Why use 40 AV vendors for your meetings?” asks Debi Scholar, CMM, CMP, founder and president of The Scholar Consulting Group. It’s the kind of question more companies are asking as they explore ways to leverage new areas of their total meeting spend.
Scholar is one of the industry’s pioneers in strategic meetings management, having spent 13 years at PricewaterhouseCoopers. She now has her own company, Scholar Consulting, which works with Fortune 1000 and mid-size companies on supply chain and expense management.
“Leveraging spend in areas like audiovisual, destination management, and food and beverage [outside the meeting venue] is the next step for SMM,” Scholar contends. “In our procurement world, we’ve found that you can get at least a 10 percent savings when costs are managed strategically.”

Start Small
Meeting managers who have taken their sourcing beyond hotels and air transportation agree that it’s important to start with small goals that can be achieved and replicated. Ask yourself what you would do differently, and build on your experience as you approach different areas to strategically source.
     As in any SMM initiative, communicating companywide is important. “Be prepared to do an internal PR campaign to get buy-in on all levels so you don’t have problems with utilization and uptake,” advises James Vachon, CMM, associate director, events, meetings and conventions (EMAC), at Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Co., based in Cambridge, Mass. Show how, for example, having a preferred AV partner will make people’s jobs easier and less time-consuming.
     Communicate up, as well as across the company. “We were really in an advantageous position,” Vachon says, “because from the start we had the support of our CEO, who created my position and Colleen’s in 2009.” (Colleen Kenney, CMP, is also an associate director in the EMAC group at Millennium.)

Take It Step by Step
Strategic meetings management is never a one-size-fits-all—or even a linear—approach, and Milennium is proof. Only after strategically sourcing its meeting logistics and setting up preferred partnerships with AV and transportation companies is it moving toward sourcing hotels.
“When we started out in 2008, we didn’t have the data to strategically manage our hotel spend,” explains Vachon. “But now that we’re working with StarCite’s technology tool, we’re close to pulling the trigger.”
This approach to SMM has proven to be very effective for Millennium. “It was easy to feel discouraged at the beginning, when we’d hear from other planners that it would take years to get SMM fully implemented. But once we got the logistics partnerships, a process that took two years, the other things were easier to attack.”
As to the perception that SMM in general is just for “the big boys,” Vachon replies with a laugh: “Well, we’re not one of the big guys in the pharma world. Driving your business to a supplier for whom you are the biggest fish in the pond is a smart strategy regardless of how much or little your meeting spend is.”

Gather Data
Having a good meetings management technology tool to collect and analyze spend is even more critical when as you attempt to leverage multiple areas, Scholar notes. For enterprise-level data integration, Scholar uses business intelligence tools such as software solutions that extract data from meeting management technology, online booking tools, and enterprise resource-planning technology to create a “one-stop shop” of information. This allows her to send dynamic, visual dashboards so that her clients have real-time access to important metrics.
“It’s tremendously helpful, if not essential,” she says, “to get consistent,regular reporting and to have the tools to analyze that information.”