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For many corporations based in the United States, the concept of managing meetings and events expenditures is modeled on the overall success corporate travel departments have had in reducing costs, consolidating suppliers and increasing efficiency. Meetings management policies often mirror corporate travel policies, with varying degrees of success.
However, in Europe, a new focus on "meetings effectiveness" over cost-focused consolidation strategies is beginning to take root, according to Didier Scaillet, vice president of global development for Meeting Professionals International. This approach is modeled on marketing and communication policies, rather than procurement ones, he said. Though many American companies prefer to separate the planning of meeting logistics from content, European companies tie together the two sides more closely and are looking for solutions to quantify more intangible benefits within meetings management.
"We are rolling out, at the end of July, a strategic meetings management module that really looks at the two components," Scaillet said, speaking on a panel in May at an Association of Corporate Travel Executives conference. "On one hand there is what has been described as 'meetings consolidation,' which is the data, getting control of the spend, using a preferred supplier program and basically getting control over what your enterprise is spending within that area."
The other critical component of meetings management is tracking the fulfillment of meetings objectives, he said. Organizations such as MPI and the National Business Travel Association have eschewed the term "meetings consolidation" to favor the more inclusive "strategic meetings management." Corporations in the United States continue to seek the right balance between procurement and planning, but companies in Europe are more strenuously pushing back against commoditization of meetings, Scaillet said.
"The key difference you have to make between really what consolidation means and what strategic meetings management means is that with a traditional travel management program you are basically commoditizing everything," Scaillet continued. "You are making sure that someone has the right solution to get from point A to point B. The level of impact you have on the experience of that person going from point A to point B is, by definition, fairly limited."
But European companies see meetings as part of their communications strategies, and their entry point into the world of strategic meetings management consequently is different than those initiatives modeled after U.S. travel departments.
"We've seen some corporations really starting on the meetings effectiveness element," he said. "That was their entry into strategic meetings management, and from there they move to the meeting consolidation element."
Fellow panelist George Odom--then leader of travel and meeting services for pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co. and now senior director of Advito's global business development team--said Eli Lilly's meetings procurement is handled through the company's strategic sourcing department. From the start, when the program began in 2001, the focus was on reducing costs, Odom said, but not at the expense of content.
"We had to remind everybody that meeting planning is a service, and you could give it away for free but if it doesn't meet your objective it doesn't matter how much you saved," Odom said.
Intel Corp. global supplier manager Michele Harper during the panel said that "customer satisfaction" scores act as a balance to the cost-savings goals given to meetings management providers. Intel outsources all of its meeting planning needs.
"I do an audit on each region on a sample size of 10 percent," Harper explained. "Absolutely, I think we can have a middle ground."
Pamela Wynne, former meeting manager for Educational Testing Service and current vice president of client services for meetings management firm EMCVenues, told The Transnationalany strategic role for a corporate meeting manager--be it cost containment or meetings effectiveness--is a "great start" for a new policy initiative.
"In Europe, they've just had more successes by going at it from the meetings effectiveness angle," Wynne said. "Some areas are not as focused on cost."
Multinational companies that are launching meeting management programs in Europe would be best served by emphasizing services and benefits for meeting stakeholders, she added. Examples of successful programs, where equal quality was achieved with greater cost savings, go a long way in the European market.
"In dealing with European colleagues, they could never tell another department in their company that they were 'wrong,' " Wynne said. "It was just a level of respect. I think it's a much more European way of doing things by showing them through successes, or going at it from a standpoint of saying, 'Let us show you what we can do' as a service."
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