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September 01, 2010

Working Smart

Key to Managing Successful Events—Hire a Meeting Planner

by Cortney C. Carroll

After months of internal meetings, site visits, late nights and planning, the first day of the annual convention is finally here! At the registration desk, everything is calm and organized as attendees from all over the country eagerly line up to receive their conference packet full of important information regarding general sessions, breakouts and events to be held during the convention. Behind the scenes, however, there is a different scene full of last-minute changes to scripts, finishing touches on the stage, audio-visual setup, VIP arrivals, room gifts, airport transfers, lost luggage and unimaginable organized chaos. All of these details are carefully arranged and facilitated by the meeting planner.

Ask the majority of the companies in the Direct Selling Association, and they would all agree that one of the most important aspects of direct sales is the events. Annual conventions, trainings, seminars and incentive trips are integral to their business. Attendees look forward to networking and learning about new products. Owners look forward to increased attendance each year and hopefully increased sales during and after the event. Many companies leave the planning of these important events up to administrative assistants, marketing teams or outsourcing to third parties. Other companies find cost savings in hiring a professional, experienced meeting planner to oversee their events. A meeting planner will coordinate every detail of meetings and conventions, from the speakers and meeting location to arranging for printed materials and audio-visual equipment. This position is fast-paced and demanding. Most planners will oversee multiple operations at one time, face numerous deadlines and orchestrate the activities of several different groups of people. An in-house meeting planner can also assist with marketing and sales departments during slower periods as well as managing corporate travel for the company. A meeting planner is part of your strategic team year-round, not for just for one event.

An internal meeting planner uses a variety of low-cost resources, such as site-selection companies, professional travel directors and destination management companies in order to run efficient meetings and events.

Site Selection

Certainly one of the most time consuming and frustrating parts of a meeting planner’s duties is finding a hotel and negotiating the contract. When using a site-selection company, I simply send my contact a detailed request for proposal; he sends it out to every hotel in our preferred destination and collects the proposals from the properties. All the hotel details are organized into a spreadsheet for easy comparison and review. Once I narrow down the list of options, he negotiates the rates and concessions in the contract on our behalf. The best part is that there is no charge to us for this service. Hotels and resorts pay the site-selection companies directly by negotiating a commissionable rate. Hotel rates are not increased or altered in any way to accommodate this commission. Most hotels consider the commission paid to site-selection companies as part of their marketing expenses for the year. Another bonus in utilizing a site-selection company is the incredible buying power received through their reputation and resources. This is really useful for newer companies that might not yet have name recognition. Many of the larger hotel companies have sales managers dedicated specifically to handling these types of accounts because site-selection companies are so important to a hotel’s annual revenue. There are many site-selection companies in the marketplace that would be a beneficial partner to any company and their meeting planner.

Travel Directors

Professional travel directors are one of the most important resources we have in making a program a success. As freelance employees, they travel from event to event, working for a variety of companies all over the world. When we contract with a travel director, we pay their travel, accommodations, daily salary and daily per diem. While working the program, they assist with everything, including transportation, room gifts, meetings, food and beverages, VIPs, registration, rooms and decor. Travel directors bring valuable operational experience to an event. Whatever the need, there is a travel director out there to help. Travel directors make it possible for internal staff to focus on networking and taking care of their part of a general session or breakouts rather than working operational aspects of a program. From the minute a travel director arrives on-site at an event, the director is available to make sure your program is a success.

Destination Management Companies

In addition to site-selection companies and travel directors, there are many other companies in the marketplace that are wonderful resources to help with the planning process. Every program is different, and as your needs change it is useful to have a variety of resources to help. Destination management companies (DMCs) are another great resource. A DMC can be used to handle an entire program from start to finish, including hotel negotiation. However, a more cost-effective way to hire a DMC is to utilize them for a portion of an event, such as transportation, entertainment and tours, or for off-site events. A DMC will charge a management fee on items they assist you with, but you will see the actual cost of an item and just pay for management of that item. There are no hidden costs or fees. An international DMC is especially useful because they have partners already established that they work with, they are able to secure unusual entertainment and venues, and they can act as your translator in destinations where you may not speak the language. A good way to find a reputable DMC is through global event partners. They represent DMCs worldwide that are reputable and vetted.

From site-selection resources to destination management companies, there are many beneficial partners for an internal meeting planner to join forces with in order to ensure a successful program.

Is Now the Right Time?

When is it time for your company to hire a meeting planner? If you have three or more meetings a year that have multiple days and more than 100 people at each event, it may be time. If you are paying more in fees to a third party than you would pay for a meeting planner’s annual salary, it is probably time to start searching for an in-house planner.

Now that you have decided it is time to hire a meeting planner, how do you find a qualified one? The complexity of annual events will determine the experience level of the planner you should look for. If an organization hosts mostly trainings and small conferences, a candidate with hotel or catering experience would be helpful. If an organization hosts large-scale, complex incentive programs and conventions, a candidate with previous planning experience on a corporate or association level would be best. Utilize the Meeting Planners International website for résumés or to post a job. A degree in hotel management would be useful as well as industry accreditations, such as a CMP or CMM. It is important to find a planner who is available to work long and irregular hours. Most planners work more than 40 hours per week in the time leading up to a meeting and fewer hours after finishing it. During meetings or conventions, planners may work very long days, starting as early as 5:00 a.m. and ending as late as midnight.

Conventions, training seminars and incentive trips are vital to the direct selling industry. An internal meeting planner can not only help organize the event and save money, but also make it possible for every dollar spent to be fully experienced by each attendee.

Cortney C. Carroll, CMP, is Director of Meetings and Incentives for Aerus Holdings LLC. Prior to Aerus, Carroll held sales and conference manager positions in the hotel industry. Carroll graduated from Texas A&M University and earned her CMP certification in 2001.