BILL BLODGETT, CMP
Director of Event Management, JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa, Tucson, Ariz.

Budget savers:

“Give the hotel an opportunity to bid on all revenue-generation streams (audiovisual, décor, transfers, off-site activities, amenities) in an effort to create a comprehensive package that offers the best overall value to the company. Collaborate with the event manager, explaining your top budget priorities. Leverage the hotel's national contracts for products, enabling the event manager to offer the best possible pricing. Finalize food and beverage early in the planning process, allowing the hotel to take advantage of preferred pricing available from its vendors. Hotels pay handsomely for last-minute and out-of-season items.”

The key to successful CSM/planner partnerships:

“Agree on a preferred method of communication and expectations for response times. Divulge business commitments that may divert your attention and for what period of time. Respect each other's responsibility to their organizations.”

STUART KOTAKE, CMP
Director of Catering & Conference Services, The Kahala Hotel & Resort, Honolulu

Budget savers:

“Change it up. Breakfast is cheaper, so suggest a morning awards program with mimosas, bloody marys, and passed hors d'oeuvres. Plated meals are best for controlling costs both for client and hotel, but you can add a family-style appetizer platter or follow up with a dessert reception to break up the mundane plated meal.”

The key to successful planner/CSM partnerships:

“Planning sessions. Send program questions and outlines prior to a scheduled conference call. Start 60 days out then have a weekly check-in call at a standard time.”

Planners should know that:

“The earlier we get information, the greater the opportunity we have to help save money. Food is cheaper if we can buy ahead and in larger quantities. A strong CSM communicates to purchasing and the chef.”

SONIA DATTA
Senior Meetings & Special Events Manager, The Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach (Fla.)

Budget savers:

“Share your budget and let us work within those parameters. Our culinary team partners with clients to create customized menus within budgets. Plan events outdoors or in a room with a view. You can save money on linens, flowers, and other décor when you let the beauty of the property speak for itself.”

MICHAEL CHAMBERLIN, CMP, CHME
Director of Event Management, JW Marriott, New Orleans

Budget savers:

“Order food items in quantities, not per person: For example, a fresh fruit platter costs $75, versus $7.95 or more per person for 25 people. At breaks, replace bottled water with pitchers of water. Use pitchers of water in the meeting room as well. (This way, you're also going green.) Instead of flip charts, request whiteboards with markers and erasers (another ‘green’ choice). If you need to keep data from the meeting, have someone take notes. Save time and money by not printing handouts but making a PowerPoint presentation available for download instead.”

What do you need from planners to help you do your job well?

“The group's hot buttons, what may have worked well or not well in previous programs, and what the company's expectations are for the outcome of the meeting.”

MICHELLE MCDUFFIE
Director of Catering and Conference Services, InterContinental New Orleans

Budget savers:

“When providing limited food-and-beverage service, present an abundance of fewer items rather than smaller quantities of a lot of items. Be creative and conform your program to take up less space with more flexible sets. Flexible sets can keep room turns to a minimum and save on labor fees. They also allow hotels to be more flexible on minimum F&B expenditures.”

The key to successful CSM/planner partnerships:

“Communication, timely receipt of information on both sides, delegated leadership (for larger events with third parties, it becomes confusing and redundant to hear the same information from many on-site voices), reasonable expectations of banquet-service parameters, and not trying to accomplish extraordinary tasks.”

OSCAR BELLENGER
Senior Event Manager, Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort, Phoenix

Budget savers:

“Focus on areas that have the least impact on the comfort of the attendees. Chip away at items that are a great touch in more plentiful times but when eliminated do not sacrifice the impression of the meeting. Continuous beverages are nice, but providing food and beverage only at structured break times is a way to reduce costs.”

The key to successful planner/CSM partnerships:

“Communication is the golden rule. In today's environment, shrinking attendance and room blocks are not uncommon. I hope that meeting planners are aware that the hotel, through enlightened self-interest, is going to help to drive attendance or sell remaining rooms to mitigate damages. The key to this is honest and early communication of registration trends for the group.”

TOM KEEVES
Director of Event Management, Boston Marriott, Copley Place

Budget savers:

“For some of our larger meetings, planners fill every breakout room with a standard list of A/V equipment that may or may not be used. Have presenters confirm what they need in advance so you don't rent extra items. Almost all event contracts have attrition clauses. If planners believe they are at risk, we encourage releasing rooms and meeting space early. If we resell this inventory, we can eliminate or reduce their financial obligation.”

What amenities are being cut from meetings?

“We have seen more donations to charity in lieu of amenities delivered to guest rooms. Even if they donate the same amount as the traditional gift, they still save on the room delivery charge.”

The key to successful CSM/planner relationships:

“Early introductions and a face-to-face meeting are the best places to start. Once you have broken bread with a client, you gain insight into their priorities. I find out what other projects are on their plate and what other interests they have away from work. A longtime Marriott tool is to uncover three service elements that the planner believes are critical. These become our focus.”

