by By Michael J. Shapiro | November 01, 2009

1109 Man with umbrellaDrastically slashed budgets and misperception issues have pummeled the meetings industry in 2009. Ironically, these same factors have contributed in some way to the success of several key segments that had shown potential even before the global economic slump. M&C spoke with industry experts and analysts regarding these bright spots, and how they might affect our evolving industry. Planners who are well informed about these topics likely will find themselves in demand over the coming years.

Strategic meetings management
The increasingly popular acronym SMM traditionally has meant different things to different industry segments, but growing buzz around a strategic approach to slashing meeting costs has helped to usher in a more stringent definition.

Early this year, representatives of the National Business Travel Association -- which has been publishing white papers on strategic meetings management programs (SMMP) since 2004 -- sat down with top brass at Meeting Professionals International, which has long offered a strategic management educational track at its conferences. The two groups agreed on a definition of SMM as "a disciplined approach to managing enterprisewide meeting and event activities, processes, suppliers and data in order to achieve measurable business objectives aligned with an organization's strategic goals/vision, and to deliver value in the form of quantitative savings, risk mitigation and service quality."

The importance of this joint agreement can't be overstated, according to Kari Kesler, president and chief strategist of Minneapolis-based consulting firm KK Strategic Solutions, as it clarifies differences between the associations' approaches and allows this field to progress to the next level. Specifically, Kesler is referring to NBTA's new SMMC (the "C" is for Certification) program, the development of which she has worked hard to facilitate. The program consists of two core weeks of classes and electives that will earn participants the credential.

Demand for Core Week 1, set for Nov. 2-6, was brisk when it was announced in September, says Kesler. NBTA received far more than 25 applications, the expected maximum class size.

"SMM really stemmed from this need for data and the ability to apply spend management principles to it," Kesler explains, "and I'm thrilled to say that it has morphed into more than that. It really has to do with SMMP and the infrastructure within a corporation to drive value and to illustrate value. That's where the worlds of NBTA and MPI and other organizations can come together very productively."

While NBTA's SMMC focuses on building a centralized meetings management infrastructure within a corporation (a role often assumed by travel and/or procurement managers, as well as meeting managers), MPI traditionally has focused more on the content and return on investment of strategic management and planning. Both approaches emphasize the need to demonstrate value.
1109CS Kate Lastinger
Kate Lastinger, CMP, CMM, founding partner of the Atlanta-based consulting company Metaphrasis Group and an SMM proponent for the past decade through MPI, has seen a "tremendous increase in interest" in strategic meetings management, from companies large and small. "It's about the need to standardize contracts, risk mitigation and measuring ROI," she says. "These are things that can be put to use on any scale."

How to capitalize:
• Read about SMMC .

• Check out strategic meetings management seminars through MPI chapters.

• Download NBTA's SMMP white papers.

• View M&C's recent webcast, "The ABCs of SMMP," now archived at

Online event management
The most essential ingredient in a strategically managed meetings program is data. Without centralized registration and sourcing, however, that data can be very difficult to acquire on any meaningful level. "I believe that the very first and most important step is to go ahead and purchase a technology solution," says Lastinger, "and to create a process whereby all meetings register."

Lastinger advises her clients to collect the following data for every event: who's planning it, the name and purpose of the meeting, how many people are attending, how much money was budgeted initially, how much actually was spent and the basic details of supplier contracts. "Even if that's all they do," she notes, "in a year they have a lot of valuable and very specific data."

Technology suppliers that facilitate strategic management -- through online site selection, data collection and reporting -- are getting a lot of attention. Philadelphia-based StarCite achieved record growth in the second quarter of this year, due to clients' expansion of their strategic meetings management programs at a greater rate than ever before. The 10-year-old company recently processed its 4-millionth electronic request for proposal.

Technology can capture typically difficult-to-wrangle data such as that from small meetings, says Kevin Iwamoto, StarCite's vice president of enterprise strategy. He adds, "Why wouldn't a responsible meetings manager go after this area? Standard terms and conditions and the organization's preferred relationships can be uploaded. With all information captured in the tool, companies can begin to see trends and leverage data for future agreements."

Also booming is Cvent, a McLean, Va.-based supplier of meetings management and site-selection software. The company has posted double-digit growth every quarter since its 2000 launch and has been profitable for the past 26 consecutive quarters. This past spring, the company unveiled an enhanced, streamlined set of strategic meetings management tools based on extensive feedback from planners.

Harrison, N.Y.-based Worktopia also has had a busy year. Focusing on meetings of fewer than 50 attendees, Worktopia offers a database of venues through which planners can search, compare and book meeting space in real time. Companies can load meeting policy and contracts into the system.

"The solution decentralizes booking while centralizing visibility," says CEO and founder John Arenas. "Anyone in the company tasked with booking a meeting can use it." In the past year, Worktopia has become the engine that powers small meeting bookings for American Express, GetThere and Travelocity Business.

How to capitalize:
• Research a technology solution for your company. Find one that best meets your technology, functionality and reporting requirements.

• If such a system already is in place, help to market it internally so that you're capturing as much data as possible.