"Meetings are the Wild West of corporate spend,
typically uncontrolled," says Michael Boult, CEO of
StarCite Inc., a Philadelphia-based provider of end-to-end meetings
management tools. Increasingly, however, new kinds of charge cards,
virtual accounts and other tools are coming into play to help
companies and planners manage meetings-related expenses, raising
hopes that what is commonly referred to as the “last frontier” of
corporate cost management will soon be tamed.
The emergence of the dedicated meeting card is perhaps the most
important of these new developments. “The cards in and of
themselves are not much different than other credit cards,” notes
Marcie Verdin, vice president of large markets, corporate payment
solutions, for Purchase, N.Y.-based MasterCard International.
“Their value is in making data available and streamlining the
Indeed, a great advantage of meeting cards is that they serve
as accounting tools that provide detailed reporting on each event’s
expenses. Companies can then accurately calculate total meetings
spend numbers that can be used as leverage in future negotiations
with venues and suppliers. For some planners, this ability would be
nothing short of revolutionary.
Tracking elusive costs
Many companies, including some that pay for meetings with
traditional corporate cards, have but a rough idea of how much they
spend on meetings; consequently, they might well be leaving money
on the negotiation table, notes Shelle Santana, vice president of
corporate card product management for New York City-based American
Express. “Very few companies in the neighborhood of 5 percent have
a dedicated line item that says ‘meetings,’” she adds.
Collecting aggregate data on meetings spend traditionally has
been daunting, especially for companies that plan events in a
decentralized environment, meaning different employees or
departments are responsible for organizing meetings. But the
imperative to track spend is greater than ever, thanks to
procurement’s increasing shadow over the planning process.
“Bottom line: If a planner isn’t doing this, they need to
start,” says Mickey Schaefer, president of Tucson, Ariz.-based
Mickey Schaefer & Associates. Every dollar planners can account
for is critical, she adds, because they can use that data to prove
a meeting’s value to their own organizations, as well as to a hotel
or supplier during negotiations.
A 2005 American Express study of 105 companies in the United
States and Europe, conducted by Chicago-based A.T. Kearney,
concluded that firms could save up to 10 to 15 percent on meetings
spend by reducing fragmentation of the planning process, adopting a
dedicated payment mechanism and mandating its use, along with
increasing visibility of overall meetings spend. Meeting cards can
effectively support those initiatives, building on the success
companies have achieved in curbing travel and entertainment
expenses with T&E cards.
Savings isn’t the only reason to implement a meeting card
program, according to Chicago-based John Ohaver, vice president of
Management Alternatives Inc., a travel management consulting
company. “I recommend the cards because they are a whole heck of a
lot easier for everyone involved,” he says.