SMMP: An Entry- to Mid-Level Planner's Guide

After your event, do you just jump to the next program, or do you debrief and use that history for the betterment of your event programs and the company at large? When you have several events or meetings in rapid succession, do you capture information as best you can? Were there loopholes, opportunities to plan better? Could you have saved money? 

Or perhaps you have captured information all along, with the intention of establishing a strategic meetings management program (SMMP) but don’t know where or how to start the process. 

When it’s time for promotions and performance reviews, following these guidelines and tips will assist in your efforts to be recognized by your peers, supervisor, and higher-ups. 

What It Is
SMMP is defined in as many ways as there are people who define it. One of the best definitions is provided by the National Business Travel Association (NBTA): “SMMP means the management of enterprise-wide meeting-related processes, spend, volume, standards, and suppliers to achieve quantitative cost-savings, risk mitigation, and superior service. It includes matching department goals to corporate values/objectives and using data consolidation and reports to enhance the strategic 
nature of meetings.”

Most senior-level planners and managers know what SMMP is all about, and perhaps understand how to implement its processes, but what can you do as an entry-level or mid-level planner to assist them and your company—and be a superstar?

Where to Begin 
First and foremost: gather your data and your history. There is nothing more critical than a program’s history. It dictates the what, why, and how, but above all, it dictates the costs associated with putting a program together. 

It’s possible that you’ll need to gather a great deal of data from different sectors or business units (BU) across your company. But gathering this data and finding out what has been spent and lost to attrition (including over-spending) is a critical step in identifying where your company is bleeding—and possibly hemorrhaging—cash from the exorbitant costs associated with putting together a meeting, event, or conference. 

This data will justify your SMMP guidelines as you progress. It’s best to collect data from the past six months to one year—longer if possible—in order to have a comprehensive vision of the direction of spend within your workplace when it comes to meetings and events. 

The Planner’s Changing Role 
The planner’s role has already evolved to include more scrutiny and it also now includes doing a variety of tasks that were likely not explicitly mentioned in your job description—such as strategic planning. While strategic planning duties probably fall to senior-level planners, it’s in your best interest to understand and assist in these efforts. 

You have to think strategically and no longer view your job as that of a great, detail-oriented logistics person. If you don’t embrace the challenge of learning more, your chances of promotion might be nil. You have to truly understand your company’s line(s) of business and how they relate to producing meetings and events. You should tap into resources within the company who can provide guidance and insight as to how to best plan your meetings and events—the higher up the ladder the better. Those people can provide insight as to what the look and feel of their meetings and events should be. But it’s vital that you understand how the business works and what drives it, which will also help you understand where there is excess spend taking place. 

To be successful, you have to be viewed as a person who not only plans and manages great meetings and events, but also as someone who goes the extra mile to implement best practices in consolidation of purchasing practices. Yes, it’s another instance of doing jobs not officially assigned to you, but look at this as a challenge that helps you grow, helps your company to be strong, and puts you in the spotlight as a leader in the SMMP world. 

Executive leadership wants to see where and how their meetings budgets are being spent—and wants to save wherever possible. It really starts with you as a planner helping your boss, and her boss, and her boss’ boss’ boss to understand how everyone can assist to ensure better cost controls and prove that spend is being looked at pragmatically. Spearhead a movement to make this happen and watch your shift from planner to strategist begin. 

Key Action Items
1. Set up an appointment to speak with your supervisor about assisting her efforts with an SMMP.

2. Develop a task list with your boss as to who to work with, and how and where to engage them to assist with this project.

3. Develop benchmarks, metrics, timelines, and project management tools to assist your efforts for completing this SMMP project. Bear in mind that it might take a year, or could be ongoing as it relates to your upper management. 

4. Arrange for you and/or your supervisor to meet with the higher-ups to discuss the value of implementing an SMMP in your company.

5. Show several examples of meetings, events, and other relevant programs for which costs would be better leveraged if an SMMP is implemented.

6. Look to your vendors, hoteliers, and service providers for information to assist your efforts as you want as many stakeholders involved as possible. 

7. Provide spreadsheets and numbers to share with everyone. 

8. Be consistent. Show everyone (because everyone will eventually see your work) that an SMMP is for the entire company and you will look like a hero. 

9. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other colleagues in the meetings industry. They might be going through the same process and might have advice or, better yet, want to work together.

Todd Schwartz is a certified meeting planner (CMP) and the president and founder of The Professional Planner Group; a full-service, meeting, event, conference, and incentive management company. For more information on Schwartz, go to www.professionalplannergroup.com.