Developing preferred supplier agreements and standardizing the site selection process are just some of the ways Kelli Livers, director of global meetings services at AIG, is improving the bottom line.

Livers, who is based in AIG's Houston office, joined the company as director of incentives and promotions for AIG VALIC (a subsidiary of AIG) and was promoted to director of global meeting services two years ago. In her current role, Livers is tasked with developing policies and procedures for centralizing meetings and incentives. In March 2006, she launched a strategic meetings management initiative for all U.S. offices, which included the use of preferred-supplier agreements and the implementation of StarCite's on-demand global meetings solution (Web-based software that brings together buyers and suppliers of meeting-related services).

“Prior to launching this initiative, we had different people in AIG competing with other internal business units for the same space in a hotel without even knowing it,” says Livers. “We wanted to increase visibility and standardize the terms and conditions from a contracting perspective.”

AIG now requires that planners complete an online form prior to sending out a contract for all meetings and incentives with 10 or more people. If a hotel is required for the meeting, the system triggers involvement of the individuals in AIG's dedicated sourcing group, who perform an outreach to start the sourcing process. All sourcing specialists are trained regarding the company's contracting requirements, which Livers says helps streamline site selection. All contracts then arrive on Liver's desk for approval, and the planner is given the green light to run the event.

A Flexible Approach

One company that is taking a flexible approach to strategic sourcing is global financial powerhouse ING. While there are some centralized policies and procedures, ING planners report to their respective sales areas. “Planners are tied with the businesses they support for their meetings,” says Hartford, Conn.-based Lisa Poulton, ING's director of conference planning operations. “But they have a consistent approach for managing events across the company to ensure compliance with the policy.”

Working within the company's procurement guidelines for sourcing is “strongly suggested” but not mandated at ING. Planners are encouraged to use a consolidated request-for-proposal function for their incentive meetings, which allows ING to piggyback multiple programs into a single RFP in order to leverage greater negotiating power — but this process varies depending on the program, notes Deanna Bloodgood, sourcing specialist for travel, meetings, and incentives. The same goes for the use of preferred properties. “The ultimate decision is up to the business units,” says Bloodgood.

As the process continues to evolve, ING planners are getting an education. “I came from a company that did not have a strategic sourcing department for meetings, so initially I was averse to the idea,” says senior conference planner Larissa Schultz, based in El Segundo, Calif. “But I now look at strategic sourcing and procurement as partners. They take on the legal aspects of the program. They iron out the terms and conditions of the contract so the planner can focus on meeting logistics, program content, and better serving the client.”

Taking Ownership

Dan Young, director of event planning and field recognition at Minneapolis, Minn.-based Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, takes a different approach to strategic sourcing. “Our department once reported to the CFO,” says Young, “but we began reporting to marketing and field distribution in 2005 because over half the events we plan impact the field force. We have more ownership over our events now, and we manage our own budgets.”

Young is quick to note that this does not mean finance is cut out of the equation. “We're in a dotted-line relationship with procurement and purchasing and report all events to the CFO and purchasing departments,” he says. Each Thrivent conference begins with an event profile drawn up by the meeting planning division that captures all the elements of the conference, including objective, purpose, budget, room nights, logistics, and so on. The event sponsor signs off on the completed profile, and for those programs with a budget of more than $250,000, the CFO and/or the president also sign off. Because the approval process is so tight, Young says he does not receive any push-back from executive management or procurement on contracts.