Top of mind for Debbie Boschee, CMP, who leads an eight-member conference services department at Prudential, is that the executives who own the 260-plus meetings she and her planners manage every year are not mandated to hand over those programs to her team. “We are like an outside company,” says Boschee, vice president. “We have to be customer-focused. One of our goals is to make it as easy as possible for the business groups we serve.” Boschee has done that by assigning planners to particular business groups, so they develop ongoing relationships with those executives, their meetings, and their attendees.

“We get to know what the business is all about—what they sell and how they sell it,” says Jackie Mattfeld, CMP, senior meeting planner. “Then we can understand why they do the things they do. This all helps when planning a meeting.”

Erin Longo, CMP, director, meeting planning, points out that having repeat clients allows a planner to “adjust to their work style. Some prefer frequent, detailed communications while others only want basic facts as needed.” For one client, the morning commute turned out to be a great time to review meeting updates. Longo and the executive spoke by phone during their respective drives to the office.

Efficiency is a benefit Rob Flatley, CMP, senior meeting planner, sees in the department’s structure. “We know exactly what our business partners’ expectations are. We add value by cutting down on time spent on a pre-event meeting because we know the meeting pattern, the AV needs, food-and-beverage expectations, and so on.” For Rosa Maysonet, meeting planner, truly knowing her groups means she can communicate that to her hotel partners to ensure the highest possible service level for her meetings. “The more information I can give the hotel, the better,” she says.

All About Data
The business group assignments are not Boschee’s only major innovation during her 35 years with Prudential. Others include a technology overhaul, an emphasis on planners’ personal development, and a concerted effort to elevate her team’s role from logistics to strategy. “In addition to bringing their logistical expertise to the process, planners are often involved in program flow and development. For instance, Rob recommended adding a corporate social responsibility component to a meeting. Not only did this offer the attendees an opportunity to give back, it also served as a great teambuilding event. Feedback from the meeting host and attendees was overwhelmingly positive.”

Boschee is also all about data. Because the department charges clients for its services, Boschee has created a detailed “work analysis” document to show exactly how and where planners spend their time. “It shows how much time we spend on the meetings we support, broken down by business group. So in the annual budgeting process, I look at what we’ve spent in each group. Let’s say one is 34 percent of our overall work. If there are no major changes anticipated, I’ll tell them they can plan on 34 percent of my budget. It sounds simpler than it is! These details are helpful to our business partners—and to us—so we can track resources we dedicate to each business and how that relates to each group’s annual allocation.”

She also helps the business groups control meeting costs by explaining, for example, that if site research is done and meeting dates change, site research has to be done again, which increases their costs. If air is booked at the last minute, fares will be higher. And if employees attend a meeting in their home city, they shouldn’t book hotel rooms.

Other critical reporting involves showing the value that the department’s expertise and relationships add to meeting management. In those reports, says Boschee, “I highlight contributions our team has made in supporting each business’s needs. For instance, due to our relationship with a hotel chain, we were able to avoid paying attrition when we fell below anticipated attendance.”

Similarly, Longo says, the department reports “cost avoidance” from thoroughly reviewing invoices for billing discrepancies, which she says can really add up.

In additional to all the detail-oriented reporting, Boschee several years ago prepared a big-picture report showing the benefit of planning meetings in-house rather than outsourcing the task. “I explained that I don’t have to make a profit, the money stays within the company, we feel greater responsibility to the company, and we have developed strong relationships with attendees.”

And that’s at the core of the department’s mission. Sheryl Krongold, CMP, sums it up nicely: “Our business partners rely on us to be the first person an attendee may interact with, even before the meeting,” says Krongold, senior meeting planner. “They are confident clients will get the appropriate level of service.” Making a great first impression on that meeting attendee—whether it is a top producer, a key client, or a new recruit—is critical for the business leaders and for Prudential.

Sometimes, a planner gets direct confirmation of success in that mission. At the close of a recent meeting, one attendee told Erin Longo, “There is such a buzz about this Prudential event—it’s one of the best in the industry,” she recalls. Because the financial services industry is competitive, and independent producers have a choice of what company’s meetings they attend, Longo recognizes that this kind of feedback is invaluable. Her years of work on the meeting involved more than logistics in order to create that industry buzz. “What I do impacts Prudential’s brand and reputation,” she says.

In fact, that’s what drives Melissa La Rue, CMP, senior meeting planner. “I love being a part of something much bigger than planning a meeting. There are many reasons why our business partners hold meetings. And we want everyone to leave feeling good about the meeting content and, more important, good about Prudential.”

Let your planners Out of the Office!

Since Debbie Boschee, CMP, has led Prudential’s conference and meeting services department, all of its meeting planners have become members of the industry association Financial & Insurance Conference Planners, and all attend at least one industry event annually.

“We have had to limit our training dollars recently, but everyone develops their own business objectives (as part of Prudential’s performance evaluation process), and part of that is always involvement in the industry,” she says.

Many networking and education meetings hosted by suppliers take place annually. Boschee’s team chooses such events carefully. “Hotel events have become increasingly educational over the past few years,” she says, “but if I see a three-day program with two hours of education, we aren’t going. And we don’t do fams.”

In fact, she points out, Prudential planners pay their own airfare to supplier-hosted advisory board meetings as a way of adhering to the “moral compass” that is part of Prudential’s code of conduct. As for local lunches or receptions, planners will often attend to hear about destinations or properties—if they could consider them for programs. “I recently was invited to a local reception with all international properties,” Boschee notes. “And even though it is a hotel chain that I use a lot, I declined, because I don’t use international properties.”

A Department’s Worth of Advice

We asked all the members of the Prudential conference and meeting services department we interviewed to share one great piece of advice they follow in their jobs. Here’s what they had to offer:

DEBBIE BOSCHEE, Vice President
“Under-promise and over-deliver.”

ROB FLATLEY, Senior Meeting Planner
“Don’t dwell on an issue or problem—just fix it.”

SHERYL KRONGOLD, Senior Meeting Planner
“Listen twice as much as you speak. That way, you won't miss what other are saying and you can clearly formulate your thoughts before you speak.”

MELISSA LA RUE, Senior Meeting Planner
“Always be honest, whether it is with your colleagues, supervisors, business partners, or suppliers. You can never go wrong with being honest.”

ERIN LONGO, Director, Meeting Planning
“When seeking information, go directly to the person or source who would know the answer. Don’t waste time trying to figure it out on your own or seek information from other sources. This enables you to use networks and tools to work more efficiently.”

JACKIE MATTFELD, Senior Meeting Planner
“Always keep communicating!”

ROSA MAYSONET, Meeting Planner
“Some things are out of our control and just do the best you can!”

MARISA TARGONSKI, Senior Administrative Associate
“Be strong, have the courage to speak up when necessary, and make valuable suggestions.”