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For Business, Corporate Travel & Meeting Buyers & Arrangers

Buyers guide: consolidating M&E

JEF ROBINSON IS THE GLOBAL CATEGORY MANAGER for a software company, responsible for meetings and events (M&E) procurement, and is a member of the indirect procurement team. He handles M&E procurement strategy, supplier and contract management, negotiation and outsourcing for global meetings and events, and supporting the travel category of spend.

“Traditionally, M&E was operated separately from travel, and constituted $50million to $60 million-worth of unidentified spend, which is a lot of hidden leverage,” he says.

“About five years ago I started to consolidate it to provide best practice and reduce the level of spend. “We have a global travel programme and I’m looking to leverage our transient travel spend to try to produce savings and duty-of-care within meetings and events. That increases the number of room nights and flights to provide additional leverage for both travel and M&E.

I naively thought planners would be happy to have some sort of consolidation and governance but that has proven not to be the case. Planners worldwide have been using their own agencies and I am trying to change behaviour. To get from an unmanaged to a fully managed programme brings a lot of challenges every day, which is probably why a lot of companies don’t want to invest time and money.”

1 UNDERSTAND WHERE MEETINGS AND EVENTS ARE BEING HELD and who the main players and stakeholders are. I interrogated our finance system for that information, as there was no plan in my company for an M&E category. You also need to contact senior stakeholders individually to build a relationship and get an accurate picture of what is going on. We are in 50 countries with many offices worldwide, so I am focusing on areas where there is more visibility and individuals who are more open to discovering the process. Our estimated savings are between 10 and 20 per cent, which is millions of dollars.

2 IT MAKES A HUGE DIFFERENCE TO HAVE AN M&E TOOL; we have Cvent. It provides a lot more visibility, and duty-of-care if security and HR have access to it, and the security team can provide input into destinations. Gaining adoption requires constant communication to outline the benefits to the company and to planners in time and financial savings. We put the tool in place just over a year ago. We have no mandate to use it and are working on a global M&E policy but even without a mandate, the policy will provide a baseline and define process for our planners. One of the main challenges is change management; encouraging planners to engage with one of the preferred agencies via the tool so that the agency carries out sourcing and any additional servicing that may be beneficial to the planner.

3 WE ARE ALSO LOOKING INTO HAVING A LEAD AGENCY as a first contact point, not just to help with sourcing and planning but also to guide training, manage technology and reporting, even to support other agencies, which gives me the opportunity

to stand back and look at the area more strategically. A lead agency will realise a lot of additional savings because we will be putting much more business through them and they can negotiate leverage by combining their global leverage with ours. And they can provide support in the local language in many areas where we find time zones, language differences, knowledge of local laws a challenge. However, the need for a lead agency does depend on the demographics of the organisation; my company is global.

4 THE MAIN FOCUS HAS BEEN HOTELS where spend is easily identifiable, but flights are a different matter. Travellers have traditionally booked these individually through our TMC but there is potentially quite a lot of leverage for bigger meetings, where large numbers of employees are flying to one destination. That is something else I intend to do.

5 IT IS ALSO WORTH INCLUDING INTERNAL MEETING SPACE in your M&E policy. We will look at that, possibly in consultation with the real estate and facilities team. Again, it is an opportunity for reducing cost, mitigating risk, duty-of-care, etc. Dutyof-care is paramount. We could potentially put internal space into Cvent, but it tends to change quite frequently with office moves, so it could be onerous.

6 BUY-IN AT SENIOR LEVEL IS ESSENTIAL and all these relationships will increase the profile of the programme, so that leadership will see tangible benefits, support the initiative and push it down within their hierarchies. And that leads to other opportunities: one of my colleagues, the category manager for sales and marketing, has millions of spend on third-party and sponsorship events, which is another area that is lost in the ether. We are looking to incorporate this and at least register these events within the M&E tool, so that we have visibility of spend and the additional hotel usage to leverage. There is a myriad of potential benefits once you start looking at M&E and although it is a complex and arduous task, the rewards are potentially enormous.

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