During the day, Washington, DC-based cor-porate lawyer Reggie Aggarwal negotiated billion-dollar deals for Internet start-ups and Fortune 500 companies. On nights and weekends, he was creating a local coalition for high-tech CEOs from India, for whom he planned 30 meetings a year. So it made sense, after planning meetings for two years for the Indian CEO High-Tech Council, that Aggarwal would found his own Internet company. Cvent.com, a new invitation-style application service provider, launched June 1. It is an event planning, e-marketing, and data analysis Web tool that promises to help build customer/attendee loyalty and brand your organization at the same time.
The Council's free events regularly drew hundreds of the most influential Washingtonians (by the way, says Aggarwal, about 80 percent of whom were non-Indian). But, with virtually no staff and on a shoestring budget, the 30-year-old Aggerwal recognized the value of e-mail and the Internet for efficiently planning and marketing events. In less than a year, the Council grew from 100 to 1,500 members.
Aggarwal, who publicly launched cvent.com at the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives annual, Springtime in the Park, on June 1, told the 2,000 event planners and suppliers gathered that he realized "there must be a way to make money by making it easier to plan these events via the Web."
Clearly he had some investor contacts in the dot-com community; he created cvent.com in partnership with MicroStrategy of Washington, D.C. The service sends e-mail invitations, a confirmation by e-mail, a reminder if you don't respond, and a "thanks for coming" e-mail a few days later. It generates name tags and attendee lists, collects information about each attendee to enhance that person's experience, and conducts pre- and post-event surveys.
The e-revolution is changing the face of classroom training. So says a survey of 1,360 businesspeople, about 15 percent of whom were from high-tech companies, conducted by the newsletter Learning Decisions. More than 85 percent of respondents will have added some type of "digital surround" to their educational offerings by March 2002, suggesting that a combination of traditional training and high-tech delivery tools is the wave of the future.
Digital surrounds, a term coined by Elliott Masie of the Saratoga Springs, N.Y.-based MASIE Center (publisher of Learning Decisions) are technology features that "surround" a classroom to enhance the learning experience before, during, or after the class. Examples include providing attendees with e-mail access to the instructor or registering online, pre-readings, additional resources, or make-up classes posted on a special Web site. "Digital surrounds are where some of the biggest return on investment can be accomplished quickly," says Masie.
"Another day, another dot-com press conference." So Tom Flanagan quipped in April at the Millennium Broadway Hotel in New York. Flanagan, vice president of marketing for Philadelphia-based StarCite (www.starcite.com), a fast-evolving meeting Web site, then announced StarCite's latest offering: customized sites for suppliers. But wait, there's more. StarCite is handling the biggest practical problem of online RFP use--that many hotels are not equipped to receive and respond to RFPs electronically--by giving free computers and free ISP service to hotels that sign up for marketing agreements.
"We're focused on both sides of the equation, as a market-maker should be," explained John Lavin, StarCite president and COO. Benefits for planners: faster turnaround and no need to retype RFP responses to compare offers. Benefits for hotels: happier customers and a way to track RFPs--by salesperson, customer segment, brand--and to identify patterns.
The computer giveaway is part of a partnership with computer-maker Dell, which will ship notebooks loaded with a StarCite icon, Flanagan said. Depending on which marketing agreement it chooses, a supplier gets at least one free machine. ("Suppliers" come from 40 categories--from hotels to florists.)
StarCite also had news for planner users. A site redesign allows planners to track negotiated savings or "cost avoidance." That means you can point to a number as your company'sin you. Also new are three specialized RFPs in addition to the standard hotel RFP: forms for airlines, cruise ships, and CVBs.
EventSource: Site Selection Plus Another meeting management Web site on the move is EventSource (www.eventsource.com), which announced a partnership with Sabre Inc., Fort Worth, Texas, in mid-May. The deal with Sabre, a leader in electronic travel distribution, puts an Event-Source link on the Sabre Business Travel Solutions (BTS) online travel management system, now in use by some 360 companies. The system allows meeting attendees to book their own air travel online; the company's policies and relevant corporate airfare agreements control the traveler's choices.
BTS users can now click on a "Plan a Meeting" button that sends them to EventSource. Once meeting details are arranged through EventSource, attendees will be able to book their own air through the company's BTS system.
EventSource has taken the third-party site-selection model and put it online. The company's revenue comes primarily from the 10 percent commission it gets from hotels on meetings booked through its site. Unlike StarCite, which has made partners of third parties such as HelmsBriscoe, McGettigan Partners, and Maritz, EventSource competes directly with those companies offering comparable services online.
