Title: Director, Conference Services
Company: Phoenix Cos. Inc., Hartford, Conn.
Planner Since: 1989
Number of people in my department: 2
My department reports to: Assistant Vice President, Corporate Communications
Incentive meetings per year: 3
Non-incentive meetings per year: 95
Annual meetings budget: $3 million
Best part of planning meetings: I love the details, no matter how minute, and seeing it all come together. And I love interacting with meeting attendees and making sure everyone is happy!
Biggest challenge of planning meetings: Managing the many changes we are faced with in today's world and how that affects our programs
On my nightstand: The Bible and crossword puzzle books
Travel survival tip: Always keep important documents and materials needed for your meeting with you in your carry-on luggage.
The Forms Queen
Janie Prevost saves her company money by giving incentive attendees macaroni and cheese for dinner.
That's a recent example of her creativity triumphing over a smaller budget. The entree was part of a “Time-Warp Party,” with food and music from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Prevost's '50s menu included beef stroganoff, turkey with all the trimmings, and good old mac and cheese. “It was a huge hit but low cost,” says Prevost, director of conference services for The Phoenix Cos. in Hartford, Conn. In addition, attendees came dressed for the decade of their choice, creating a major part of the party's decor and entertainment themselves. (The best dressed won a prize.)
Budget cuts have meeting planners throughout the industry tapping their creativity and sharpening theirskills. The focus on costs also has them looking over their shoulders for the next efficiency expert who questions the need for a centralized meeting department. “We have to show solid numbers — what we save against how much we cost,” Prevost says. “That's really become critical.”
Here's where the forms come in. Upon her promotion to director at The Phoenix Cos., Prevost created Activity Reports for each planner to complete. In addition to all the basic meeting details, the reports include costs for everything from meeting room rental to airfare — and the savings to the company from the meeting planner's negotiation.
Prevost uses these individual reports to create her annual Project Summary Report, in which she calculates the total number of meetings, total dollars spent, and total dollars saved, as well as breaking out all costs and savings by line of business. “The reports go to senior management in each line of business,” Prevost notes. And while she doesn't get regular feedback regarding those reports, they represent a first line of defense against.
Prevost also tracks the department's efficiency with the Analysis of Projects/Client Distribution Report, which analyzes the “level” of meetings the department plans — from complex (level 1) to easy (level 3). “This helps us track the percentage of time we are spending on each level,” she says. “We spend approximately 85 percent of our time on level 1 and 2 projects.”
A Perfect Fit
Anyone who worked with Prevost during her 15 years at CIGNA in Bloomfield, Conn., would not be surprised to learn that her big initiatives at The Phoenix Cos. involved forms. It was at CIGNA that she was dubbed “The Forms Queen,” always on the lookout for tasks that could be better organized or for information that could be made more readily available by diligent use of a new form.
“I've always been into organizing and planning,” she says. “Even from high school, I was always on some kind of committee.” She joined CIGNA in 1984 as a secretary. “Four years later, I found out there was such a thing as a meeting planning department,” she says. She moved to the department as an assistant, then became a planner in 1989 and discovered that “it was what I always wanted to do. I love that you have to be so organized.”
No surprise, then, that Prevost's hobbies include cross-stitch and crossword puzzles. Along with “shopping, shopping…and did I say shopping?” — always diligently hunting down the best sales, no doubt.
Out and About
To hunt down the latest and greatest meeting properties, speakers, entertainers, and meeting ideas, Prevost attends the Insurance Conference Planners Association Annual Meeting and ICPA chapter meetings. “Networking with other planners and suppliers is the most valuable thing for me,” she says.
She does more networking at various hotel advisory board meetings during the year, which she sees as a great benefit for the planners involved as well as for the suppliers. “Hotel companies really appreciate the feedback we planners provide about their properties: what's working, what isn't, and what they can do to improve,” she says. “In many cases, the host will execute changes we've suggested, which means they take us seriously and really want to work with us. We also discuss industry challenges.”
What she and her fellow planners are discussing now, she says, are terrorism and the threat of war. “That's brought a whole new meaning tonegotiation and cancellation policies,” she says. “It's changed the language in . For example, we've expanded the clause to say ‘threats or acts of terrorism and threats or acts of war’ instead of just ‘terrorism’ or ‘war.’”
But despite heightened tensions worldwide, Prevost says that attendees are getting on planes, and meetings are as important as ever. “There's still a sense of nervousness, but people are definitely traveling,” she notes. “Meetings will never go away. Yes, we have videoconferencing, but depending on the meeting's focus, getting face to face can be critical.” Incentive meetings, of course, are the perfect example: “It's important for those that are selling our products. We need to give something back for all of their hard work.”
