Estée Lauder next month will begin to flow all of its meetings bookings through its new strategic meetings management program, which includes a single technology platform, policy, meetings procurement card and a core group of part-time meeting planners throughout the organization.Download a PDF of the full 2009 Large Market Benchmarking Report here, including all data, charts, stories and large market buyer profiles.
The initiative is the culmination of a two-year project to develop a formal meetings program with standard contracts and sourcing methodology and includes plans to leverage meetings with transient spending.
Eventually, the company will extend meetings management to its international travel program, which has recently added two travel managers to oversee Asia/Pacific and the Europe, Middle East and Africa regions.
Leading the initiative is executive director of global travel and meeting services Cynthia Shumate, who embarked on the process in early 2007. While the company didn't have a formal meetings management program, it had hundreds of employees planning meetings and signing contracts with limited formal training in proper recording of meetings expenditures, at times paying for meetings with T&E cards rather than company-approved American Express meeting cards.
Shumate said due to some of the meetings budget being expensed as travel she believes that "for years our T&E has been overstated and meetings have been understated because people have been covering these budgets out of T&E, not realizing that some of it is attached to the meetings budget."
Early on in the project, Estée Lauder deployed the StarCite meetings management technology platform and mandated that all meetings be registered on the company's master calendar.
"We put out a message to retool the entire company as to how we look at meetings, source them, where we have them, the amount of visibility we have to our data and how we reconcile and measure our budgets," said Shumate.
Shumate and her team recently identified a group of "power users," meeting planners across the company trained on the technology who have been given a standard meetings contract, a consistent meetings sourcing process and a single payment platform with the Amex meeting card, of which there are about 150 cardholders.
"It's not reasonable to have 500 people all calling themselves meeting planners," she said. By having a core group of employees to help Estée Lauder's various brands plan and manage their meetings with proper data recording, the company can now "start running reports to understand what our total exposure is," according to Shumate.
Beginning next year, Shumate will hold regular meetings with those power users in order to obtain feedback on suppliers and develop a preferred supplier program, as well as identify where that fits in with the transient travel program.
Estée Lauder holds about one dozen large meetings annually, which often are national sales meetings with no more than 350 attendees. The company also has thousands of smaller meetings for employee training and product launches. Shumate said some brands require sales people to be educated twice annually and others four times per year.
For some of the company's bigger brands, such as Clinique or MAC Cosmetics, that could add up to about 1,600 small meetings annually. Previously, those meetings were not preferred by hotels because they are short in length and use substantial meeting space for product demonstrations, but only require a few sleeping rooms, said Shumate, who added, "That's a hard meeting to count on, but when you say to a chain that you are sitting on the potential of 1,600 of these around the United States, is that of interest? That is a different recognition."
In addition to the U.S. rollout of the strategic meetings management program, Shumate and her team are working to gain further oversight of international travel and meetings. In the past few months, the company has added a travel manager in its Paris regional office to coordinate travel for eight countries in the region and one in Hong Kong to oversee 10 markets.
While having strategic travel managers in those areas is new, the overseas program certainly isn't starting from scratch as it already has been consolidated with American Express Business Travel. The U.S. program uses Carlson Wagonlit Travel.
With new managers in place, the company is launching a global travel risk management program with International SOS, conducting a global expense reporting request-for-proposals process, developing a global hotel RFP and applying its strategic meetings management discipline internationally.
"There is a clear understanding that the overall hotel relationship isn't just transient," Shumate said. "If we, as the client, can be more proactive in managing and bringing our group dollars to our preferred relationships, then hopefully we become a more valuable client because we can manage who that group dollar goes to rather than just letting it go anywhere."