Shimon Avish of Shimon Avish Consulting LLC is our strategic meetings management maven, part of MeetingsNet’s IdeaXchange panel of contributors. Send your queries and quandaries about designing and implementing SMMPs programs to shimon@smmconsulting.com, then check back here for answers! Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Dear Strategic Meetings Management Maven,
I am a corporate travel manager, and I’ve been asked by my company to manage the meetings program too. I don’t know anything about meetings. Can you tell me what I need to know so I won’t fall flat on my face?

Thanks,
Nervous in New York

Dear Nervous,
Fear not! You already know a lot of the basics needed to manage a strategic meetings management program, because there is a lot of overlap between your current role and that of corporate meetings manager. Of course, there are differences as well. Let’s look at both.

Responsibilities common to travel management and meeting management:

1. policy development and administration

2. program design; corporate social responsibility

3. technology selection and deployment

4. data management and reporting

5. supplier management

6. compliance management

7. payment program

8. change management

Areas of differentiation between travel management and meeting management:

1. risk management

2. resistance to change

3. benchmarking

4. key stakeholders

5. hotel contracting

6. the booking process

Some of the divergence is due to differences in the subject matter, and some of it stems from the number and kinds of risks associated with meetings. Generally there are more risks associated with corporate meetings and events than travel, so there is an increased focus on regulatory and duty-of-care compliance issues in the meetings space.

Here’s more on how these six areas differ between travel and meetings management.

Risk Management

There are four main areas of risk in corporate meetings and events:

1. Regulatory Violations

When you’re responsible for meeting and event programs, you must be familiar with the risk areas for your industry so you can develop and implement mitigation strategies and the appropriate data tracking mechanisms to reduce your organization’s exposure to regulatory, financial, reputational, and legal risk.

2. Duty of Care

This includes attendee safety and security as well as reputational protection. The meeting manager’s responsibilities include developing and implementing processes to find, contact, and evacuate meeting attendees in emergencies; reviewing and maintaining policies for alcohol consumption; driving after arriving at an airport late at night when the possibility of an accident increases; data and intellectual property protection; developing policies for “meeting optics,” venue sharing with competitors, and ensuring events and gifts are compliant with internal and external rules and regulations.

Video: http://meetingsnet.com/expert-advice/video-risk-management-are-you-ready... Management: Are You Ready?

3. Cancellation and Attrition Fees

Depending on the size of the event, these fees can range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. A meeting manager must develop or modify hotel addendum cancellation and attrition language to protect the organization from significant and unnecessary fees, and negotiate with suppliers to reduce or eliminate imposed fees.

More on housing and attrition from MeetingsNet

4. Signature Authority

A signature authority breach typically means that an employee of your organization without the proper signature authority level has signed an agreement with a venue, thereby binding your organization to the terms and conditions of the agreement. Meeting managers design and implement procedures to ensure compliance to signature authority limits, and conduct periodic and randomized contract reviews to identify signature authority breaches.

Resistance to Change

While travel managers commonly run up against resistance to change, it rarely achieves the levels of resistance common in SMM programs. This is because meeting stakeholders have likely spent years developing relationships with internal or external planners, and are typically resistant to modifying the program, or “messing with success.” The stakes are also different, as travel management is about resistance by individuals who have an impact on an individual passenger name record, or PNR, of no more than a few thousand dollars. In meetings, resistance to the program by an individual stakeholder has an impact on an entire meeting, which could take an entire meeting costing tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars out of the program if the stakeholder chooses to be noncompliant.

Benchmarking

This is more difficult in the meetings environment because there is no global distribution system for meetings. In the SMM world, data are stored within a meetings technology system. Sometimes that system is owned by the client, sometimes it is provided as part of a service by a meetings management agency, or by the technology provider. In any case, the data are stored in data islands, making it impossible to get an industry-wide view into meeting spend. The island nature of the data makes it difficult to consolidate information and build large enough data sets with sufficiently large peer groups that can yield statistically significant analysis.

Stakeholders

While meeting owners are typically both meeting stakeholders and consumers of the travel program, their interests differ in each role. As travelers they are concerned with the efficiency, efficacy, and comfort of their own trips, but as meeting owners they are concerned with the efficiency, efficacy, and comfort of their numerous guests, many of whom are customers.

There are also more stakeholder types in an SMM program, including board members and senior management, as well as meeting owners—all of whom have their own concerns. Corporate meetings and events present significant duty-of-care and regulatory concerns that boards and senior management are very interested in. Once made aware of the risks associated with strategic meetings management programs, these constituencies increase their oversight of meetings and events. Meeting owners—especially VPs of sales and marketing—are very concerned with how their meetings turn out, since a poor quality event can impact sales and brand loyalty. This group has likely spent years developing highly satisfactory relationships with internal or external meeting planners, and would likely constitute a major source of resistance to change.

Hotel Contracting

Meeting management requires extensive knowledge of the terms and conditions of hotel contracts, especially in the following areas: liability insurance, including workers’ compensation; employers’ liability; automobile liability; comprehensive general liability; professional errors and omissions (including environmental impairment liability); and liquor liability insurance. Meeting managers also have to worry about on-site competitors, so they minimize the potential for loss of intellectual capital by including a contract addendum that bars competitors being at your property during your event. Also, cancellation and attrition penalties, if not negotiated properly, can expose an organization to considerable risk.

More on cancellation and attrition penalties: 37 Ways to Mitigate Risk in Your Corporate Meetings & Events Program

Booking Process

The booking process for travel is different than for meetings. For travel, an individual buyer is buying for him or herself. In meetings, there is a single buyer purchasing a meeting on behalf of tens to thousands of attendees. This means the travel buyer is less sensitive to the quality of the trip than a meetings buyer is to a meeting or event because a meeting impacts so many more people, many of whom might be customers. Additionally, the purchase of a single trip is more of a commodity buy on the part of the travel buyer, with limited options and with all the suppliers offering similar products. Whereas in meetings the buy is anything but a commodity, with the quality and creativity of the suppliers having a significant impact on the attendees’ experience.

Share Your Experience

If you are a travel manager who has been asked to lead the meetings program for your organization, what other areas of similarities and differences you have come across? Please share what they are in the comments area or drop me an e-mail. Also, let me know if you would like me to dive deeper into any of the above topics.

Questions on other topics? Please send them to me at shimon@smmconsulting.com. My areas of expertise include SMM meetings policy, sourcing and planning processes, SMM data management, consolidation of SMM programs, implementing global SMM programs, change management for meetings, compliance management, risk management, and payment mechanisms.

Thanks, and see you next time!