MARK E. MOSLEY
Title: Division Manager, Meetings, Awards, and Promotions
Company: Allstate Insurance Co., Irving, Texas
Planner since: January 2001
Number of people in my department: 7
My department reports to: Sales
Incentive meetings per year: 2
Non-incentive meetings per year: 15
Best part of planning meetings: Working with people, and the satisfaction received from the successful execution of each event
Biggest challenge of planning meetings: Budgeting
Favorite Web site: ceoexpress.com
On my nightstand: To America: Reflections of an Historian by Stephen E. Ambrose
Travel survival tip: In Texas, thunderstorms often close the airport causing lengthy delays, so I always have food and water in my PC bag.
Beam Me Up, Mark
A decade ago, power users of technology were described as “wired.” Today's high-tech warriors are better called “wireless.” Among them is Mark Mosley, division manager, meetings, awards and promotions at the Texas Regional Office of Allstate Insurance Co. in Irving, Texas. “I keep my laptop and cell phone with me all the time, plus my PDA,” he says. “We used to carry five-inch manuals — now everything is dumped into our PDAs. We can beam each other updates if we change something the night before the meeting.”
Mosley started a little tech revolution at his office simply by using his PDA. Other planners saw how cool it was and bought their own, and now the IT department has set up the infrastructure to support PDAs.
Just Plan It
It's also Mosley's initiative that got him started planning meetings. A 16-year Allstate employee, he found himself working in customer sales eight years ago. Faced with putting into practice Allstate's Customer Care Initiative, Mosley decided to call a meeting for 60 of his colleagues doing the same work at the company's 12 other regional offices. “I handled everything: the site visit, the invites, the dinner, the AV,” he says. “I enjoyed it, it went very well, and I got a lot of positive feedback.”
Fast forward to 2000, and Mosley had the chance to take over meeting planning for the Texas office after a colleague left the company. “I was tickled to death,” he says. “You get the immediate gratification of a job well done. You also get gray hairs, but there's nothing better than an event that goes off well where everyone has a good time.”
Bring It On
Now Mosley just wants to do more of them. “Our work is seasonal, and I want to streamline my activity, so we have been aggressively acquiring meetings that used to be planned by secretaries,” he says. “By the end of 2003, we will have added 15 meetings. We'll get a handle on how many we can take on while maintaining our primary focus on our two large incentive trips.”
Mosley's pitch to garner those additional meetings “takes advantage of expense problems,” he explains. “We sit down and show that by letting us have the meeting, we can save 10 percent to 20 percent on room rates, while the secretaries can more efficiently be used elsewhere.”
The focus on costs extends to the office's big incentives as well: two four-day trips for 450 attendees. “Expenses caused us to start asking for feedback,” Mosley notes. And that feedback led to ways to cut costs and increase attendee satisfaction.
For example, the office had been doing many short incentive trips every year; however, attendees said they'd rather have fewer, but better and longer trips. “Now we can choose destinations that are more exotic and properties that are more upscale,” Mosley says. Surveys also showed that attendees didn't consider in-room amenities a priority, so Mosley has saved money by cutting back on those.
“We structure most of our incentive trips as on-your-own trips,” he adds. “We have a welcome reception and a banquet, but otherwise instead of being corralled, they can disperse and make it a true mini-vacation.”
Todd Zint, CMP, CMM
Title: VP, Corporate Relations and Events
Company: MetLife Investors Group Inc., Newport Beach, Calif.
Planner since: 1993
Number of people in your department: 3
My department reports to: Marketing
Incentive meetings per year: 4
Non-incentive Meetings Per Year: 20
Annual meeting budget: $5 million
Best part of planning meetings: The opportunity to think outside the box and ask what I can do with my meetings that will differentiate them from those of other companies
Biggest challenge of planning meetings: Establishing a strategic meeting objective with senior management
Favorite Web site: www.ebay.com
On my nightstand: Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson, MD
Travel survival tip: Change your watch to the time zone you're in.
Measuring— return on investment — was all the rage in the meeting planning world a few years ago. Everyone understood the concept: If you could measure your company's return on its investment in a meeting, you could decide if the meeting was doing its job, needed improvement, or should be scrapped altogether. Furthermore, when you could mark meeting successes with hard numbers, you could do a lot for your own credibility and job security. It made sense, but not everyone figured out how to put it into practice.
