Angie Pfeifer has directed her career at Investors Group Financial Services in Winnipeg, Manitoba, from meeting planner to assistant vice president,and travel. She’s built credibility, gained the trust of senior leaders, and become not the person who plans meetings but the person who has the pulse of the 4,600-person field force and knows how to communicate the company’s most critical messages to them in order to drive business. The chief marketing officer credits her with making the company’s meetings more strategic.
“I’m at the table with the CMO, executive vice president of sales, four senior vice presidents of sales, and the vice president of training, working with them to understand their goals and objectives, current issues in the corporate and industry environment, and the behavior changes they want to encourage among our financial planners,” she says. “I get them to talk through everything. I ask probing questions. I need to be inside the heads of those people.”
It might seem a daunting place to be. Now that she has led these meetings for nine years, Pfeifer says, “I’ve become more confident. But it took a lot of work.”
Learn to Delegate
Pfeifer’s first move came back in 1999, when she built the business case for her meeting department. “That set me thinking about my role,” she recalls. “I wanted to be more strategic. So I hired my own procurement person, with the idea of reducing risk and saving money by having one person do the sourcing. Subsequently, I defined roles and responsibilities for the senior and junior planners and approached our CFO at that time to consolidate corporate travel and events and leverage the resulting opportunities. That started my evolution away from logistics.”
Since then,has been key to the way her department operates. “As the events world is evolving, there are always new things on our plates— , for example. So my theory is to outsource what does not play to our strengths.”
Some outside suppliers are common for corporate meeting professionals, such as production companies. Others are more unusual. For example, Pfeifer outsources food and beverage and décor to a contractor for all sales conferences.
Find Your Don Draper
Pfeifer’s primary creative partner is an event communications agency. The CEO and an account manager from Toronto-based SONAR Mediathink are part of every sales conference kickoff meeting that Pfeifer has with senior management. While Pfeifer plays to her strength in defining the content for the meetings, she relies on her outside experts to add the creative spark to the corporate messaging. She makes it right, they make it memorable. “For example, we developed a video called ‘Dimensions of Opportunity,’ demonstrating through interesting data and graphics the market opportunity in mortgages. There was significant demand for the video to be shared in our offices across Canada, reinforcing a key business priority.”
Everything that has to do with the mainstage—from creative concepts on production, to flow and placement, speaker content, and PowerPoint development is done in collaboration with the agency.
Do Your Homework
Before Pfeifer and her agency partners meet with stakeholders, she talks with executives about what’s on their minds and how the sales force is feeling, and she reviews survey results from the previous year. “At this point I am getting an initial understanding of the focus and what the priorities and issues might be at the confer-ence,” she explains.
From that research, she develops a planning document that frames the discussions at the stakeholder meeting, which is held three to five months before the conference. Once she shares the survey results, audience demographics, and her proposed education themes, she launches the discussion around three questions:
1. What are the facts we need attendees to know?
2. What do we want them to believe after the conference?
3. What do we want them to do after the conference?
Create the Plan
The answers to those questions “drive the goals and objectives, which then drive the measurement post-meeting,” she says. Her next step is to work with her corporate communications partner to build a communications plan that takes into account the messaging, conference theme, target audience, and current issues.
At this point Pfeifer also quantifies what defines success from company perspective and what defines success from an attendee perspective. At the 2012 Sales Conference, for example, the message from senior management was that the field force should be doing financial plans for every customer. “In the two weeks after our executive vice president delivered this message, there was a more than 200 percent increase in financial plans created,” Pfeifer says. She’s now working with Investors Group’s research team to broaden that research, looking at attendees and non-attendees within their peer groups to show that the dramatic increase happened because of the face-to-face meeting. Even though non-attendees got the same message by e-mail, they were not driven to change their behavior.
Delivering the Strategy
“Our department is perceived as being strategic. There is definitely more awareness of how we are helping the organization achieve its business goals,” Pfeifer says. Part of this is due to the briefings she conducts for more than 200 head office attendees who participate in the conference. “This gives them a perspective on the conference strategy well beyond what they typically experience, which is the logistics,” she explains. “I take them through the communication plan, starting with the big picture, so they see everything has a purpose and is integrated.”