As the SMM journey continues to evolve, many companies are asking themselves, "What's next for my program?" SMM still is about savings, risk management, process and rigor – but what are the business impacts of those benefits?
Meetings and events are not held to save money or manage risk. They are held to move business forward. With this in mind, we look at the ways that SMM can support crucial marketing and brand activities.
Integration of marketing and SMM
Early SMM programs did not tend to include marketing events and exhibitions within the scope of the program. In some cases, this was due to the fact that they were considered 'different animals.' In others, these functions generally worked well and fell behind more problematic areas.
As SMM programs started to show results and proof of concept however, program managers and marketing functions have started to see the synergies that arise from including events in the SMM program. One of the keys to aligning these functions has been the realization that the term 'strategy' may mean different things to each group. The strategy of running the 'business' of the meeting (e.g. logistics, hotel negotiations) sits with the SMM professionals, while the strategy of the meeting or event itself and its key business drivers sits with the sales and marketing organization. Differentiating these terms creates a common understanding driving partnerships within organizations.
As such, many marketing and sales teams now understand that SMM can impact how they deliver their brand, by automating processes and creating efficiencies that allow for time and space to focus on creativity, attendee objectives and attainment of business goals. When meeting and event professionals are freed up from the more logistical parts of the process, they are able to spend more time and energy on the objectives of the business.
"Our job is not to create marketing content. Our job isn't to create what gets delivered out there. Our job is to help in the execution and delivery of these logistical services. Whether that be from our own employees doing it or our outsource partners, that is what our job is. To do that broadly and consistently with service that is unobtrusive and delivers value to your customers' customers, who are the ones generating your revenue, becomes highly important and successful for your business" said Chris Wall. This in turn improves the attendee experience, so no matter who plans a meeting or where it is held, the attendee still receives what is key to a particular company's brand.
Some organizations, such as Cisco, even have gone so far as to move the program from the travel and finance teams to the marketing organization. "We realized that we needed to sit close to marketing and speak their language," said Carolyn Pund. Regardless of where it sits, it is crucial that SMM professionals are perceived as sound business leaders with an interest in being collaborative partners. "As long as they take that approach and listen and do their best to understand the perspectives the marketing professionals are coming from, everyone's going to be fine," according to Kari Wendel, Senior Director – Global SMM Strategy& Solutions for CWT Meetings & Events.
Impact of industry consolidation
As with many fragmented industries, market consolidation is a reality. On the heels of record-high revenues and profits for the hotel industry, according to the latest analysis from STR, is further consolidation. Marriott International by mid-year expects to close its $13.6 billion acquisition of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide. HNA Tourism Group in April announced plans to acquire all of Carlson Hotels, a portfolio that includes 1,400 hotels in 115 countries and a 51 percent stake in Rezidor Hotel Group. And in late 2015, AccorHotels announced plans to buy FRHI Holdings, parent to the Fairmont, Raffles and Swissôtel brands, for $840 million and 46.7 million new Accor shares.
Hotel executives during mid-2015 financial calls excitedly pointed to increased demand for and revenues from meetings. Further consolidation of brands during peak periods is expected to make it even harder for some companies without a strategic approach or partnerships to secure space and rates to meet budgets.
Hotel consolidation could prompt changing business models, warned GoldSpring Consulting's Kevin Iwamoto. "Those who rely heavily on commissions" to fund their programs must carefully watch changes from consolidation, especially if they result in moves to reduce or eliminate commissions.
In the airline sector, the mega merger of American Airlines and US Airways are nearly complete, following earlier combinations of United and Continental, and Delta and Northwest. But further consolidation of smaller carriers is expected, like Alaska Airlines' planned acquisition of Virgin America, as are deals outside the United States.
In the meeting technology space, Cvent is to be acquired by private equity firm Vista Equity Partners for $1.65 billion and taken private. Vista acquired meeting technology firm Lanyon in 2013.
With the amount of private equity funds available and interest in the travel and meetings space, few doubt that these will be the last mergers or acquisitions announced this year. Besides the obvious concerns about the impact on leverage during negotiations, SMM programs actually may benefit from these changes:
Increased level of innovation as suppliers combine resources to focus on client needs
Higher levels of service consistency for companies and meeting attendees
Increased program reach through a lower number of suppliers
Less complexity as a result of a lower number of suppliers
George Odom noted that "there will be some angst, but at the end of the day it will probably better for the consumer, for the corporation and for the industry as well."