Meetings & Conventions SEE YOU IN COURT August
Educating your own
Without Planning guidelines, how can everyone get on the
same page? These innovators decided to write the book
By Maria Lenhart Photograph by Chris BuckCarol Muldoon
, director of meeting services
for KPMG in Montvale, N.J., gets an anguished telephone call at
least once a month from someone in the firm who signed a bad
meeting contract with a hotel and needs to be rescued. "We have
problems all the time stemming from contracts that are signed by
people who aren't knowledgeable," she sighs. To make these calls a
thing of the past, Muldoon has been developing ways to educate and
assist people throughout the professional services firm, which has
30,000 employees at more than 100 locations in the United States.
KPMG has a central meetings department, one that includes 14
full-time planners who handle all meetings for the company on a
national scale. Smaller meetings usually are handled by
administrative assistants working in offices throughout the
company. "We recognize that we can't do it all," says Muldoon. "We
don't want to take over the small local meetings. Many of these
have a short lead time and should be planned by the local offices
To improve the quality of meetings handled outside the
department, Muldoon and her staff have developed a 50-page manual
that has been distributed to 5,000 employees throughout the firm.
After its publication, Muldoon and other planners went on a "road
show" to various offices to promote its use. While the manual is
primarily a planning primer that includes checklists, forms to use
for comparing hotels, site selection tips and other basic
logistical information, it also outlines the company's meeting
policy and promotes the services of the meetings department.
At the same time, the company is hiring additional meeting
planners who will be stationed at each of six U.S. regional
locations. By Sept. 1, each office will have a full-time planner
and a registrar who will handle housing registration and provide
data on each meeting booked to the meetings department.
Although administrative assistants still will be allowed to plan
meetings, only the full-time meeting planners stationed at each
office will be able to sign contracts. "The idea is not to take
meeting planning away from the admins, but to provide them with a
resource," says Muldoon. "We'll also be lessening our risk by
making sure that each contract is reviewed by a full-time
Another intended benefit is to enable the company to capture
more data pertaining to meetings, information that can be used to
improve leverage with hotels, airlines and other suppliers. "We
don't yet know just how many meetings are out there, but we will,"
Gather data. Identify how many events are being
planned outside the meetings department and who is planning them.
Ask that all meetings be registered with the meetings department
and that pertinent data (location, room nights booked) be
Write a book. Publish a how-to manual that
includes basic meeting-planning practices and contact information,
and distribute it to those in the company who plan meetings.
Spread the news. Publish a quarterly newsletter
that features tips for effective meeting planning, success stories
on recent company meetings and educational columns from outside
consultants and suppliers.
Use the intranet. Set up a meetings-management
site on the company intranet. The site can include areas for
meetings registration, planning tips, preferred vendors, contact
information, feedback from planners, and sample budgets and
Hold classes. Hold training seminars for those
who plan meetings on a part-time basis. The classes can be taught
either by full-time meeting planners within the company or by
outside consultants familiar with company policies and goals.
Get organized. Encourage people to join
industry organizations such as Meeting Professionals International.
Convince the company to give employees time off to attend
educational conferences and chapter meetings.
Put on a show. Meetings and travel managers can
join forces to stage an annual trade fair geared to company
employees who are frequent travelers and/or involved with
occasional meeting planning. Booths can feature representatives
from hotels, car rental companies and other suppliers with which
the company does frequent business.
Order from chaos
Another meetings manager who is tackling the job of companywide
meetings education is Richard Del Colle, who in 1994 signed on as
the first-ever meetings program manager at Hewlett-Packard,
headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif. For Del Colle, the past few
years have been about creating order out of chaos. Despite the
obstacles, he has helped the computer- and office
equipment-manufacturing giant build an information system that
helps people throughout the organization plan better meetings.
With some 120,000 employees in more than 500 locations,
Hewlett-Packard never has had a central meetings department. Five
years ago, no one even knew how many people in the company planned
meetings, who they were or how well they did their jobs. And,
despite the fact Hewlett-Packard was spending an estimated $200
million a year on meetings-related travel, no one knew how or where
that money was being spent.
Through means that range from the company intranet to a
quarterly newsletter, Del Colle, who works in Burlington, Mass.,
with one assistant, has found a way to bring a sense of cohesion
and community to an estimated 1,400 employees throughout the firm
who plan meetings. Although he would prefer to see the creation of
a central meetings department, he accepts the fact that this is not
the way Hewlett-Packard does business.
"[Hewlett-Packard] is highly decentralized. We're a collection
of business units, each with autonomy," he explains. "As a computer
company, we have to be able to develop new products quickly and get
them to the market quickly. We can't be bogged down in a lot of
Decentralization makes sense in the competitive computer
business, but it can be problematic for meetings. "It makes it hard
for a company to track its meetings volume and to use that
information for leverage with suppliers," says Del Colle. "A few
years ago we began to realize that we were losing a lot of money on
the meetings side by not knowing what was going on."
