Before she retired from Liberty Mutual in August, Mary Keough-Anderson, CMP, CMM, had checked off many major accomplishments in her 34-year career. The most recent was an 18-month benchmarking process that delved deep into the meeting department’s practices, and wrapped up with Keough-Anderson making a successful pitch for a new position in her department: director of event strategy.

“I wanted to bring my department to the next level,” she explains. “To me, that meant more emphasis on event strategy and event marketing.” Specifically, she says, “I wanted someone to be responsible for facilitating a strategic approach for all events in support of Liberty Mutual’s business goals.”

Of course, planners already had been asking clients to describe their meeting objectives. But those conversations would too quickly move on to logistics, says Keough-Anderson. With the new process, the planner sits down with the client and the director of event strategy at a kickoff meeting and discusses a long series of questions. These questions clarify the meeting objectives by determining how or what the client wants attendees to “think, act, feel, and do” as a result of participating in the event.

With all of that information, plus budgeting and funding parameters, the planner and director of event strategy then work together to develop a creative brief for the project, including site proposals, branding and messaging, and an estimated budget, and present it to the client for review. For major incentive programs, the site is chosen two years out: The planner makes a recommendation based on the objectives, and the client makes the final decision.

Those incentive conferences and the company’s other high-profile meetings, such as the annual Liberty Mutual Insurance Legends of Golf tournament, go through the most comprehensive work with the planners and the director of event strategy—a strategic experience-mapping process. For the 100 or so other meetings Keough-Anderson’s department plans annually, a judgment is made at the time the client submits a request for the meeting as to whether or not the director of event strategy will participate and to what degree.

To get executive buy-in for the new processes, Keough-Anderson met with each of the company’s strategic business units to “relaunch” her department (which was renamed the meeting management and event strategy department), and explain the shift from “tactical execution” to “strategic implementation.”

That theoretical buy-in now has been reinforced by her first big success, with the Legends of Golf event, which went through the exhaustive objective-setting process facilitated by an outside agency. That led to many changes, from overhauling content to shortening the event by one day. The result, said stakeholders: “the best Legends ever.”

Just as important for Keough-Anderson, the new process “increases the value” of the company's meeting planners, she says. “It changes the perception of our department. We are strategic.”