New NBTA Procurement Study Acknowledges Planner Importance

Alexandria, Va. — Respect and reassurance are keys to winning support from corporate meeting planners for a company-wide, or strategic, meetings management program.

That's the advice from the latest white paper issued by the meetings committee of the National Business Travel Association, whose corporate travel manager-members are increasingly charged with developing strategic meetings programs as part of implementing best procurement practices in their organizations.

The white paper, "Mobilizing Internal Stakeholders," focuses on meeting planners because in many instances they are critical to the success of a company's strategic meetings management program.

"Of the stakeholders involved in this process, it is likely that the new policies and procedures will impact the meeting planners the most," states the paper, which was unveiled at NBTA's annual meeting, held last month in San Diego. "Proceeding without input will likely lead to solutions that are less likely to achieve high levels of adoption and acceptance and more likely to be unsustainable."

The committee's chairwoman, Kari Knoll Kesler, global manager of meeting solutions at Honeywell, said, "The most critical thing is to help everyone understand who plays what role and what the goals are. The meeting planner may ask, 'Why was the travel manager asked and not me?' But it's fundamental to understand that the travel manager has a proven track record of success in deploying enterprise-wide policies and procedures.

"If I can convey the message that I'm not a planner and don't have planning skills, it helps level the playing field. I don't plan meetings. I rely on meeting planners to play that role."

That approach may go only so far in placating corporate planners, because industry organizations such as Meeting Professionals International have repeatedly emphasized that the path to job security and career advancement lies in strategic, not logistical, planning. Logistics can be, and often are, outsourced as a result of strategic meetings management.

On the other hand, planners who remain on staff at companies with strategic meetings management programs often participate at a higher, strategic level by operating the overall program and directing the logistical efforts of outsourced planning firms.

One aspect of the white paper that should please planners is the attempt to reconcile what is often believed to be the meetings-as-commodity attitude of procurement officers, with the every-meeting-is-different attitude of planners.

The white paper presents a matrix ranging from usually small, relatively simple meetings, which can more easily fit the commodity mold, to more complex meetings, typically those that contain an incentive element.

The matrix, in effect, allows greater flexibility, and cedes more control to meeting owners and planners, for meetings that involve more than simple business objectives.

Contact Marshall Krantz at mskrantz @comcast.net.