by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | August 01, 2008

Champion multitasker: Patricia Sousa, conference services manager for the Omni Berkshire Place in New York CityMeet the conference services manager, arguably the most critical point person at the hotel for any meeting planner -- and quite possibly the least understood. To shed light on the pivotal role CSMs play in balancing the client’s needs with the hotel’s promises and abilities, M&C senior editor Cheryl-Anne Sturken spent a Thursday in June on the run with Patricia Sousa, 33, conference services manager for the 319-room Omni Berkshire Place in New York City. Sousa, who holds a degree in hotel management and tourism, has been with the hotel since 2003.

9:00 a.m.: A new days details

From the moment she enters her small cubicle tucked away on the hotel’s second floor, Sousa is in constant motion. She switches on her computer, puts on her telephone headset, turns on her handheld radio and begins to review a printout of the in-house Daily Report, a constantly updated online file that captures all event business taking place on-site in the next 48 hours.

Sousa at her deskThe report quickly absorbed, Sousa now begins to flip through stacks of folders on her desk and click through endless e-mails, even while talking into her headset and relaying information to back-of-the-house departments. Meanwhile, a steady stream of colleagues pops in to confirm details relating to catering, banquets, rooms, the business center, A/V. Somehow, she makes time for everyone.

It’s going to be a busy day, she warns, stating what has become obvious. Two financial meetings are in-house already, and there’s a pre-con with a pharmaceutical client whose event kicks off this evening. Sousa must attend the daily banquet-order meeting with the kitchen and catering departments, and the weekly staff meeting during which the events for the next two weeks will be reviewed. “You’re always in one of three time zones -- present, past or future,” says Sousa. “Sometimes, all three at once.”

10:00 a.m.: Reviewing and revising

The client resume, an online data dossier of an event’s every requirement, is Sousa’s bible. Resumes are what make up the Daily Report. They also outline the responsibilities of each of the hotel’s 15 departments. One missed detail could torpedo weeks of planning. “The resume helps me communicate what I need from everybody else,” says Sousa. “So the main thing is to be really organized, so you can make sure all the changes are made as fast as you get them.”

Apparently, a client resume is as solid as liquid glass. In less than an hour, the requirements for this evening’s incoming pharmaceutical event have changed at least a dozen times, causing Sousa to update the resume repeatedly and call each department to make sure they are aware of the revisions. There are room changes, a last-minute reception for 10 people and special A/V to be arranged. Not only is this a new client, the pre-con is now less than two hours away. Sousa remains collected, her voice soothing as she begins each call with a “Me again,” and ends with a cheerful “Thank you.”

“There’s no point in getting upset or frustrated,” she says. “I try to keep calm and find a way to make things work. My job is to make the meeting planner look good and the hotel look good. That’s why I’m here.”