To find out, Del Colle did some sleuthing to determine which
employees were involved in meeting planning and what they needed
from the company. By consulting with major hotel companies that do
frequent business with Hewlett-Packard, Del Colle was able to begin
compiling a list of employees who book meetings. He then asked one
of the hotel firms to conduct a series of focus groups that would
get some candid answers from Hewlett-Packard planners about their
needs and how much support they were getting on the job.
"Through the focus groups, we learned that what people most
wanted was more education on meeting planning and the chance to
network with each other," says Del Colle. "We also learned that the
planners felt [Hewlett-Packard] was not giving them the tools they
need to do their jobs."
Further research found that only 10 percent of the people
booking meetings at the company are full-time meeting planners.
About 70 percent are administrative assistants, while marketing
executives comprise the remaining 20 percent. "From that, we
realized that most of the people we needed to reach had only
limited meeting-planning knowledge," says Del Colle. "We needed to
find a way to give them instruction and a network of support."
Because most employees have access to computers and the Web, Del
Colle determined that the best way to serve the far-flung work
force was to develop a meetings management site on the company
intranet that would provide educational material and enable
planners to communicate with each other. Among the key features of
the site is a form that enables planners to register their meetings
and enter such information as location, hotels used and feedback on
the experience. As a result, the company can keep track of
meetings, and planners can learn from each other. "For example, if
you're holding a meeting in San Diego, you can click onto a record
of all recent meetings held there," says Del Colle. "You can read
the planners' feedback about the location and the hotels, or you
can contact the planner directly for advice."
Along with sharing experiences, meetings registration is
designed to enable planners to negotiate better hotel rates. "Our
goal is to gain better leverage at individual hotels," says Del
Colle. "Through the registration system, planners can learn how
many of our meetings have been booked at the same hotel. They can
use that knowledge for better buying power."
Among the educational features of the site is an online copy of
the Convention Liaison Council's manual for the Certified Meeting
Professional exam. The site also includes samples of hotel
contracts as well as guidelines for dealing with attrition clauses
and other issues.
Another area of the site is designed to minimize losses from
cancellations: It lists hotels where the company has credit for
room nights that were not used because of a canceled meeting.
Push and pull
Del Colle also edits a quarterly newsletter on meetings management
that is distributed throughout the company. The newsletter features
case studies and how-to articles. "Along with articles by planners,
we also ask hotel people and other suppliers to contribute," says
Del Colle. "They're not sales pitches but tips on things like food
and beverage management or recommended attire for resort
Del Colle considers the newsletter to be a valuable companion
piece to the intranet site. "It's a push-and-pull situation," he
explains. "The intranet is the pull; it's where people can pull
down the information they need. The newsletter, however, enables us
to push the information that we want people to receive."
The newsletter and the intranet site both emphasize the
importance of using hotels, airlines and other suppliers with which
Hewlett-Packard's travel department has established negotiated
rates. "The company has no mandate that forces people to use these
preferred suppliers, so we try to influence through education,"
says Del Colle. "We don't just emphasize the cost savings but the
fact that we have formed relationships with these suppliers because
they consistently deliver a certain standard of quality."
To provide further educational support, Del Colle travels to
various Hewlett-Packard locations to conduct meeting-planning
training sessions. Additionally, company business units are
encouraged to ask meetings-management companies to conduct seminars
How successful has the effort been to educate? Del Colle says
nearly all the company's large or top-end meetings are being
registered on the intranet, enabling the company to capture
information about them. As for the bottom line, he estimates that 5
to 10 percent is being saved on meetings-related travel, which
translates to as much as $10 million a year. "We can't pinpoint the
exact savings, but we know more people are using our preferred
suppliers and hotel credits from canceled meetings," he says.
In the battle to minimize costs and improve quality across the
board, KPMG and Hewlett-Packard are far from alone, although they
might have more comprehensive programs than many companies. "Many
more companies are setting guidelines for meetings these days,"
says Jean Baier Swaffer, a meetings management consultant with
Meeting/Event Management in Half Moon Bay, Calif. "They want each
meeting to have a certain look, to be consistent in quality. They
want each meeting to uphold the company image."
Along with improving quality, some companies see education and
the implementation of standard procedures as a way to reduce risk
and liability. "In many companies, you've got people signing hotel
contracts with draconian attrition clauses who don't understand
what they're agreeing to," says Beth Truitt, vice president for
global business solutions at McGettigan Partners, a meetings
management company based in Philadelphia. "When we ask people about
this, they often say it does happen in their companies."
