Travel buyers who’ve tapped meetings management technology
report that they have more control over such tools and that return on
investment has improved as a result, though they often have to tweak the
The travel management industry has focused on strategic
meetings management for years, but professionals still commonly call the
segment “the Wild West” or “the last bastion of procurement,” Meetings
Analytics founder Kimberly Meyer said at The BTN Group’s recent Tech Talk event
in Chicago. Avoiding this frontier, though, means failing to capture visibility
into meetings data, and that opens a company to risks beyond just lost savings,
including exposure to fraud, she said.
Meetings and events project manager Erin Stahowiak launched
McDonald’s Corp.’s U.S. and Canadian SMM program two years ago. Until then, the
15-person department managed about 30 meetings and a 15,000- to 18,000-attendee
convention each year. The rest of the company’s 1,000 meetings were planned
outside the department. “We were fully aware that we needed to start getting
some insight into what was happening and get some tools into the hands of those
planners,” Stahowiak said. “Everything was happening from a manual standpoint.”
Project leaders met with several of those ad hoc planners to
introduce them to the concept of SMM and discuss their pain points. Those
planners ultimately helped the project team select Cvent to help organizers
source, budget and plan.
“We knew what we wanted to accomplish and be able to speak
to from a reporting standpoint,” she said. “We were able to start from the
ground up with Cvent to build the program, figure out what we wanted our
planners to be doing and figure out what to source externally from a support
The technology empowered planners to register meetings and
create a system calendar that populates automatically as meetings are
registered, according to Stahowiak. McDonald’s third-party travel partners also
work in Cvent, such as the partner that helps planners find meeting locations.
“It’s documenting everything we want to be recognizing: savings they’re
negotiating, contract terms to show how they’re protecting the company and,
from a budgeting standpoint, going in after the event to capture what we’re
actually spending to speak to overall spend,” Stahowiak said.
Reporting & Corralling
Aon senior manager of meeting services and sourcing Sue Daly
deployed Lanyon’s StarCite to manage meetings in the United States. Meeting hosts
entered 250 meetings into the tool in 2009, the first year, and Daly has since
expanded it to the United Kingdom and India. Last year, more than 800 meetings
went through the system, in which requesters enter information and the planning
team sources the meeting.
The technology has improved reporting significantly, Daly
said. Aon integrates StarCite, booking tool GetThere and management platform
Salesforce and thus can report on the total costs of meetings, including
airfare. “We also have scorecards, sent out mostly to executives, showing
meetings and where they are in the process,” Daly said. “We can show the
hotels, rate booked, spend year over year and future meetings reports, so they
can monitor what’s on the horizon.”
The platform also streamlines the risk management company’s
complex meetings approval process and supports compliance with government
Anthem director of travel and events Cindy Heston cautioned
that there’s no magic-bullet SMM tech tool. Anthem’s airline data was not making
it into Cvent, despite a strong application program interface with both Concur
and GetThere. “Users would register for an event months before departure but
wouldn’t book air until two or three weeks ahead of time,” Heston said.
“Through trial and error, we found that they weren’t going back into the
So Anthem developed a system to upload attendee lists to the
booking tool and recognize attendees by booking date and destination. The
system pushes that data to third-party firm Cornerstone Data Strategies to
segregate as meetings data. That allows Anthem to target this data when
negotiating airline contracts specific to meetings and events.
Mobile Event Apps
By 2016, 86 percent of meeting planners intend to run apps
for event attendees, according to an Event Marketing Institute/Cvent survey of
about 300 association and corporate planners conducted in late 2014 and
published in March. Most planners also plan to spend more on those apps. It
helps that the move can produce cost savings. Some in the study have cut
printing costs as much as 84 percent through use of mobile apps.
Now that McDonald’s has formalized a corporationwide meeting
planning system, meetings and events project manager Erin Stahowiak is turning
her focus to engaging attendees once they’re at the events. The company has
soft-launched about 20 such mobile apps. “It’s engaging our stakeholders in a
different way and talking to them about strategic communications,” she said.
“It’s how you take that meeting and get them engaged both
before and after, so you stretch out the life of that meeting and build on the
McDonald’s put the responsibility for developing and
executing the apps on event hosts, not Stahowiak’s team, but convincing them to
do so has not been difficult. According to Stahowiak. “It’s a new shiny toy, so
we’ve been able to get people excited about it.”
This report originally
appeared in the August 2015 issue of Travel Procurement.