DAWN K. DAWSON, LES, CMP
Senior Convention Services Manager, Disney's Yacht & Beach Club Resort, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Budget savers:

“Set aside a small conference room with a speakerphone. These are great for ad hoc executive meetings and conference calls, and it eliminates rush charges, room resets, and last-minute scrambles.”

The key to successful planner/CSM partnerships:

“Planners should be upfront with their budgets and expectations. As convention services managers, it's our responsibility to show you a return on your investment, whatever that investment might be.”

TODD HICKEY
Director of Event Management, JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes

Budget savers:

“Instead of canceling the evening cocktail reception, switch the full bar to beer and wine only, with passed hors d'oeuvres or cheese. Instead of a full hot breakfast, go with a continental breakfast and add a hot egg item. Ask for smaller portions of individual desserts.”

The key to successful CSM/planner partnerships:

“Simple: Tell the truth! The best relationship is one where the CSM or planner is not afraid to immediately pick up the phone and inform the other of challenges that may lie ahead. If we become friends as well as business partners, there is nothing we can't accomplish together.”

What amenities are being cut from meetings?

“Many groups are leaving one night open for attendees to dine on their own. Room gifts and registration gifts are disappearing. Spa and golf activities are being downsized, if not eliminated. We've also seen a decline in décor for themed events, with planners focusing budgets strictly on food and beverage.”

HEATHER HUMPHRIES
Associate Director of Convention Services, Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, Los Angeles

How are meetings changing because of the economy?

“Major meetings are being scaled back or eliminated. Some companies are holding several smaller meetings instead of one or two large meetings. As a result, meeting planning is falling to executive assistants who may not have much experience. And staff cuts have added to the workload of remaining planners. Either way, this decreases the pre-planning time the planner has with each hotel CSM.”

What amenities are being cut from meetings?

“When budget constraints were less of an issue, planners worked with hotels to create the newest and greatest ideas, especially with food and beverage. Now, themed breaks with bells and whistles and elaborate receptions are seen as wasteful and not using company money efficiently. A positive trend for hotels is that more companies are holding events on property that previously would have been planned off property in order to save the expense of transportation, additional contracts at venues, and to manage time constraints. The option to have ‘movie night’ in the hotel ballroom instead of renting the Cineplex down the street saves money in more ways than one.”

VIKKI VALENCIA KELLY, CMP
Convention Services Director, Visit Denver

Budget savers:

“Do more online marketing and use CVBs for digital information and visuals. Develop e-blasts and micro-sites to build attendance. If key planner positions have been eliminated, use local vendors to assist on site.”

MELISSA JOHNSON
Associate Director of Catering, Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa, Santa Ana Pueblo, N.M.

The key to successful planner/CSM partnerships:

“Communicate by phone, not just e-mail. E-mail gets the job done, but you lose the personal connection that is necessary for a truly successful partnership.”

Planners should know that:

“My job is to make their jobs easier. I can help create menus, themes, choose activities, décor, etc. They don't have to do it all on their own; that's why I'm here!”

BRIAN LEADBEATER
Director of Convention & Conference Services, Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort, Orlando

Budget savers:

“Many properties can provide or rent linens at a lower cost than if you used an outside vendor. Many properties will also be able to theme events without using an outside special events coordinator.”

What amenities are being cut from meetings?

“Many companies are no longer providing transportation to and from the destination. Also reduced are the number of guest room upgrades booked for staff and VIPs at a higher rate.”

CHRISTINA MONKEVICZ
Conference Services Manager, InterContinental Boston

How does your hotel help you do your job effectively?

“The InterContinental Hotel Group corporate structure is designed to empower its employees so that we can think out of the box and quickly make decisions that fit the needs of the guest.”

Planners should know that:

“The CSM is an extension of the planner. We often juggle multiple programs at the same time, as well as deal with all departments in the hotel, so when we set deadlines or ask a lot of questions, it's only to make sure you have a successful program. We have to filter and communicate all of the information to the rest of the hotel. Accurate and timely information allows us to better take care of your guests.”

BARRY PETERSON
Director of Catering & Conference Services, The St. Regis Hotel San Francisco

Budget savers:

“Consider bundling meetings so you are using fewer hotels. If you have more volume at a hotel, that hotel can extend better pricing. Also, hotels can often be more flexible in pricing if someone is booking an event two to six weeks out.”

Planners should know that:

“I never look at an event as being the start and end of a relationship; rather, I presume it is the first of many. The longer I have worked with a planner, the more fluid the planning becomes and the more successful the events are.”

