Driving Success in Strategic Meetings Management

June 2016




Stakeholder engagement

Role of the executive assistant

Not enough volume, resources, time, data


Even the most passionate meetings management strategist will acknowledge that implementing or advancing a program relies on a number of factors from gaining or maintaining stakeholder engagement to expanding the initiative around the globe, as illustrated in the chart below. 



Stakeholder engagement

Experts also emphasized the need to engage various stakeholders for initial and ongoing program support. From senior management and champions to administrative assistants, as well as travel, legal marketing and sales departments and business units, SMM programs typically involve every group within a company.


Not surprisingly, 60 percent of respondents with SMM programs in place identified senior leadership as the key stakeholder group in both initial implementation and ongoing support, followed by procurement, meeting planners and professionals and travel management. For ongoing support, more than half of respondents with SMM programs also cited meeting planners and professionals and executive and administrative assistants as key stakeholders. 


Erin Stahowiak, Project Manager, McDonald's Corporation, said she learned best-practice approaches to stakeholder management from industry colleagues. As McDonald's began its program four years ago, Stahowiak said the team "developed a list of key stakeholders or planners outside the meetings department." The team identified their pain points, asked how the meetings department could better support planners and invited them to be part of an advisory council. As the meetings department developed its strategic plan, it invited council members to join presentations from technology providers, industry webinars and other events, Stahowiak said.


Another part of the overall plan was identifying other company stakeholders from IT, legal, security, travel, sourcing and other business units and forge relationships early. The team also shared plans with each group to ensure that necessary support for the new meetings initiative was included in annual development plans. 


"As the program was announced, we essentially had planted knowledgeable people throughout the organization to be able to explain the program. The key takeaway would be to keep them involved and engaged, have more roles for them — train the trainer, etc. — to further extend their engagement," Stahowiak said.


Anthem's Heston emphasized the unique exposure that meetings provides to her department. "You are now partnering with a part of the business that you would never have otherwise. My meeting planners are my front-line team, who know customers on a first-name basis," she added.


"You want to get in with the C-suite? Go manage meetings. Transient travel is often buried within an organization. In meetings, we're sitting next to the executive team, talking about their vision of the event.
There's a whole area of visibility that is just amazing, one you never would have had and one from which you can build great relationships," Heston said.



Role of the executive assistant

Executive and administrative assistants (EA/ AA) often are key stakeholders in any SMM program. The level of engagement and buy-in required from this group can vary in importance, depending on the sizes and type of meetings included in your program. Our survey indicated that many EA/AAs planned small meetings with internal attendees. Ensuring the buy-in of this group of stakeholders can be tricky, but some key items to focus on include: 


  • Providing education about the program and its importance. Many survey participants didn't fully understand what strategic meetings management programs meant, or whether their company had one in place

  • Emphasizing the fact that the SMM program can benefit them by removing pain points. Our survey indicated such items as payment, contracting and data/reporting were the least enjoyable aspects of meeting planning

  • Freeing up time on the items above will allow them more time to do the activities they enjoy, such as activity planning and onsite management.





Not enough volume, resources, time, data

Among the survey respondents who don't have strategic meetings management programs, a sizeable number claimed to not have enough volume to justify one. How much would be enough? As with many areas of SMM, it depends on the overall objectives, culture, industry and other factors. Proponents noted that benefits can be accomplished for those with as little as $1 million in annual meetings spending.


As many companies have found in their SMM journeys, overall company spend was found to be multiple times the volume projected at the start of the program. The "not enough volume" concept pertains only to what is known today, which often is just a fraction of the overall volume, experts noted. 


Veteran SMM coach and author Debi Scholar said about "10 industries spend the most on meetings," including pharmas/ healthcare, financial services/insurance, technology, consulting, media/advertising, and consumer products. But some within these larger meeting spenders "don't even understand that they have a problem" and aren't trying to strategically manage meetings. Scholar said in such circumstances it is the job of the industry at large to "help educate them" about the risks involved in meetings, if nothing else. 


One of the challenges, Odom said, is that the industry has defined SMM as "cost savings and control." But that definition doesn't work for every industry sector and company culture.


As mentioned previously, over 70 percent of respondents with an SMM program were looking to expand it – many globally. This speaks to the many benefits existing programs are experiencing, but it goes without saying that this adds additional complexity to a program. In addition to the regional information highlighted in the next few charts, some recommendations from those who have undertaken the global journey include: Customization of goals by region is important and they can change from year to year. For example, the first-year goal of a program in a new region may be focused on gathering data and sourcing. But the goals for the second year may change to a focus on cost savings. 

These need to be clearly articulated in the roadmap by region. Celebrate successes along the way, as they provide an incentive to move on to the next part of the journey.

Don't be intimidated by the concept of going 'global.' Programs do not have be fully mature in all regions to show value. Figure out how to break expansions into chunks that your organization can handle.


Consider pilot programs vs. a full rollout to gain some 'mini-successes' and manage your expectations. "What I tell clients is that you can't go globally in year two unless you have identified that up front as part of your SMM program strategy," said Kevin Iwamoto, "so that you can have those conversations with your supply partners and technology company and whomever is going to be engaged first." 


For regional observations and how to do SMM in China, download the full report and read the chapter about Taking it Global. It contains observations for:

  • North America
  • Latin America
  • Europe, Middle East and Africa
  • China
  • Asia Pacific

Download the full report (PDF)


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