Procurement, consolidation and collaboration are the key drivers for change in corporate meeting management, according to a panel of senior executives at Meetings Professional International's Professional Education Conference, held in January in Charlotte, N.C.
A senior executive panel led by Christine Duffy, CEO of Maritz Travel and MPI board chairwoman, asserted that procurement and the new regulatory business environment have changed how Corporate America managed meetings.
Dan Toran, president and CEO of Penn Mutual, said via a videotaped message that meetings have become essential in communicating corporate culture. "You cannot spend all the money that you do on conferences and then have folks walk away not motivated, not charged up or not having learned anything," he said.
Joe Adkins, head of meetings and event management for Bank of America's supplier relationship management division, said the bank had taken a procurement approach to meetings, and that he looks for external suppliers to bring expertise, not just services. Commoditization makes it easier for suppliers to do business with the bank, he said.
"We're applying that methodology to the meeting and event space and working with its supplier base, really in trying to reduce costs and mitigate risk," Adkins said, adding that in order for the bank to "put all its eggs in one basket" with a supplier, a great deal of trust has to be established.
Steve Chyung, vice president of strategic sourcing in the Americas for Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., said after years of procurement-driven change in meetings management, the company now is looking to optimize third-party spend and become more strategic.
Both planners and procurement bring different strengths to the meetings program, Chyung said, and collaboration is key. Sarbanes-Oxley has required transparency in company policies and management, he said. In addition, the shift to a seller's market makes consolidation of suppliers even more important, as the company must be able to move a high volume of market share to secure deals, he said.
"Meeting planners that have a consultative mindset are the planners that are ultimately going to be the most successful," he said.
The increased scrutiny on meetings management can be an opportunity for meetings professionals, he said, to "step up to the plate" and bring solutions.
As the industry changes, Duffy said there is some confusion over which department is ultimately responsible for meetings, with some reporting to finance or procurement, and others to marketing. Chyung said it makes little difference.
"I don't care. That might sound like a silly answer, but I don't think it's the right question," he said. "It's about: How's your relationship with the finance organization? What's your relationship to the sales and operations organization? What is the relationship to the marketing organization? What's your relationship to your suppliers and partners and how are you collaborating?"
Outsourcing is another trend that has affected the industry in recent months, Duffy said. Angelo Rossi, group vice president of U.S. sales and customer care for Avon Products Inc., said his company is seeking a hybrid of internal and external meeting managers.
"At Avon, I would say that our ultimate vision is to get a hybrid model of an expert in-house to understand direct selling in particular, because it is a bit of a different model then the general industry, but also to have that competency with an expert outside of our company," Rossi said. In years past, Rossi said the company used to train employees on meetings management, but now the company is seeking a meetings expert to learn about Avon.FutureWatch Challenged
In a session covering the association's FutureWatch survey, released in January by MPI and American Express (Meetings Today, Jan. 23),
attendees challenged some conclusions reached by Julie Hylton, director of industry development for Amex, and Dawn Myers, director of research for MPI.
According to the survey, only 13 percent of the 1,268 respondents said procurement was involved in meeting sourcing. Attendees called the results surprising, and said procurement often structures the sourcing process, whether they are doing the actual buying or not. Attendees also challenged whether procurement influence changed by how costly the meeting was. Hylton and Myers said MPI continues to process survey data, and adjustments will be made where necessary.
A predicted increase in lead times was called "wishful thinking" by attendees. According to the survey, corporate and association planners predicted a 19 percent increase in lead times for 2006, third parties expected a 63 percent increase and suppliers predicted a 59 percent increase.Member Solutions Launched
The association also unveiled its MPI Member Solutions tool, which has been in development for two years. At the conference, attendees were encouraged to take an online skills assessment test, and results were processed into recommendations for educational tracks, reading and career development.
"January 2006 is a starting point only," according to an association release. "Beyond 2006, MPI will continue to evolve MPI Member Solutions. Planned collaboration with other associations and organizations is underway to make the content more robust by the end of 2006. A planner style survey is in development for those interested in pursuing a career as a meeting planner. Also in development is a more detailed personalization offering where members can select content and preferences content that they wish to see. Many more features and benefits are planned for 2007."