The Bare Minimum Needed to Have a Meetings Management Program

Requirements for Meetings Management (MM) programs range from basic to highly complex, depending on an organization’s size, geographic footprint, industry sector, and whether it is facing unique situations, such as regulatory requirements or competitive challenges. Although there are multiple facets to a MM program, almost every organization will benefit from implementing three fundamental components:

  • A meetings policy or documented guidance;

  • A technology platform to register events, source venues, maintain budgets, and report on supplier usage and compliance to the program; and

  • A set of standardized strategic sourcing and meeting-planning processes to ensure event quality and participant satisfaction.

    • These three components work together to reduce spend, mitigate risks associated with meetings, and deliver quality events. They funnel demand through the technology platform, enforcing the standardized sourcing and planning to ensure compliance with the meetings policy.

      Larger, more-complex organizations will want to implement additional MM program components, including supplier management, risk and compliance management, change management, and payment and reconciliation platforms. However, many companies initially only require the three elementary components discussed above.

      See the author discussing the content of this article at IMEX America 2018 here.

Why Create a Policy?
Policy is one of the core components of a MM program and sets the rules by which meeting owners and planners:

(1) Engage with suppliers;
(2) Ensure the safety and security of meeting attendees;
(3) Protect the company from financial loss or reputational damage; and
(4) Comply with government regulations.

Without a policy, meeting owners, planners, and attendees have no clear direction as to the organization’s business goals for meetings, which suppliers they should use, or how to ensure the safety and security of the employees and the organization’s intellectual property. By implementing a meetings policy, companies can:

  • Generate cost reductions between 15% and 25% of meeting spend;

  • Help prevent regulatory violations that can result in significant fines and governmental oversight;

  • Mitigate cancellation and attrition penalties, which is important because approximately 25% of all meetings are cancelled;

  • Help reduce duty-of-care lapses that could result in safety concerns for attendees; and

  • Prevent the loss of an organization’s intellectual property.

Duty of care is particularly important given the risks associated with the safety and security of participants attending an event, the potential for cancellation and attrition penalties, and the fact that live events represent a target-rich environment for corporate spies and cybercriminals.
To Mandate or Not?
A policy is a critical component of a MM program, and can help prevent:

  • Significant injuries or fatalities to employees or third parties, such as customers or vendors;

  • Game-changing losses of market share;

  • Long-term negative media coverage;

  • Substantial financial loss; and

  • Significant prosecutions and fines, litigation including class actions, and incarceration of leadership

Should policy adherence be mandated to prevent the risks noted above, and achieve the benefits mentioned in the “Why Create a Policy” section? Several years ago the answer would have been yes, but in recent years we have seen new thinking on this issue. Many companies have had great success helping their employees understand the business goals of the meetings program, and providing them with opportunities to be good corporate citizens. The emergence of new technologies has facilitated this trend by creating guardrails that allow employees to source venues on their own, but only from suppliers that already comply with the organization’s safety, procurement, and regulatory guidelines. This approach gives employees a sense of autonomy in venue selection, and empowers them do the right thing without feeling like they are being forced to do so by the corporate powers.
Why a MM Technology System?
MM technologies range from elemental to highly complex, and the benefits they offer depend on the technology selected. Here, we focus on a few general-purpose functions or system modules, including event registration, venue sourcing, budgeting, and reporting, and how they support the main mission of a basic MM program through process standardization and data collection and reporting.

Data Collection and Reporting

Data collection in a basic MM program facilitates the reporting on spend, suppliers, and compliance management. Spend reporting provides a comprehensive understanding of overall spend, including how much is being spent, by whom, when, and for which event types. The system can also collect spend data by expense category and by supplier, allowing for missed savings opportunity analyses, as well as the creation of preferred supplier programs for hotel, A/V, ground transport, and production. Data collection also allows organizations to conduct internal benchmarking of category spend. Additionally, data collected in these systems assists in compliance management, whether to evaluate compliance with the MM program, preferred supplier programs, or regulatory standards (such as industry-specific or anti-bribery regulations).

Event Technology Types and Modules

It used to be relatively easy to select a MM technology platform, as the choices were somewhat limited and the variability among the available systems was negligible. Recently, however, there has been an explosion in types of meeting systems, as more system developers have been attracted to funds from venture capitalists who are willing to invest in a field primed for disruption. The result is a plethora of new and specialized technologies that can be mixed and matched to create customized MM platforms, which are competing with enterprise type-MM platforms to be the system of choice.

Today we not only have enterprise-level MM solutions, we also have best-in-breed platforms, which include a long list of niche technologies: abstract management, association management, attendee tracking, check in and badge printing, Customer Relationship Management and marketing automation, digital marketing tools, exhibitor and floor plan management, housing, lead retrieval, matchmaking, presentation management, registration, staffing, transportation, venue management, and virtual and augmented reality systems. Additionally, we have event mobile apps, second-screen technologies, beacons, smart badges, virtual meeting solutions, and simple meeting systems.

To select and implement a MM platform today, complex programs benefit from creating a meetings technology strategy before selecting technologies. However, a simple MM program only needs technologies that register events, automate the venue-sourcing process, support the budgeting process, and provide a basic level of reporting to deliver on the goals described above.
Why Standardized Processes?
One size does not fit all, which is why standardized processes have met some resistance when creating MM programs. There are dozens of different meeting types, and each requires its own processes. Standardized processes don’t mean that the technology should be configured to make every meeting follow the same processes for event planning. Rather, just those processes that support the meetings policy with its guidance on the safety and security of meeting attendees, protecting the company from financial loss or reputational damage, complying with regulatory requirements, and using specific suppliers should be standardized.

Whether your organization uses internal meeting planners or outsources to a meetings-management company, those planning your events should follow standardized processes to achieve the business objectives of the meetings and ensure that your organization is protected from duty-of-care lapses and regulatory violations. Following are a few examples.

Safety and Security of Meeting Participants

  • To ensure that your meeting participants can be found and contacted while onsite, standard air and hotel booking methods should be used for all participants.

  • To ensure that venues are in keeping with your organization’s safety standards, meeting participants should only be booked into venues that have been vetted, and are part of your preferred supplier program.

Fiduciary or Reputational Damage

  • To avoid the appearance of impropriety, meeting participants should only be booked into venues that are part of your pre-vetted preferred supplier program.

  • To prevent reputational damage, planners should be required to obtain executive-level approval for unusual event activities requiring attendees to sign a waiver (think fire-walking).

  • To avoid potential financial damages, meeting planners should consistently use a hotel addendum that lays out all concessions, cancellation and attrition thresholds, and legal terms and conditions.

Regulatory Compliance

  • To ensure that foreign governmental officials attending your events are not inadvertently presented with a gift that violates the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, planners should follow clear guidelines on an acceptable gift policy.

In summary, we see that a basic MM program can consist of a meetings policy, a technology platform, and standardized processes, all of which can be developed and implemented with relative ease.

Here is a checklist of actions to show how straightforward it can be.

  • Determine the goals for your MM program.

  • Create a meetings policy that helps deliver on your MM goals.

Standard Processes

  • Develop standardized processes that help deliver on your business goals and prevent safety breaches or reputational or financial damage.

  • Technology

    • Determine the work flow needed to support your meetings policy.

    • Identify technology systems able to support your work flow.

    • Select and contract for the selected system.

    • Configure the system to support your standardized processes.

    If you have questions about any of these activities, or would like assistance executing on any of these tasks, please contact Shimon Avish at

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