by Sarah J.F. Braley | April 01, 2008

Louise D. Paul


“We really don’t feel
the difference day to day,”
says Louise Paul, CMP, CMM.
“There’s no demarcation line,
and that’s what I love.”

Every weekday morning, Louise D. Paul drives her new silver BMW Z4 Roadster to tech giant Cisco Systems’ campus in Research Triangle Park, N.C. She walks through the doors and scans her ID, which she refers to as a “red badge.” The color defines her as one of many vendors working on-site, while “blue badges” signify direct Cisco employees.

But that’s the only visible difference that Paul, who gets her paycheck from Twinsburg, Ohio-based Experient Inc., notices working as a meetings and events manager on the Cisco account. Experient recently began providing meeting planners and services to Cisco, taking over the contract from StarCite of Philadelphia.

“My direct manager is an Experient employee in San Jose [Calif., Cisco’s headquarters], but here I sit outside the office of Cisco’s manager for meeting services, U.S. and Canada,” says Paul, who has both her CMP and CMM certifications. She has been working for Cisco for three years, previously as a StarCite employee. When Experient took over the account at the beginning of this year, Paul was hired by the company to continue with Cisco. “We really don’t feel the difference day to day,” she says. “There is no demarcation line, and that’s what I really love.”

It’s an interesting position to be in, juggling two corporate cultures and keeping an eye on two goals: producing great meetings for the client, and helping to keep the client satisfied for the third-party company.

Filling in the blanks

Experient is not the only third party supplying planners to high-powered corporations. Maritz Travel of Fenton, Mo., and New York City-based American Express also embed their own employees at client locations.

“We go in to the customer, find out what their objectives are and figure out what the best third-party model would be for them,” says Rhonda Brewer, vice president of strategy, communication and administration for Maritz. “We can set up employees within their offices or we can fully support them from our offices. There’s not a one-size-fits-all.”

At the beginning of the relationship, Maritz conducts a full assessment to evaluate what will work best. “Right now, we have put someone on-site for one of our clients because they are trying to grow their overall strategy,” says Brewer. “Our person is there to work with the owners to build a motivation program and a loyalty program. We are trying to help them out from a strategic standpoint.” For another client, Maritz has two people on-site buying all the hotel and function space; they sign all contracts and capture the data to help manage the company’s meetings spend.

Experient has planners “implanted” -- as Jerry Murphy, vice president of the strategic meetings management program, puts it -- in six major companies, including Cisco and Coca-Cola. “Any employee on-site is an employee of Experient,” he says. “Legally, the client companies can’t direct these people. I look at it as you are working with a client, but you happen to be in their building. You have a closer relationship with them, obviously, but it is still a client relationship.”

This lesson has been embraced by Laura Cella, a meetings sourcing manager implanted by Experient into a large communications company. She has been an Experient employee since 2001; before that she was working for the same communications corporation for two years as an independent contractor. “Ultimately, my company is Experient, and I am there to make sure I am meeting the needs of my client,” Cella says. “The scope of services my client is looking for is all put into writing in the contract, and that is what Experient expects me to do.”