Odom To Lead Advito Global Mtgs. Practice
BCD Travel's Advito consulting unit last week launched a global strategic meetings management practice. George Odom, former leader of global travel and meeting services for Eli Lilly and Co., will head the eight-person worldwide unit.
To highlight the launch, Advito last week issued a white paper concluding that negotiating meeting deals remains a far greater challenge in Europe than in North America, owing to factors including nonstandardized venues and unharmonized travel policies and processes. Europeans also are more focused on the success of individual meetings, but North American emphasis is on cost containment, Advito concluded.
The white paper, entitled "The View from the Other Side of the Pond," outlines the need to approach meetings strategy differently in Europe because "differences between countries are larger than generally acknowledged." This contrasts with North America, where hotel products are more consistent and hotel chains have greater reach. As a result, typical characteristics of North American meetings programs noted by Advito include standardized hotel contracts and requests for proposals, chainwide negotiations, formal meetings policies, centralized accounting codes, standardized meeting processes and technology for attendee management and logistics.
Characteristics of European programs include local meeting policies, the use of external meeting specialists to source venues, and negotiations on a meeting-by-meeting basis. According to Advito, the "lack of consistency in property size and chain location across European countries prohibits and reduces the ability to negotiate and leverage spend effectively for group travel."
Richard Darley, the current European travel manager for Lilly, agreed that meetings management priorities differ in Europe and North America. "In Europe, we are measured on effectiveness: Did the meeting go well and were the doctors happy?" he told BTN. "In the United States, they are interested in the productivity of the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions department, such as how many man-hours are spent on a project."
In Europe, "Most of our meetings involve customers, such as flying doctors to symposia, so it is very important that nothing goes wrong," said Darley. "That means we can't just put a meeting through a Spanish agency because it is being held in Madrid. It is more difficult getting it right in Europe, because of issues such as languages and flying across international boundaries."
The Advito white paper includes a case study of pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, which also encountered distinctly different responses, both externally and internally, when it started to consolidate on both sides of the Atlantic. European hotels proved far more resistant to the idea of consolidated venue sourcing. GSK made good headway with standardization of both rates and terms and conditions in North America, but in Europe decided only to seek standardized terms and conditions, leaving price negotiations on a meeting-by-meeting basis.
The latest wave of consolidation saw GSK reduce the number of chains in its North American program from five to three, whereas in Europe the reduction was from 10 to eight.
In addition, GSK found it harder to persuade European senior management and meeting organizers to accept meeting-quality levels. Event quality tended to be driven more by individuals than by conformity with corporate standards. As a result, variances in cost per delegate were considerable. However, GSK reported that European senior management now has a better grasp of meetings costs and is taking more action to tackle them.
Advito identified this as a general trend worldwide and as the reason it chose to launch a meetings practice. Torsten Kriedt, London-based vice president for innovation and intelligence at Advito, attributed this to the growing involvement of procurement professionals. "Line managers are telling them they have done a good job of managing transient travel, so they should start on meetings," Kriedt said.
Advito's Odom added that procurement teams that embrace strategic meetings management often find they require external help. "There are a large number of companies just getting started on this or finding it is not as easy as it first appeared," he said.