Few tasks are as daunting to the marketing VP, executive assistant, or director of sales as being assigned responsibility for your organization’s next meeting, no matter how big or small. Unlike most large associations or corporations that employ professional meeting planners — often with an entire staff in tow — smaller associations and many corporations tap their department heads and supporting professionals to produce the next board meeting, product launch, or annual conference. For the novice or infrequent meeting planner, the key to a successful meeting lies in first doing your internal homework, then partnering with a CVB sales professional — the local destination expert — to work toward accomplishing your organization’s meeting goals and objectives. Follow these tips to create an applause-worthy event.
Getting Your Act together: Understanding Internal Expectations
1. Find answers to the 5 W’s – why (reason for the meeting), what (type of event), where (venue), when (date), and who (attendees) —
- Why. Determine the purpose of the meeting: does it support your organization’s mission and goals? Is the objective to raise your company’s profile, create excitement about a new product, promote teambuilding within your organization, or initiate strategic planning with minimal distractions?
- What. Understand the style of the event: down-to-business with few frills, or high-end with planned outside group activities?
- Where. Understand what is desired in a venue: does the board chair have a favorite resort in mind? Do the demographics of your membership or company facilities favor a particular city, state, or region? If there is not already a specific preferred destination, try to narrow the possibilities down to no more than three locations.
- When. Identify the preferred dates: is there flexibility in order to book the preferred hotel?
- Who. There are several here. First, understand who will attend: will the meeting be mandatory or will attendee promotion be required? The answer can mean the difference in simply informing attendees of the event details versus an all-out marketing campaign. Next, understand the internal “who” (division of responsibility): are you expected to engage speakers and provide meeting content or just handle meeting production logistics? Finally, define who is the final decision-maker: you, the CEO, your board of directors? If not you, how much involvement and intermediate information does the decision maker want, and in what form?
2. Understand your budget parameters: are you given an amount that you must stay within, or will you create a budget for approval?
3. Be aware of any political sensitivities or red flags: does your organization produce a product that has been the target of bad press in a certain state? Will a local chapter of your organization welcome your meeting in their territory or see it as competition to their own regional meeting?
4. Set your timelines: is your meeting next year or next month? Determine your deadlines for receiving RFP responses, confirming the hotel, inviting attendees, and selecting vendors, then create an action calendar to keep you on track.
5. Don’t reinvent the wheel: has this meeting been held before? If so, do you have access to notes, histories, banquet orders, invoices, or programs from that event to serve as a reference for the new meeting? If you were not the organizer, can you talk to the prior planner for advice and perspective — what went well and what didn’t? What would he or she change this time around? At the very least, speak with a former attendee about their impression of the last meeting.
A Little Coaching Never Hurts: Online Resources
If you’re feeling insecure about your meeting planning skills, there’s a myriad of resources to tap including periodicals and workshops. But, for immediate reference, numerous hospitality industry organizations have websites with extensive online information about the nuts and bolts of meeting planning, sample templates for various RFPs and contracts, negotiation skills, and other best practices tips. You might want to check these out to broaden your knowledge base:
- Convention Industry Council (CIC) http://www.conventionindustry.org/index.aspx
- Meeting Professionals International (MPI) http://www.mpiweb.org/Home
- American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) http://www.asaecenter.org/
- Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) http://www2.pcma.org/
Now, armed with the basic expectations, information, and actions necessary to begin creating your meeting, it’s time to start the planning process. Although you may not have all the answers, convention and visitor bureau sales professionals can help you find them, and their services are free. CVBs are not-for-profit organizations, funded primarily through local taxes, with the sole mission of bringing tourism dollars – whether from meetings, vacationers, or business travelers – into their destinations. CVBs are the expert resource for information about the area, and are invaluable in helping you find the perfect hotel fit, off-site venues, vendors, activities and attractions.
Taking it on the Road: Enlist the CVB as your Advocate
- Nailing down the meeting venue is Job One. Hopefully, to save time and frustration, you have narrowed your selection to no more than three destinations. The fastest, most efficient way to reach out to your selected CVBs is through empowerMINT.com, the virtual national sales office for the CVB industry. CVB sales representatives work every day with both the newest and the most experienced meeting planners, and assist in placing meetings of all sizes. Your sales rep will be happy to discuss which hotels provide the best fit – by style, size, sleeping room rate, and amenities – and advise you in creating a request for proposal (RFP) to be sent to the properties you specify. Your CVB partner can serve as your representative to the hotels that have received your RFP, fielding any questions they may have, and collecting the proposals to be presented to you as a group. When meeting planning is not your primary job responsibility, the time devoted to event planning is especially precious. Let the CVB take on these time-consuming details.
- Compare hotel proposals, and discuss them with your CVB rep for additional insights. Before making your final selection, schedule a site visit. The security and knowledge you’ll gain by experiencing the venue and property first-hand is invaluable.
- CVBs are THE expert in arranging and conducting your site visit; leave the appointment details, suggestions for off-site activities, and introductions to key local players to your CVB partner. The time and effort you’ll save is huge.
- Site selection is just the beginning. Throughout the completion of your meeting, your CVB partner will be your advocate, your voice to the hospitality community, and your source of “continuing education” about the destination. The CVB can assist with attendance promotion and onsite guest information, and is your link to local vendors and media.
In a nutshell, the CVB serves as your trusted extended staff, at no cost to you or your attendees.
By asking the right pre-planning questions, brushing up on your meeting planning skills online, creating a well thought out game plan, and partnering with your CVB early on, you will have the knowledge, confidence, expertise, and leverage to produce a successful event. But watch out – you may get the next meeting assigned to you as well!