The Rise of Third-Party Meeting-Planning Firms
The ever-broadening role of third-party planning firms
by Cheryl-Anne SturkenJanuary 1, 2013
Partners or Preditors?While many
in-house planners rely on third parties as welcome allies, others view them as unnecessary or even threatening.
the International Association of Operative Millers in Overland Park,
Kan., Shannon Henson, director of meetings and exhibits, has decided not
to reach out to the third parties. "We are probably an association that
third parties were built for: We have an annual conference of about 800
attendees with a 100-company trade show, plus two additional
international conferences each year and only one conference planner --
me," she says.
"For me, it's more about a resistance to
outsourcing the parts of my job that I enjoy most, the parts that keep
my job interesting: site selection and contract negotiation. I also
don't want to lose touch with the relationships I've worked so hard to
create in more than 15 years in this industry."
A planner for an
educational institute, who prefers to remain anonymous, notes that while
his organization now uses two third-party planning companies, it is
poised to let go of one of them, thereby saving $250,000 of the $350,000
spent annually on outsourced meeting services. "We are large enough to
get the discounts from the hotels on our own," he says. "It's not really
beneficial to have them doing the sourcing for us. We will keep the
other company for on-site logistics."
planner, who also requested anonymity, worries about perception. "My job
is to take care of our meetings from A to Z. It's important that my
boss feels I have enough to do to keep me employed full time. I actually
know of a third-party planning company that e-mailed my boss, saying
how much money they could save my organization by going with them and
not keeping in-house staff. I know that many third-party planners are
not this way, and they have the power of a large company behind them for
negotiations, etc. But I have chosen not to go that route." By Sarah J.F. Braley
The saying "knowledge is power" is particularly true for the
third-party industry. Their proprietary intranets contain a wealth of
data, sometimes dating back decades, which can be manipulated and
measured to fit any client proposal. Not only can they provide
information on individual hotels, such as dates, rates, even feedback
from other clients, they also can compare brands against each other,
booking patterns by city and state, renovations, star rankings and more.
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"We have rate history that goes back to the early 1990s,"
according to Gary Schirmacher, CMP, senior vice president of strategic
account services and industry relations for Experient. "We even have
food-and-beverage rankings. I don't think there is any aspect of a
meeting that we don't track."
Maurits Coppenrath of Porsche Cars
North America considers the depth of HelmsBriscoe's data one of its
greatest value propositions. "I could waste three nights in Chicago
doing site inspections or three hours online looking at websites," he
says. "The information in the HB database, which is presented to me when
I am considering properties and cities, I could never tap into on my
Lauren Cramer also relies on such insider information. As
director of events for North Andover, Mass.-based User Interface
Engineering, a research and consulting technology company, Cramer
oversees dozens of seminars, training workshops and other events across
the country. There are times when she goes with an unfamiliar venue
based on the strength of HelmsBriscoe's data. "No matter how well
traveled you are, there are always locations you will need more breadth
of detail about," she says, and she taps into that resource regularly.
cites one recent program that took place in San Diego, where she was
hesitant about a property under consideration because of its star
rating. "I typically book only four-star or above, and this hotel had a
three-star rating," she recalls. "So, of course, I wondered whether it
was their service or maybe the location. But after I read the insider
comments of some of HB's other clients who had used that property, I
went with it and was very pleased. That's the type of information I
could never get on my own."