TODD ZINT, CMP, CMM,
Zint is vice president, corporate relations and events, for MetLife Investors Group in Newport Beach, Calif., a subsidiary of MetLife Inc., that is MetLife's primary third-party distribution channel, selling products manufactured by MetLife-affiliated insurance companies through broker/dealers, banks, and wirehouses.
Zint plans sales and training meetings for the brokers on the sales front lines. To measure the ROI of those meetings, he tracks the production of each attendee for 150 days after a meeting, comparing that to his or her pre-meeting production. “This data is input manually and becomes automated through a program developed by our technology group,” he explains. “This gives us the opportunity to analyze our attendees' preferred selling patterns and therefore the opportunity to develop agendas that provide value-add to our attendees.”
Beyond the Nitty Gritty
Zint's ROI reporting is just one benefit he realized from earning his Certificate in Meeting Management — a project “that changed my life,” he says. “I had come to a plateau in my career. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do in meeting planning, how to take it to the next level.” He researched the CMM, and decided to give it a try.
Getting the designation, which was introduced in the United States in 1998, involves attending a 4.5-day residency program that includes classroom sessions, participation in a group case study, and an individual exam. But before they even get on site, teams of candidates begin communicating and doing work on an assignment. After the residency program, candidates must complete a business plan that represents 40 percent of the requirement for earning the designation. (For more information on the CMM, go to page 21.)
The CMM's focus — and, now, Zint's focus — is strategic rather than tactical, he explains. He still spends eight hours stuffing welcome packets before the national sales meeting, but he is also actively involved in determining whether MetLife Investors Group is targeting the right audience with its meetings, if agendas work toward the goals of meetings, whether speakers fit the level of the audience, and other strategic issues such as creative ways to entice attendees to the meetings in the first place.
Zint began his career as a travel planner at Maritz. Before joining MetLife Investors in March 2002, he had spent four years at AXA Distributors, a subsidiary of AXA Financial. (It was during his time at AXA Distributors that he earned his CMM.)
In less than a year at MetLife Investors, Zint has introduced several innovations in addition to ROI reporting.
He is developing an online corporate events calendar, a budget spreadsheet that tracks where the meeting money goes — to which firm and to which distribution channel — and a management report that summarizes meeting expenses. “I'm also working on efficiency and consistency among our meeting planning team,” he says, which involves standardizing RFPs and event timelines for each of his meeting categories. He and his team are also having to become legal experts, he says, with the constant changes in the hotel industry: “Unfortunately, friendships and handshakes have given way to lawyers and legal jargon.”
JUDITH A. ACKERMAN
Title: Marketing Services Coordinator, Marketing & Communications
Company: Guy Carpenter & Company Inc., New York, NY
Planner since: 1999
Number of people in my department: 17
My department reports to: Chairman and CEO
Non-Incentive meetings and events per year: About 28
Best part of planning meetings: Every day is different, and every meeting is a new creative opportunity.
Biggest meeting planning challenge: Long work hours on site
What I can't live without on site: My packing list of what I am going to wear each day
My favorite Web site: www.newyork.citysearch.com (When I'm actually in town, it helps me find out what's going on.)
On my nightstand: The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Travel survival tip: I try to bring something small and personal to put in my hotel room while on a trip. After a long day without the comforts of home, a scented candle or trinket is nice to have.
When Judith Ackerman joined Guy Carpenter & Co. in New York as the company's first dedicated full-time event planner, she was just in time to attend a large client shindig. Leaving the party, she struck up a conversation with an attendee on the elevator. “He told me that he had a great time, but wasn't quite sure he fully knew what the evening was all about. I realized that our events needed a focus that went beyond networking.”
Almost immediately, Ackerman changed her modus operandi from party planning to a more strategic event management role.
Thinking strategically means theming every event with a message.“To get to our business objective,” says Ackerman, “we ask ourselves a series of questions: What is there about our firm that we want our attendees to be aware of? Are there any new corporate strategies or initiatives that we can showcase? Have we published a white paper or other collateral that coincides with the event?”
Guy Carpenter, a leading risk and reinsurance specialist, has nearly doubled its corporate meetings and events in the past few years. To make sure they all reflect meaningful and consistent themes, Ackerman works closely with her marketing and communications colleagues. For example, in 2002 Guy Carpenter launched a new advertising campaign that used some eye-catching graphic images, including a windsock to show the company's foresight in a changing marketplace and a laser beam to demonstrate the company's focused expertise. “From looking at the sample ads tacked on my manager's wall, I got the idea of making props and giveaways for meetings that tied in with the new campaign,” she says. The props and gifts, such as pocket lasers, proved to be effective marketing tools at three different events last year. “They sparked a lot of questions and were great conversation pieces.”
