Buyers Guide: 10 ways to build a ‘smart’ meetings programme

Sam Van Leeuwen is the head of PwC’s UK hotels and venues programme. Here is her guide to building a successful strategic meetings management programme (SMMP)…

1. COLLECT AS MUCH DATA AS YOU CAN related to meetings and events from corporate cards, accounts payable, internal groups and the suppliers you work with. This is the biggest part of the process. Many people get to this point and think the task is too big, but without data, you can’t put a strategy in place.

2. FIND OUT FROM THE PEOPLE WHO SPEND THE MONEY what they want and how they buy – some go to hotels direct, others to third-party providers such as agencies. Stakeholders may be someone who has paid an invoice, secretarial teams, learning and development, or an event management team. Be sure that you know what the leadership wants: align stake­holders, and bring leadership on board by showing them spend – that makes them sit up and listen.

3. WE HAVE A NON-MANDATED POLICY, so we need the en­gagement of stakeholders to get buy-in. To do that, we prove the value of the programme to the firm. Initially, people thought we were trying to take meetings away from them – we look at the rates, but they are still running the event.

4. DO MARKET ANALYSIS: HOW DO PEOPLE BOOK EVENTS? What third parties are involved? What tools can help? Are there any apps? Once you bring all the areas together, you can develop a strategy, which allows you to see what is best for the organisation – what is the spend? Who spent it? What are people doing in the marketplace?

5. IN PWC, EVERYONE HAS PRETTY MUCH THE SAME RE­QUIREMENTS for 90 per cent of events: tea, coffee and lunch; digital projectors and equipment; a room; and a 24-hour rate with dinner and breakfast. Once we realised that, we negotiated a DDR [day delegate rate] and a 24-hour rate. These are the minimum requirements for the rates: speak to stakeholders about what else they want included, which could be part of negotiations.

6. THE MARKET IS A LOT TOUGHER IN THE HOTEL INDUSTRY, now that business is better and people are travelling more and holding more events, so hotels are more likely to say no – but if you have got data, you can give a good business case and they will sign up.

7. WE NEGOTIATE TERMS ONCE A YEAR and get best benefit from cancellation terms. We may need to reduce the number of people in a meeting orchange the date, and we need flexible terms and conditions – that is of high value to the organisation. To minimise liability, we negotiate on cost and inclusion.

8. THE NEXT PHASE IS PLANNING AND IMPLEMENTING. The head of sales and marketing needs to see stakeholders and sell them the SMMP. If they are on board, they are more likely to use the process you have put in place. Part of the implementation could involve a third party, such as an agency, to manage the venue and hotel side. Agencies negotiate, track manage­ment information, bring in data and do risk assessment. Either have an in-house team or go to an agency.

9. ONE OF MY FRUSTRATIONS IS HOW AGENCIES state they offer a free venue-finding service, which entices a lot of people to use them. It’s not free: they are claiming commission, and if they claim 8-10 per cent of every piece of business you place, you need to make sure you get a return on that. Agencies are experi­enced, and it can be a partnership for a strong SMMP.

10 HAVING SPENT A LOT OF TIME SEEING STAKEHOLDERS UP FRONT, it is important you continue that relationship to make sure the process works and delivers value. Manage hotels and venues to give best value, and ensure they are giving the best rate to the business and to the agency. Our meeting-services business unit is talking to agencies and stakeholders all the time, and that is why our programme is such a success, with 80 per cent property compliance.

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