Meetings Spotlight: Trucking Co. Adopts Tech, Globalizes to Make Most of Meetings

Using new meeting strategies and implementing new technology, the trucking and transportation services holding company YRC Worldwide now greatly is expanding its reach and return on investment.

During the past decade, the company has reengineered its corporate meetings and events philosophy to focus on maximizing revenue and profitability and using technology to reach more people, while saving costs and garnering C-level buy-in for meetings.

Since enterprise solutions group executive vice president and chief marketing officer Greg Reid joined the company in 1997,YRC has significantly pared its marketing expenditures, in turn greatly reducing its meetings and events spending.

The company began a series of acquisitions in the mid-1990s, nearly doubling its size from 34,000 employees in 1997 to 63,000 in 2008. In that same timeframe, marketing budgets, from which meetings and events spending is derived, decreased 45 percent. "We didn't take extra money and spend extra money," Reid said at this month's Financial and Insurance Meeting Planning Conference in New York. "We said, 'How do you do more with less for more people?'"

Although budgets have been cut, the value of YRC's meetings was not. The company instead revised the way in which it holds meetings. The number of tradeshows attended in the last decade decreased 43 percent, and the number of YRC employees attending the shows is down 30 percent, according to Reid.

YRC offset those reductions in 1998 by creating its own tradeshow, called Transformation, to continue to reach customers, while maximizing return on investment by keeping the competition out, controlling its own messaging, site selection, floor space allocations and attendees, Reid said. The last show was held in 2006 at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.

As meetings have become an integral part of internal and external marketing and communications at the Fortune 500 Overland Park, Kan.-based YRC, virtual conferencing has become a primary resource for broadening reach. If Transformation were held today, a core part of it would be remote communications elements, Reid said.

YRC recently held a meeting for 20,000 people, 3,000 of whom were in broadcast rooms at corporate facilities, said Reid. The company also is planning a live and virtual meeting for 50,000 people, which because of the technology is estimated to reduce costs by 25 percent.

On a smaller scale, YRC is hosting a training session for about 90 engineers and enterprise solutions employees at Arizona State University in the coming weeks, but only 10 will actually be at the campus.

"You have to figure out ways to get people to these events without having them come to the event," Reid said. "I'm not saying don't do events, but you have to find ways to reach people without having them physically get on a plane, check into a hotel and attend an event."

Although YRC is taking a strong remote conferencing approach, it is not using remote conferencing to entirely replace face-to-face discussions, but instead enhance them.

"Meetings are the most important strategic tool," Reid said. "You simply have to do more to bring more people into those meetings at a time when people want you to do less meeting with less cost. You've got to have at the core in-person meetings. If I have 53,000 employees and I know I can afford to have a powerful conversation with 2,000 of them, I still need to have conversations with the other 51,000 of them, and that's my challenge."

Technology also is a tool to stretch YRC's remaining marketing budget.

"You just can't expect in today's environment to do things the way you always did them," Reid told MeetingNews. "Even if we didn't have the economy and cost pressures and negative visibility that having a big meeting might raise, why wouldn't you leverage technology to bring people into a meeting?"

YRC's meetings and events planning and operations are handled through the marketing organization. The company outsources its large meetings to third parties with Reid and his team overseeing strategy for major events. Reid said the company currently is in the development stages for its first global events, in an effort to reach its entire employee base. YRC's largest employee population outside of the United States is in China.

Reid developed YRC's reengineering of its meetings and events program from a seven-point plan that he recommends to all meeting planners to advance their business and to help senior executives understand the value of meetings. Reid said a cornerstone of the plan is that planners must change their mindset to realize they are not in the business of meeting planning, but are part of how their company makes money and serves its customers.

"You are letting other functional leaders know that you have the business interests in mind," Reid said. "While you may be responsible for this part of the organization, you are tied into and understand clearly what the revenue, profit and growth objectives of the corporation are and you are going to do everything that you can through your knowledge to help achieve those goals. That's what people on the C-level want to see."

Originally published May 25, 2009