Few tasks are as daunting to the marketing VP, executive assistant, or director of sales – anyone without “meeting planning” in his or her job title — as being assigned responsibility for your organization’s next meeting. When meeting planning isn’t your primary job responsibility, the prospect of gathering all the pertinent information you need to create a hotel Request for Proposal (RFP), distributing it to the right hotels, comparing the proposals you receive, selecting the site, and then orchestrating the meeting can seem overwhelming. The key to a successful meeting lies in first doing your internal homework, then partnering with a local destination expert, the convention & visitors bureau (CVB) sales professional, to work toward accomplishing your organization’s meeting goals and objectives.
The first step in the information gathering process is to thoroughly understand the internal expectations for the meeting within your organization. Begin by finding answers to the “5 Ws”:
- Why (reason for the meeting). 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 (type of event). Understand the style of the event: down-to-business with few frills, or high-end with planned outside group activities?
- Where (venue). 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 (date). Identify acceptable meeting dates and potential alternative dates: is there flexibility in order to book the preferred hotel?
- Who (attendees). 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 the final decision-maker is: 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?
Now, armed with this basic information, it’s time to start the planning process. Although you may not have all the answers yet, CVB sales professionals can help you find them, and their services are free. CVBs are not-for-profit organizations funded primarily through local taxes to increase tourism into their destination. They are the expert resource for information about the area, and are invaluable in helping you find the perfect fit for hotels, off-site venues, vendors, activities and attractions.
CVB sales representatives work every day with both the newest and the most experienced meeting planners, and assist in placing meetings of all sizes. When meeting planning is not your primary job responsibility, the time devoted to event planning is especially precious, so enlist the time-saving assistance of the CVB.
By asking the right pre-planning questions, answering those “5Ws,” and partnering with your CVB early on, you will gain 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!