Rounding up the nonprofessional meeting planners scattered throughout a company is an ongoing challenge. Betsy Bondurant of Bondurant Consulting, Coronado, Calif., a specialist in SMMP issues and a Corporate Meetings & Incentives columnist, has a few tricks up her sleeve.
Many large companies have internal organizations of administrative coordinators, she points out. “Those are the people who will be the unofficial meeting planners.” Find their coordinator and you've got yourself a potential goldmine of outlying meetings. Ask for an e-mail distribution list or for help in getting your message out to the group.
Without an in-house admin group, you can create your own list of potential suspects. Donna Patrick, CMP, CMM, manager, group meetings, events, and travel, at Medtronic Inc. in Minneapolis, went to her IT department and asked for the e-mail addresses of everyone with “coordinator,” “assistant,” or “administrator” in their titles. Then she sent a survey to those employees, in addition to the full-time meeting planners across Medtronic's six business units, asking how they were managing meetings. “From there, I knew who my audiences were,” Patrick explains. Many responded that they handled no meetings, but in the end, Patrick came up with 65 full-time planners and between 100 and 125 occasional meeting planners.
National hotel sales contacts are another resource for finding your company's “hidden” planners. They can survey their properties about meetings your company has held. You are likely to discover many you were unaware of. “Reaching out to suppliers, both planning companies and hoteliers, is a great way to see what else your company is doing,” Bondurant says. “And not just the NSOs. Try your contacts at the local hotel level, too.”
Follow the Money
Finally, Bondurant suggests, consider the money trail. “If there are areas of the company you think are doing meetings, but are not sure, go to the finance person for the group and ask them,” she advises. “They would usually have an idea. Also, if group air is done through the business travel agency, you could reach out to them to see if any unusual names for planners come up. Another way to go, if you really want to get serious, is to start combing through purchasing card (“p-card”), travel-and-entertainment card, and purchase order records. Of course this plan of action requires the buy-in of senior-level finance people.”
Sharon Marsh, CMP, CMM, got that buy-in when she was part of the SMMP team at Cisco Systems. Now meetings group manager for Medtronic Cardiovascular in Santa Rosa, Calif., Marsh recalls that at Cisco, “we worked closely with accounting. If they received an invoice from a hotel, they would forward it to us.”
Marsh would then get in touch with the hotel to explain that the meeting services group should be negotiating and signing all hotel, and any not signed by an authorized Cisco employee would affect their ability to get paid. “We would strongarm them a bit,” she says, “but we were careful to say that if any internal person had committed to the property, we weren't going to pull the program.”