Get It in Writing - 2005-05-01

As organizations of all kinds attempt to master what, for many, is the least managed component of travel and entertainment spending, more corporations and associations are creating written policies that establish processes and controls around meetings.

Publicly traded companies and large private corporations are leading the policy charge, but smaller companies and associations are also creating meetings policies that address issues including the use of preferred suppliers, centralized contracting, budget controls, emergency procedures and contacts, and meetings logistics. The policies are often posted on corporate intranets, or they're disseminated to meetings stakeholders via e-mail or on paper.

Corporate interest in meetings policies has ramped up dramatically in recent months, according to Shimon Avish, director of professional services for American Express Corporate Meeting Solutions in New York City. Currently, just 15 percent of Amex's corporate meetings management clients have meeting policies in place, Avish says—but, astonishingly, 60 percent of them are actually in the process of writing such policies.

Three key factors are driving policy creation, according to Avish.

First, organizations are looking to limit spending, and meeting policies that stipulate the use of preferred suppliers maximize volume-based discounts. "If you're able to leverage that spending, it's a significant opportunity for incremental savings," says Avish.

Second, companies are limiting risk by writing policies to centralize contracting with suppliers, a risky task that's often been the jurisdiction of planners who aren't trained in contracting. "In many organizations, unauthorized signatories are in fact signing contracts with attrition and cancellation clauses specifying damages of tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars," Avish says. "Those companies take a very dim view of this once they have to pay out against one of those clauses."

Third, meetings policies satisfy a heightened need for regulation in an era of corporate accountability. "We're seeing the use of policy to address higher demand for regulation," Avish notes, "especially due to the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate governance laws."

But highly managed corporations aren't the only organizations pushing policies. For instance, the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association in Rockford, IL, implemented a three-page meetings policy last fall. MaryAnn Browning, education meeting manager, headed up the project, which includes guidelines covering procedures for room setup, food and beverage, audiovisual support, and a few other items related to specific contract clauses and other sourcing issues. The policy promotes consistency, says Browning, which supports quality events and makes training new employees easier. "We have several new planners on board," she says. "The policy puts everybody on the same page and forms a starting point for our meetings."