look at the volume of your own department; this is the most easily accessible data. Then reach out to those people in your company who plan meetings. For example, I identified administrative staff who planned meetings regularly and gathered information on their meeting spend.

After identifying where you can find data on spend and volume (see box), create a time frame in which to examine the data. The length of time needs to be material, such as a 12-month span, but also reasonable given your accounting systems.

Now that you have this data, what do you do with it? Communicate it! Your team, travel, audit, compliance organizations, and suppliers will find it useful. Your senior executives must first understand the significance of the meetings category of spend before they will sponsor your strategic meetings management program.

Where to Find Data on Spend

  • Review meeting files and invoices.

  • Data mine in an existing meetings and events database.

  • Ask hotel chains and other suppliers to provide their information on your spend.

  • Collaborate with the travel department on business travel spend.

  • Examine finance department reports on specific suppliers.

  • Assess reports from corporate purchasing and T&E cards.

Betsy Bondurant, CMP, CMM, is president of Bondurant Consulting, Coronado, Calif. Contact her by e-mail at betsy@bondurantconsulting.com.