Preparation Is the Best Defense

In tough economic times, companies are focusing their attention on making sure they get a maximum return on their investment (ROI). But businesses should also be aiming a spotlight at a less visible component of corporate meetings: the risks involved.
From employee safety to contract negotiations, there is no shortage of concerns for corporate meetings planners. Here are five corporate meeting risks of which planners should be aware, and some solutions to address them:

1. Safety and Security Risk
In the last few years alone, the H1N1 flu virus, Icelandic volcano ash cloud, and the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit Japan have impacted corporations and their travelers, putting both at financial and physical risk.

Solution: Meeting planners should expect the unexpected, whether employees are traveling domestically or internationally for meetings. Centralized meeting attendee management tools can help ensure companies know where meeting attendees are located and how to reach them in an emergency.

2. Budgeting Risk
When dealing with fluctuating costs for travel, currency conversion, airline ancillary fees, and other expenses, unexpected budget overruns can happen.

Solution: Companies should develop a centralized calendar of current, future, and potential meetings to avoid being caught off guard by unanticipated costs.

3. Sourcing Risk
When booking travel, conference rooms, sleeping rooms, and food and beverage services, planners can lose buying power and negotiating leverage when they don't work with preferred suppliers. This can result in substantially higher costs.

Solution: Companies should establish policy guidelines that require that meeting planners book all services from a list of preferred suppliers. A rigorous, clearly defined sourcing approach like this will not only build lasting supplier relationships, it will save companies significant dollars.

4. Contract Risk
Corporate events may be planned by personnel who are not trained in negotiation skills and unaware that their companies use standard contract terms and conditions. These terms prevent unnecessarily high cancellation fees and even legal liability loopholes. It's important that the planner be aware of the terms and include them in contracts. 

Solution: Standardize meeting policies and processes around contract negotiations. This way no matter who is booking a meeting, everyone will be able to follow a well-designed outline that will help avoid common mistakes, save money, and reduce or eliminate legal risks.

5. Payment and Accounting Risk
Mistakes may occur in the supplier payment process in any number of ways, from making late payments and incurring fees to data that is entered incorrectly.

Solution: Centralizing and automating payments can ensure more efficient bill paying and streamlined accounting processes that will cut down on the risk of error. Using one single payment method, like a corporate meeting card, for all meetings expenses will generate additional visibility and more comprehensive spending data.

Although there are a number of risks involved when executing corporate meetings and events, the good news is that there are also plenty of ways to mitigate them. Automated meetings management tools, corporate meeting cards, and other tools that can help centralize data and increase control over a company's meeting spend are a few solutions to common threats.

Ben Thirlwall is vice president of global B2B product management at American Express, and is responsible for a product suite used by American Express corporate clients, which includes Corporate Meetings Payments Solutions.