Among EventSource's unique features is a forum for planner reviews of meeting properties. President & CEO Ed Sarraille says that hotels are allowed to post responses to those reviews.
The company also has partnerships with CommerceOne, for an auction-enabling product; with Extensity, for a "business-to-employee" platform, enabling planners to track meeting spending; and with Event411.
Wireless Meeting Planning Even the most fearless event planner might well blanch at the thought of this logistical labyrinth: Over a four-day period, orchestrate more than 1,000 half-hour, one-on-one meetings among 150 of your executives and many of the 2,400 people attending your conference. But GartnerGroup's program manager, Brian Williams, barely blinks at the prospect. His secret weapon? Interactive paging.
For Stanford, Conn.-based GartnerGroup's Spring Symposium at the San Diego Convention Center April 10 to 14, Williams contracted with BellSouth Wireless Data, Woodbridge, N.J., for airtime, equipment, and support. Williams issued a RIM 950 wireless handheld device to each of his six-person logistical team and to each of the company's 150 analysts participating in the one-on-one program (half-hour appointments available to the Fortune 500 executives attending the conference). BellSouth ran training sessions at the start of the meeting to teach users how to compose e-mail using the unit's tiny keyboard, send the messages over the BellSouth wireless network, and, of course, read incoming messages.
Williams' team used the pagers, which had been preprogrammed with e-mail addresses, to remind analysts where and when they had one-on-one meetings, as well as to communicate agenda changes or other conference happenings. Analysts used the system to contact the one-on-one management or any other analyst. As Williams said, it was "very functional in a very fast-paced environment."
Meeting planners asked, and the Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International responded with a Midwestern version of its popular Affordable Meetings Exposition and Conference, scheduled for April 4 to 5, 2001, at Chicago Navy Pier, Chicago.
Affordable Meetings Mid-America joins the rotation with Affordable Meeting West, which in 2001 will be held June 27 to 28 in San Jose, Calif.; and Affordable Meetings National, scheduled September 6 to 7 at the Baltimore Convention Center. Visit www.affordablemeet
ings.com or call (914) 421-3377.
Six computer and electronics trade shows grew more than 45 percent in 1999: * HITEC/Hospitality Industry Technology Exposition & Conference 115% in attendance
* Electrical Apparatus Service Association Convention 85% in attendance
* America's SAP Users Group 67% in net square feet
* Video Software Dealers Association 57% in attendance
* Electrical Tech Week 56% in attendance
* International Consumer Electronics Show 47% in attendance
In terms of net square feet, 1999's five largest computer and electronics exhibitions: * Comdex/Fall - 1,155,000
* International Consumer Electronics Show - 1,092,000
* National Association of Broadcasters - 901,800
* Electronic Entertainment Expo - 542,000
* Infocomm International - 425,160
Source: Tradeshow Week's "Eighth Annual Computer & Electronics Show Report." The report features 1999 shows with at least 30,000 net square feet of paid exhibit space. This study, released in March 2000, included 89 shows, 33 managed by associations, 56 by independent show managers.
If you buy pillow gifts for incentive meetings, giveaways for major customers, awards for top producers--heck, if you ever buy any kind of business gift, bookmark this site: www.bravanta.com.
Originally begun in July 1999 as Bravogifts.com, the expanded and renamed site launched June 26. You can set up an incentive award program that takes care of alerting winners, getting their award selections, shipping the award, and cranking out reports for you. Or you can just go on, browse the site's 2,000 item choices (search the whole roster or by category), and find the perfect thank-you gift for that amazing convention services manager.
It's not just merchandise, either. Among the things you can give away are rounds of golf or lessons with pros at 1,500 courses nationwide. Don't have a clue what to get? Answer some questions (including price range), click a button, and up pop some customized suggestions.
What makes the site unique, says President and CEO Allyson Campa, is "the broad assortment of items we carry--from spa getaways to what we call business classics. We carry prestigious brand names. Our strategy is to not to have the most items, but the most carefully chosen items."
Bravanta.com makes its money on the merchandise it sells. At this point, even setting up a major incentive program is a free service for customers.
Designed for meeting groups with filet mignon tastes and burger budgets, 4GroupBiz.com is a new online hotel database and RFP site that focuses only on hot dates at luxury properties that purchase a listing in its database. "We only populate our database with exceptional values or needles in the haystack, which means it's perfect for the planner with date flexibility," says Brian LaPlante, CEO and director of Bellevue, Wash.-based 4groupbiz.com.