Swaffer believes it is critical that meetings managers retain
control over contracts. "It might make sense for others outside the
meetings department to handle logistics, but contracts should be
overseen by those who deal with meetings full time," she says.
"This has become more crucial as hotels have become sticklers for
things they once overlooked. There is less room for error."
Among those grappling with this situation is Lynn Lewis, meeting
planner with the accounting firm Ernst & Young in Dallas. Lewis
and other members of the meetings department recently completed a
meeting-planning guide to be distributed to administrative
assistants throughout the firm. The manual encourages users to call
on the meetings department for assistance in sensitive areas, such
as negotiation with suppliers and contracts. It also includes
checklists of planning basics, sample contracts and advice on what
to watch out for in contract clauses.
Lewis, who has concerns about people outside the department
signing contracts, says it was a difficult decision to include a
section on contracts in the manual. "All administrative assistants
are encouraged to send us contracts for review, but we know that
this isn't always going to happen," she says. "So we decided to
provide the information."
The next step at Ernst & Young will be to require that all
meetings be registered with the department to allow it to track
costs and volume. "We see a lot of room for improvement in
educating people," says Lewis. "Perhaps the biggest and most
challenging problem is to get people to realize what they can do
and what they should turn over to us."
Also wrestling with this problem is George Jenkins, global event
manager for Mobil Corp. in Dallas. Ideally, he would like to see
his nine-member department expanded to the point where it could
oversee most of the meetings at the oil company, which has more
than 40,000 employees around the world. For now, he says, he will
settle for getting more meetings registered with the department and
for persuading people outside the department to use Mobil's
preferred suppliers and to submit contracts for review.
"An administrative assistant who plans just a couple of meetings
a year is not in a position to sign contracts on behalf of the
firm, yet it happens all the time," Jenkins says. "I realize this
is a sensitive issue. They view meeting planning as a perk of the
job. Our message is that we don't want all of your meetings, but we
do want to be able to standardize and track them."
Toward this end, Jenkins is developing an event-planning site on
Mobil's intranet that will promote the services of the meetings
department and enable users to register their meetings. The site
also will include a Hot Dates section that will list hotel credits
available from canceled meetings.
Another strategy is to market the services of the meetings
department to business-unit managers throughout the company. "We're
sitting down with people and letting them know why they should
register their meetings with us and how we can save them time and
money," says Jenkins. "We can't force people to do things our way,
but we can educate them on why they should."
Mobil currently provides no meetings training for administrative
assistants, but, Jenkins says, a training program is under
A dangerous thing?
Although some companies are implementing meetings education
throughout their organizations, not all meetings managers are
convinced it is the right thing to do. "The flip side of educating
people is that once they have a little knowledge, they may be
tempted to take on something they can't handle," says David Kassel,
senior meeting manager for Deloitte & Touche LLP, a consulting
firm based in Wilton, Conn. "Someone who has successfully planned a
meeting for seven people might think that they can handle a much
At Deloitte & Touche almost all meetings that require
sleeping rooms are orchestrated by the 22-person Global Conference
Group. According to Kassel, one of the key advantages of this
approach is that meetings are more likely to achieve a consistent
level of quality. "There are certain details attendees know will be
taken care of," he says. "The table setups will allow space for
laptop computers, the transportation to the airport will be
arranged, the information packets will contain what they need. If
others outside the department are planning meetings, there's no
guarantee these details will be adhered to, even if we offer
Like Jenkins at Mobil, Kassel and others in the Global
Conference Group market their services to managers throughout the
company. "We distribute copies of our meeting guidelines and
objectives, with the message being that they should work through
us," he says.
At Ralston Purina Co., where meetings and travel have been
consolidated into one department, there is a similarly strong
campaign to discourage people outside the department from handling
meetings. According to Annette Morris, manager of meeting and
travel services for the St. Louis-based pet-food company, the
department has succeeded in taking control of at least 95 percent
of all the company's meetings.
To promote itself, Morris says, the department includes
information about its services in all information kits given to new
employees. It also sponsors an annual trade fair at which employees
can meet with department staff, as well as representatives from
hotels and other suppliers that have preferred relationships with
For other companies, setting standard practices and procedures for
meetings, whether through a central department or through
companywide education, is not in the picture at all. At Oracle
Corp., a database software firm in Redwood Shores, Calif., meetings
are handled by employees, primarily administrative assistants, in
various divisions, says marketing manager Dena Brady McNulty.
Although the company offers occasional planning seminars for
employees, and all contracts must be cleared through the purchasing
department, meeting planning at Oracle is largely an ad hoc
process. According to McNulty, who plans meetings for her
department, the laissez-faire approach has some advantages.
"We're not sandbagged in any way," she says. "We can create our
own relationships with hotels and aren't limited to those mandated
by the company. We get quick turnaround, and we retain
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