JENNIFER NAGY, CMP
Director of Conference Services, The Fairmont Copley Plaza Boston

Budget savers:

“Leverage your CSM's knowledge of the local market and available vendors. Work with your CSM on a customized menu: You may reduce expenses by doing an upgraded three-course dinner rather than a five-course meal. One of the best ways to limit spending is on décor. At the Fairmont Copley Plaza, we are fortunate to have ornate function rooms that often require little extra to create a stunning backdrop. Selecting a venue that can offer this may help to stretch the budget.”

What do you need from planners to help you do your job well?

“Share all the details surrounding an event up front so there are no surprises. For example, tell your CSM if one of the program speakers always goes over his time, which might delay a break, or if the meeting VIP has specific preferences, or if there are hot-button issues for the group. Sharing the good and the bad sets everyone up for success.”

THOMAS POLLINA
Director of Catering & Convention Services, Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa

The key to successful planner/CSM partnerships:

“Developing a personal relationship means a lot. Find something in common and go from there. Sometimes it is even the differences that you can have a lot of fun with. I work with a meeting planner from New England, and since I am originally from New York, she and I had a lot of laughs with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees rivalry. We still do!”

Planners should know that:

“A CSM could have eight to 10 groups at the same time. On top of that, the CSM is looking ahead to the multiple groups arriving in the coming months. Even after a group departs, the CSM is still involved with post-event reports, billing issues, and follow-up.”

JANICE REINDL
Catering & Convention Services Manager, Disney's Boardwalk Resort, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

The key to successful planner/CSM partnerships:

“The best relationships are the ones where I discover all I can about the client's meeting objectives, attendees, and what's worked and not worked for them in the past. Understanding the individual client's likes, dislikes, and work style also helps to build the relationship. When a planner and services person are really communicating and engaged, it fosters camaraderie, builds trust, and creates a better overall event. Plus, it makes the work a lot more fun.”

How does your hotel company help you to do your job?

“Since Disney is a creative, storytelling organization, we have tools and experiences at our disposal that others can only dream about. Our brand is also a huge asset. People have enormous trust in our ability to deliver unique experiences. It's a big reputation to live up to.”

Planners should know that:

“Where most destinations provide you with a list of support vendors to work with, at Disney I am all those vendors. I can help you book top-name entertainment, arrange all your event transportation, plus handle all the A/V, floral, linens. You name it. People who haven't worked with us have no idea how much we have to offer and how it all flows through a single contact — me.”

MARCIA MOORE
Meetings and Special Events Manager,The Ritz-Carlton, Rose Hall Resort, Jamaica

Budget savers:

“We have chefs meet with planners to create meals using alternative, less costly ingredients. As an alternative to spending your budget on activities like golf and spa, we offer the option of Meaningful Meetings and Volunteaming programs, both of which provide enjoyable and motivational activities that benefit the local community.”

Meeting planners should know that:

“A truly top CSM has a hands-on relationship with every department in a hotel and is able to stop problems before they happen. Experience counts!”

The Planner's View

Raytheon's John Touchette, CMP, on Building the Perfect Partnership

  1. Communicate.

    “The more I share with my CSMs, the more they have a feel for my whole program,” says John Touchette, CMP, director, meetings & special events at Raytheon Co. in Waltham, Mass. “I want them to know our history, our goals and objectives, details about our company, and the demographics of our audience.”

  1. Walk the Talk.

    Six to 12 months out, Touchette goes on site to walk through the meeting with the CSM. “The benefit is that you see the space at the same time, and you can manage each other's expectations,” he says. “They know what events have worked in a particular space.” They also know if there are décor options on site that could save you money.

  2. Get to Know Each Other.

    “I like to have a meal with the CSM. The time together builds the relationship and creates trust. Then when you call and ask them to check something, you know it will get done,” Touchette says. “And when you know someone in person, it's much harder for them to say no.” Not that he suggests strong-arming anyone! “Really good CSMs want to be collaborators. But sometimes there are good reasons why you can't do something.”

  3. Write the Talk.

    “When the CSM is building the BEOs, they have to remember and collect all the e-mails that have gone back-and-forth,” says Touchette. “So I take everything from VIP arrivals to menus to setup times and put it in a 20-page meeting specifications letter.” He sends it a month before the event, giving the CSM time to digest it and create the BEOs. “My last two sets of BEOs came back perfect. That's rare.”

  4. Be Sure Your CSM Has the Right Tools.

    That means a BlackBerry or two-way radio, the ability to get to anyone at the hotel at any time, and empowerment to make decisions.

  5. Keep Sales in the Loop.

    “Whether the BEOs come back perfect or with a lot of errors, I always engage the salesperson. I say, ‘Everything is going great’ or ‘Here are my concerns. I might need your help.’”

  6. Try a Little Motivation.

    “If you meet the GM or the director of convention services, mention by name the people who are working hard. If you say ‘Kate is doing an amazing job,’ then Kate will really go the extra mile.” At the pre-con meeting, mention how confident you feel because of the CSM's good work. It motivates them to work all the harder for you.”

More On/ Meetingsnet.com

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