"Today's planner is flooded with ancillary products," adds LaPlante. "Our site is intuitive and simple in form and function. It's like a designer outlet for distressed dates: Buy a Ferrari at the price of a Honda Accord."
The site works like this: You need to plan a meeting in the Southeast in July for less than 50 people. Check off the regions you're interested in, plug in the month and the number of people, and the database pops up a list of properties in those areas with perishable dates, including the percentage of savings off regular rates.
Hotels pay an introductory rate of $995 a year to be listed, but no commission is charged if a meeting is booked. Can meeting planners negotiate further off those rates? Anything is negotiable, says LaPlante, and a good planner will always ask.
The site is now live, although only a handful of hotels are in the database. LaPlante's goal is to have 200 hotels online by the end of this year and 2,000 by the end of 2001.
Jerry Wayne, who served as senior vice president of marketing for the Opryland Hospitality Group in Nashville for the past 10 years, has entered the dot-com world by joining b-there.com as executive vice president for the association and trade markets division. Among other responsibilities, Wayne will oversee the sales and marketing of the company's e-commerce tools for group housing, registration, and transportation management.
Mike Waterman has been named director of marketing and Scott Jernstrom director of sales at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel, opening February 2001. Waterman was director of marketing for the Renaissance Chicago Hotel, and Jernstrom was director of national accounts for the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Starwood Hotel and Resorts has named Murray Ryan as director of group sales for Hawaii, based in Starwood's Chicago Global Sales Office.
Jami Poe has been appointed national account sales manager for Kimpton Group Seattle. Prior to joining the Kimpton Hotel Group, Poe was the director of corporate sales for Promus Hotels of Seattle.
The Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia has hired James Weeks as a director of information technology to provide technical services to PCC customers and tech support to the center's recently upgraded technology infrastructure. Weeks was a vice president at DataCom.
In early February, one of the lesser-known speakers in the portfolio of Speak Inc., a speakers bureau in San Diego, called the bureau to predict that his star was about to rise. He didn't say why or how. But two weeks later, Speak Inc. and many companies who had booked him found out. Unfortunately, he'd become more infamous than famous.
The speaker was Rick Rockwell, the man behind the curtain in a beauty contest-style television show called "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?" During the show, some 50 women vied to marry Rockwell live on stage, though they knew nothing about him and had never seen him. Not long after the broadcast, news of a former restraining order against Rockwell and suggestions that he misrepresented his financial status came to light.
"I thought I'd chosen an unknown professional speaker," says Sharon Chapman, CMP, meeting planner for Berkshire Life in Pittsfield, Mass., who had booked Rockwell for a March awards event. "His fee was minimal. I just needed an emcee to read a script." But a week after she signed the, the Rockwell story exploded.
"[Speaker Inc. founder] Ruth Levine was very proactive. She called me and said, 'What do you want to do?'" says Chapman. "She didn't give me a chance to get into panic mode."
Meanwhile, at the bureau's headquarters, Levine says, "Press inquiries jammed our phones and nearly crashed our Web site." Not wanting to be drawn into the fray, Speak Inc. issued "no comment" statements and dropped Rockwell from its portfolio. "Ruth found me a replacement within four days," Chapman says. "It was a complete load off my mind."
The tale is a reminder of the value of speakers bureaus when the unexpected happens. Besides finding a replacement emcee, the bureau took over responsibility for the contract cancellation with Rockwell. "If we didn't have Ruth," says Chapman, "we really would have been up the creek!" --Alison Hall
*Speaking of Speakers Speaking of hot speakers, the Internet has made it easier than ever to find the right speaker for your event or meeting. The National Speakers Association (www.nsaspeaker.org) has enhanced its Web site with the addition of an online version of its 2000 edition of Who's Who in Professional Speaking: The Meeting Planner's Guide.
The print version of NSA's latest resource book is a 475-page directory of more than 4,000 professional speakers in 23 countries. The book lists NSA members alphabetically with photos, contact information, and professional descriptions. Speakers are categorized by topic, location, and expertise, and sections of the print version offer tips to meeting planners for hiring and working with speakers. For a copy, call the NSA at (480) 968-2552.
To access the directory online, go to NSA's Web site and click on the "Find a Speaker" section to begin your search.
The correct phone number for Think Outside Inc., which produces the Stowaway portable keyboard reported on in our May/June issue, is (760) 431-9090.