by By Hunter R. Slaton | July 01, 2009

CS0709 ShieldGlenda Stewart, an Annapolis, Md.-based national account manager for ConferenceDirect, remembers one of her first government planning jobs. It was a town hall meeting for President Clinton in 1993, which cost $250,000. "I learned my lesson quickly," Stewart says. "The Wall Street Journal wrote a negative story asking why so much money was being spent on just one event."

Now, Stewart says, she always plans from the perspective of, "Would I be comfortable if the details of this meeting were fully disclosed on the front page of the newspaper?" Stewart believes this is a question every planner should be asking. If the answer is "no," measures must be taken to ensure the event will fly under the radar and avoid negative publicity.

Mark Grenoble, chairman of the board for the Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association and president of the Enchantment Group, which owns the Enchantment Resort in Sedona, Ariz., knows all about avoiding the spotlight -- the resort is in the rugged Boynton Canyon and surrounded by wilderness areas.

"Enchantment Resort has always been a place to go away and not be seen, and we play up that fact now more than ever," Grenoble says. "Whereas before, privacy might have been issue number 10, now it is issue number one."

But choosing a secluded setting isn't the only way to shield a meeting from negative publicity. M&C spoke to planners, hoteliers and industry experts about their best practices for keeping an event out of the headlines.

Have a good reason
Michael Dominguez, Tucson, Ariz.-based vice president of global sales for Loews Hotels, believes the best way to avoid scrutiny is for planners to adhere to the guidelines established by the Meetings Mean Business campaign. This U.S. Travel Association-led effort exists to help justify meetings, events, incentives and business travel to the American public, the federal government and the news media.

As part of the campaign, criteria have been issued for approval of an event and guidelines offered as to what constitutes "legitimate business purposes." Although the guidelines originally were intended for companies that have received TARP funds, they also are being employed by many planners who are not associated with bailed-out firms but aim to ensure that their events are beyond reproach. Examples of justifiable meetings and events, per the Meetings Mean Business guidelines:

• Effective product launches to educate the sales force, channel partners and customers;

• Sales conferences and employee meetings to align vision, strategy and tactics, and

• Corporate-sponsored events designed to further charitable purposes.
Policies for approval include:

• Total annual expenses for meetings, events and incentive/recognition travel shall not exceed 15 percent of the company's total sales and marketing spend;

• At least 90 percent of incentive program attendees shall be other than host organization senior executives, and

• All internal meetings or events attended only by senior executives and/or board members shall be devoted to specific business purposes, and they shall be responsible for any personal expenses.

The complete guidelines are posted at

 Prove ROI
CS0709 Theresa BreiningTheresa Breining, CMP, CMM, and president and founder of the Carlsbad, Calif., event planning firm Concepts Worldwide, believes the best way to prevent negative publicity about a meeting or event is to educate the CEO, senior management and the media about the value of a meeting -- and not just broadly.

"Rather than anecdotal, feel-good stories about meetings," Breining says, "planners can and must measure their meetings and have clear objectives."

Breining, who along with Jack J. Phillips is co-author of Return on Investment in Meetings and Events, believes the best way to prove the real-world value of a meeting is with return-on-investment methodology. "If a meeting doesn't warrant that level of financial measurement," she says, "ROI can help a planner measure other things, such as if learning is applied."

Breining adds, "This economic time we're in provides a mandate to measure meetings to a degree we just haven't had to before -- and ultimately that's good for business. Meetings must be justifiable, or they shouldn't happen."

To learn more about proving ROI, read M&C's May feature, "Defending Your Event."