Best Meetings Practitioners Of 2006: Pfizer's Shillam Unifies Meetings Programs Worldwide, Deploys Tech
Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. has slashed an average of 19 percent of its corporate meeting sourcing expenditures through a massive project to unify the company's meetings management programs across global operations. The initiative includes the creation of a global meetings council, with four regional councils, and the rollout of a standard technology system in 2005 to monitor the company's thousands of events worldwide.
The program is rooted in the United Kingdom, where Sue Shillam, director of European meetings and travel for Pfizer, first restructured a meetings council to unify the European, Middle Eastern and African meeting programs. The success of the EMEA project has led to a multinational initiative with councils in Latin America, Asia/Pacific and North America. Pfizer director of global travel Phil Dunphy serves as head of the global council.
Rather than follow the industry standard of implementing a policy first and a technology solution second, Shillam said Pfizer chose to lead with the implementation of the management tool. Sarbanes-Oxley and pharmaceutical industry regulations require any process in place at Pfizer be auditable, so it was necessary to implement the tools and create the structure of the project first, and to build success in individual markets before issuing official global guidelines.
As the goal of the program is to reduce costs, the council found a strong ally in Pfizer's finance departments. Several departments are involved in the project, including global security, information technology, travel and sourcing. Senior management support is strong, but the council actively works to maintain its place in the list of ongoing corporate initiatives.
Shillam spent 18 years building a centralized meetings program for the company's U.K. operations, which in 2003 was expanded to a regional project for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
"We started the program three years ago when we restructured a council that contained representatives from all those markets. In our markets, you tend to find that one person or one department will be responsible for travel and meetings. We see many great synergies between the two areas," Shillam said, who served as chair of the council.
The primary goal of the council was to consolidate data and gain visibility into overall meeting spend. They discovered that, on occasion, Pfizer meetings departments in separate countries had competed for the same properties—unknowingly bidding against each other—or that two Pfizer meetings at the same property would pay different rates. The communication gap also resulted in cancellation fees that could have been avoided by giving booked space to another Pfizer group, Shillam said.
The council was challenged in establishing benchmarks for cost savings and best management practices. "In the travel world, you can always find someone that's done something before you, and you can learn from their mistakes and use their benchmarks. In this area of consolidation of meetings, at this level of meetings and spend, it's impossible to find someone in our region on the same scale," she said.
In 2005, the council rolled out meetings management technology provided by Santa Clara, Calif.-based OnVantage Inc. By year-end, Shillam said the goal by year-end is to have 75 percent of Pfizer's estimated $250 million meetings spend in the EMEA region pass through the system.
"For us, there are three distinct parts of the tool and rolling it out is sequential for our region. The first part is all to do with capturing the data, and that is what drives all the negotiations with the suppliers," she said, adding that the supplier group includes meetings management companies.
"One of the big issues for us is that we had a considerable number of meetings agencies that Pfizer was using. Even inside one market, we could have 20 agencies," she said.
Pfizer has begun to roll out attendee registration tools, another piece of the OnVantage system. The automation of rooming lists and attendee information has provided another source of savings to the company, she said.
The tool's electronic request-for-proposals function is the last stage of implementation, she said. "The focus for us is really the first two, the data capture and the delegate registration, the RFP we do use, but not to its full capacity," Shillam said, because in Europe most events are not held at chain properties and buyers typically know which property they wish to use before negotiations take place.
The RFP functionality already is proving useful in narrowing down the use of meetings management companies to a select group of preferred providers. Large meetings are bid out to third parties through the tool, which focuses on comparing management fees, she said.
"The future of our world is not mark-ups, hidden commissions and goodness knows what else. What we want to do, and we're already doing it in the United Kingdom, is pay net prices for the actual venue and the service and then we will pay a management fee to the agency for doing the work," Shillam said.
In the future, the company may consider consolidating the entire EMEA business to two or three management companies.
"The opportunity for us is almost endless," she said. "We think sometimes that we're a long way along the line, and then we step back and we think, 'Wow, we still have so many opportunities here,' but we have come a long way."