Pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. during the past 10 months has saved 10 percent of its meeting spend through a procurement-driven initiative to set maximum allowable hotel rates and strategically place or combine meetings to maximize cost avoidance, according to the company's meetings director. The new savings, generated through a multi-departmental program named the Consumption and Specification Management initiative, affect what is an already fully consolidated and mandated 10-year-old meetings program.
Lynn Ridzon, director of global meeting management for New York-based BMS, said CSM is an alternative to a focus on return on investment, which can be difficult to track and justifies a meeting by its content—for which a logistics planner is not responsible.
An in-depth look at logistics can result in combining meetings, or holding events in cities closer to attendees, Ridzon added. "We have done an excellent job over the years of negotiating contracts and rates, leveraging volume and buying power. What CSM is, and I think it is the next step, is not just negotiating everything that you're spending, but it's asking the question of why are you doing something and how are you doing it," Ridzon said.
Although Ridzon declined to specify the total BMS meeting spend, she said her department handles about 300 meetings a year. Meetings with 30 attendees, 30 room nights or a budget of $30,000 or more are registered with the global meetings department.
BMS has focused on controlling meetings spend for 15 years and has had a companywide mandate and policy for about 10 years, Ridzon said. The company also developed a meeting analysis registration and reporting system that it uses to track spend and set budgets. In June 2004, the global strategic sourcing group, which applied the CSM initiative across the company, approached the global meetings management department.
"In the pharmaceutical industry, times are changing. It's not what it was 10 years ago," Ridzon said. "We need to be cognizant of the costs affiliated with that, so in turn we need to be looking at what we're spending and being very appropriate with cost."
BMS has tried to stay ahead of the meetings management curve, especially as such regulations as Sarbanes-Oxley and marketing guidelines specific to the pharmaceutical industry restrict how and why a meeting is held. With full support from senior management and the relatively long history of BMS meetings management policy, compliance is high and such new programs as CSM are adapted to quickly, she said. A training program for new employees recently was established for the travel and meetings management departments.
"There's a true culture here where people are concerned about what they're spending and how they're spending it," Ridzon said. "We're not being the meeting police. We're not telling them what they can and can't do, but we're making very good suggestions that will enhance their ability to do business."
For example, Ridzon said, the global meetings management department, using the CSM program, was able to suggest combining four meeting requests submitted by separate departments because the majority of the scheduled attendees were the same people.
The CSM initiative was not the first time the company's meetings management department and sourcing department cooperated. In the initial stages of putting the companywide meetings policy in place, the two groups worked together to identify preferred vendors and set formalized service agreements with them, Ridzon said.
The meetings department has a staff of 17 people and is split into three groups: a resource center that arranges for meeting space and negotiates hotel contracts, a group that manages internal meetings and a group in charge of external and medical education meetings. Ridzon and the department's three associate directors qualify a meeting request with the CSM model and assign it to the appropriate group. All group air is booked through the BMS travel department.
Using the meeting analysis registration and reporting system to track spend also allows Ridzon's department to deploy more payment options, she said. "A lot of times companies are using a company card to figure out where they are spending and how they are spending their money. We already know that," she said.
Focusing on cost savings is not just a response to increased scrutiny of how large corporations, especially pharmaceutical companies, spend money, Ridzon said. Budgets are tighter. However, even as profits return and budgets increase, CSM remains a valuable process, she said, and is a better option for the industry than ROI initiatives (Meetings Today, Feb. 7).
"CSM should be something that is very easy for a planner to speak to, and it should be what they're looking at, as opposed to going through all of these mechanizations and templates or whatever for trying to come up with ROI," she said.
Initiatives should be driven by better business practices, and at BMS compliance is high because the policies are sensible, Ridzon said. The meetings department has positioned itself as an enhancement for other departments, to help them get more for less.
"It's a continuous improvement process. You start at point A and you really never finish," Ridzon said. "You get a lot of best practices put into place, but there's always something new and exciting you can do."