by Leo Jakobson | November 30, 2012
Going into 2013, economic uncertainty in the U.S. remains the biggest concern of top corporate executives who oversee or approve corporate meetings.

According to the C-suite executives, presidents, and vice presidents among our readers who responded to the final Successful Meetings Industry Pulse survey of the year, uncertainty about the American economy nudged out low budgets as the external factor with the greatest impact on their ability to effectively execute their organizations' meeting strategies.

"I am simply putting off everything that I can until I have a clearer picture of my employment costs and anticipated demand," says one respondent, who cited uncertainty as the biggest outside impediment to the firm's meetings strategy.

A meetings consultant who also cited economic uncertainty says, "I am trying to stay the course and do more with less." Her plan for dealing with it was to "continue to elevate the business value of meetings for the organization."

What to Do?
Tightening budgets was one common response. Stephane Davis, accounting business manager at CS Financial Services, says the rising cost of hotels, gasoline, and airfares and associated fees has "impacted our decision-making for our organization's outside meetings." Her firm, she adds, is "securing more favorable agreements with hotels and travel services to help lower overall costs for our meetings" to advance its meetings objectives by the end of the first quarter of 2013.

Other responses included: "Keep the same priorities before management and insist that face-to-face meetings and training are necessary to maintain the proper strategic direction," and "look for more local meetings that do not require air travel and hotel stays."

Interestingly, sales meetings were not the top priority. Instead, 27.3 percent of respondents called "consumer or marketing events" and "training meetings" the most mission-critical part of their organizations' meeting and event strategies. Sales meetings followed in third place with 22.7 percent.

Pessimism and Politics
The top executives who responded to the December survey have grown far more pessimistic. In our September survey, less than 17 percent of the respondents predicted business conditions would be worse in the fourth quarter of 2012. In the December survey, looking ahead to the first quarter of 2013, the number of respondents who felt business conditions were getting worse had more than doubled, to 38.6 percent.

According to one respondent, "Meetings and incentives and board meetings are all being scaled back, even if it's a detriment to the company. With such a lack of leadership, they can't see that saving a few dollars now greatly reduces their profit level in the future."

Politics were a huge external factor impeding firms' meetings strategies. A dozen of the survey's 44 respondents blamed politics, with half placing the blame squarely on President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party, and the rest spreading it equally among politicians in general. (The survey ran from Oct. 12 to Nov. 2, before the presidential election.)

In fact, after U.S. economic uncertainty, low budgets, and global economic uncertainty, the external factor with the greatest impact on companies' abilities to effectively execute their meetings strategies was "loss of confidence in our political leadership," which came in well ahead of either a Democratic or Republican victory.

"There is nothing we can do about it until the politicians fix their sorry state of affairs," said one respondent.