Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio May 2000 Current Issue
May 2000 Association StrategiesPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

Corporate World

By Mike Kabo


How to take the upper hand and create one big, happy department

As the new millennium unfolds, corporations of all sizes continue to look for ways to cut costs. The trend to “rightsize” and the pressure on internal support services to do more with less has not gone away. Corporate meeting professionals can take advantage of this environment by championing the merger of internal meetings and travel functions.

Synergies abound. Both require skills in planning, executing, negotiating and forging supplier relationships. Most important, both can influence spending patterns in what is generally the third-highest controllable cost within a company.

Following are strategies for overcoming some of the major challenges of consolidating meetings and travel.

Return on investment. Success depends on a thorough analysis of your organization’s meetings and travel spend. Identify major city pairs, air and hotel costs, and hotels used by both groups. Once you have the facts, estimate the savings that can be generated if the two groups act in concert.

In your ROI analysis, include any potential financial benefit from reduced staff, travel, administrative costs and freelancers. Look for duplicate processes that can be consolidated. Can the merger provide justification for automation tools that will help drive costs down even further?

Turf. One of the biggest stumbling blocks in any corporate merger is the turf battle. Although each situation should be viewed from the perspective of the individual strengths, skills and experience of the team members, we all know this is not how things work. Often, he who comes up with a plan first wins.

Traditionally, the idea to merge comes from the travel department, which bases its position on cost reductions and savings. Meeting planners might find themselves in a defensive position, trying to make a case for service vs. savings. At the end of the day, the business case with real savings will prevail.

Of course, the driving force behind the merger can come from the planner. Be the one who goes to the CFO with the idea and solid evidence that supports the merger, and you will end up running the new department.

Cross-training. The ideal is to have professionals in the merged group who can handle both meetings and travel. In order to get the most out of the combined staffs, factor in adequate resources and patience for cross-training. Without this process, you will end up with two departments under one banner.

Negotiations with suppliers. Often, when travel suppliers are approached about consolidating travel and meetings into a unified pricing plan, they balk. Like you, sales and marketing managers at airlines, hotels and travel agencies have their own turf and budget battles. Insist that your total expenditure be taken into account. Negotiate from this position only. Without the combined volume, the ROI for a merged meetings and travel department might not be significant.

Marketing. Do not forget the travelers. Unless your customers know the value a combined department brings them, they will not use it to its fullest. The department’s ability to reduce bureaucracy, speed decisions, lower costs, provide more services and offer one-stop shopping should be marketed from the top down within the organization.

Policy. Without a comprehensive corporate policy that reinforces the benefits of a merged department, you are doomed to fail. As with all meetings and travel policies, senior management support a memo from the chairman or CFO is the key to making your new department a success.

Mike Kabo is director of global travel services for El Segundo, Calif.-based Computer Sciences Corp.

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