Guy Carpenter is also hosting growing numbers of client seminars and educational forums on industry trends for groups that range from 30 to 150. Ackerman brings creativity to these educational meetings by making them highly interactive: One recent seminar that got great feedback featured an interview talk-show format.
With nearly 30 meetings and events to manage annually, the demands on Ackerman's time have steadily increased. To ease the crunch, she is coordinating an initiative to create meeting planner liaisons in Guy Carpenter regional offices across the country. This regional network will manage internal meetings so that Ackerman can focus on client events. To aid the meeting planner liaisons, she is creating a meeting planning toolkit that will become their primary planning resource for each event.
Ackerman didn't start out as a meeting planner. With a college degree in French and theater, she had every intention of moving to France after getting some experience in stage production on Broadway. But although she loved the work, the pay was so low that she reset her sights on a good corporate job.
“I identified what I loved about stage management and came up with just one alternative profession: event management,” she says. “Events are very much like performances. They require skill, attention to detail, and creativity. What I especially like is the adrenaline rush of seeing the final event after planning the show from start to finish.”
Title: Communications & Events Manager
Company: Allianz Insurance Co., Burbank, Calif.
Planner since: 1999
My department reports to: CEO
Number of people in my department: 3
Non-incentive Meetings Per Year: 12
Best part of planning meetings: Providing attendees with positive, memorable experiences
Biggest meeting planning challenge: All the teeny, tiny details to keep track of
What I can't live without on site: Caffeine
Favorite Web Site: www.Yahoo.com
On my Nightstand: Last Man Standing by David Baldacci
Travel Survival Tip: Keep a spare cell phone charger in your luggage so you don't have to remember to pack it.
In the four years since Laura Baukol joined Allianz Insurance Co. in Burbank, Calif., she's gone from organizing golf outings and cocktail receptions to planning a virtual meeting with attendees in seven different cities across the country — with two weeks lead time.
Change has become a constant companion for Baukol, who was promoted from events coordinator to communications and events manager in June 2001. At that time, her responsibilities expanded to include internal/external communications and graphic design for her division of Allianz, a property/casualty insurer for Fortune 1000 companies. But it wasn't until a new CEO came on board in May 2002 that Baukol's meeting and event planning duties significantly changed and increased.
A New Corporate Vision
Right from the start, CEO Kevin Callahan “had a different vision for meetings,” says Baukol. “He recognized the importance of teamwork and of gathering departments together.” Consequently, internal meetings that were previously one-day gatherings became multiday conferences with various breakout sessions, evening dinners and entertainment, andactivities.
The meeting evolution at Allianz Insurance Co. happened quickly. Just three months after Callahan came on board, Baukol pulled off the company's first strategic planning conference for about 70 AlC managers from offices nationwide. “The idea was to brainstorm and engage in open and honest communication across functions,” says Baukol.
Baukol describes herself as “a perfectionist when it comes to meeting planning. I have to know that I've done all that I can to make sure everything runs as it should in the most cost-effective manner.” She's also adept at lightning-fast disaster response. In September 2002, when a webcast planned for 400 employees in seven locations failed to work properly during a test-run the morning of the event, Baukol whipped into action and came up with an entirely new alternative plan.
It had been a challenging meeting from the start. Baukol had only two weeks to organize a real-time webcast of a speech that the CEO was presenting at a hotel near the firm's Burbank office to 300 attendees. The remote audience consisted of roughly 100 people across the country. “We spent 12 hours the day before the meeting preparing and testing the webcasting equipment,” Baukol says, “but the final version of the PowerPoint presentation wasn't available to test until the morning of the meeting.” That's when she discovered that the PowerPoint data didn't upload properly. With time running out, she decided to e-mail the final PowerPoint presentation to each off-site location, where it was printed and handed out to all attendees. Then she designated a representative at each site to click through the slides while the CEO's speech was broadcast on an audio Polycom. Not the ideal scenario, but in a crunch it accomplished the objective of bringing together employees in far-flung locations to hear their CEO's message.
More meetings and an expanded department that falls under the marketing umbrella have lengthened Baukol's typical workday to about 10 hours. She's looking at various planning tools to help streamline logistical tasks. But she doesn't expect her schedule to slow down anytime soon. “I'm in this mode because many things are changing. With change, you have to put in a lot more time because that's how you accomplish what needs to be done. I'm learning every day, and I'm excited about that.”