December 01, 1998
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio December 1998 Current Issue
December 1998 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Back to Basics


Hiring a Meeting Planner

Here’s how to bring in reliable outside help

For many of you, there comes a time when you just have too much on your plate and you have to outsource. To meet this challenge, you must face the task of hiring a fellow meeting planner.

In today’s marketplace, finding someone with the skills you require at a price you can afford can be tricky and difficult. And, as we have all faced in our working lives, it is one thing to be in total control (or so we hope) of a project, but quite another to delegate responsibilities.

Separating The Wheat From The Chaff
Just like planning a great meeting, making a good hiring decision requires you to think through your needs, clearly identify your expectations and be prepared with contingencies when things don’t go quite the way you expected. You will need to consider the following seven elements during the hiring process.

Scope of the assignment. What do you want this person to do? Define specific responsibilities based on what the client has requested, the dynamics of the meeting and what you can reasonably handle yourself. Will this planner be on site the entire meeting or will he have set hours? Will he also be involved in pre-meeting activities such as supplier selection, developing the program and registration? Without clear detail, defining the strengths you are looking for will be impossible.

Skills and experience. Once you have determined the responsibilities of the planner, spell out the specific skills you require. Don’t forget to look for someone who communicates well, verbally and in writing. In terms of experience, the number of years in the business may not be as important as finding someone who has worked with the client before or has been involved with an event at your destination or venue. Finally, will the planner meet regularly with the client and/or attendees? If so, include appearance on your list. First impressions are important, not only to you, but to clients and delegates.

Payment. Before you contact anyone, have a good idea of what you are willing to pay. Be prepared for questions concerning hours, overtime, travel time and reimbursement. Candidates will also want to know when they can expect to be paid. Be clear on your budget and where you can negotiate. Two tips for independents: Remember, you are in business to provide great service but also to make a profit. And, if you have never hired another planner before, talk to your accountant about the tax-reporting requirements.

Finding the right planner. Networking is the best way to find independent meeting planners. Contact trusted colleagues and ask them who they know or with whom they have worked. Talk to hoteliers with whom you have a good relationship. Listen to recommendations from people whose opinion you trust, because in the eyes of the higher-ups, the person you hire will reflect directly on you, your abilities and the success of the meeting.

The interview process. To get the best information during an interview, ask open-ended questions. If a question can be answered with a yes or no, then you will not get a good sense of how the candidate thinks on her feet. You need to find out how well the person can handle unforeseen problems and stress. Write your questions down.

Also, be sensitive to your own feelings about how well you will get along with this person. You won’t have the luxury of time to build a strong working relationship, so you and the new planner need to have good chemistry right from the start.

Finally, meet with your candidates face to face. Use phone interviews only to introduce yourself and to reduce the list down to a manageable level.

Making the right decision. Take good notes during the interview, then match the candidates’ answers to the skills and experience level you previously defined. Check references and probe very carefully about the work habits of the candidate. Finally, sit back and concentrate on your impression of each person. Don’t be afraid to go with your instincts; they won’t let you down.

The contract. Once the offer is made and accepted, prepare a contract. It should be precise about the terms and conditions of the employment relationship, the specific responsibilities the planner will have and the method of payment.

Mike Kabo is president of Solutions Inc., an independent travel and meeting management consulting firm with offices in New York City and San Francisco.

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