I’d be remiss not to mention the trumpeting elephant in the room – the economic recession – – the economic recession – the economic recession. But despite the unfortunate turn of events life and business goes on, and professionals are still meeting and attending conferences if not for the sole purpose of formulating stronger relationships for continuing business and new opportunities.
Planning conferences and tradeshows is big business, and there are accredited meeting planners or CMPs who specialize in architecting very complex and multi-faceted events. As attendees, we often take conferences and events for granted, but behind the scenes these meeting professionals are managing a myriad of tasks from:
- Hotel & Venue
- Bids & Contracts
- Audio & Visual Equipment
- Online Marketing
- Database Management
- Follow-up Surveys
- And the list goes on…
Needless to say, there is a lot of room for things to go wrong in a BIG way, or for something simple to get overlooked. Fortunately, a lot of this process can and is automated.
Destination marketing clients like Monterey, America’s Adventure Place, and City of Henderson really strive to provide a seamless solution for their sales teams as they service the requests of meeting planners from all over the globe. After all, these folks are competing against countless different locations to attract that next big event. They need to rely on an effective means of delivering the required information and documentation, as well as recording data.
Making use of web technology to provide front-end information for meeting planners like videos and virtual tours, location options and specifications, and exciting activities for conference attendees to do when they are not meeting is just one part of it. On the back-end there is both the routing and response of RFPs, as well as receiving and recording signed contracts and valuable feedback.
The destination’s sales team work closely with meeting planners to tailor the event and make sure they are getting the most out of it. When this particular client hopefully returns the next year, they need to remember prices, attendance, problems, successes and so on.
If a particular meeting planner decides to go with another destination the organization needs to know why so they can address problems and improve their experience – they need a process in place to request and record valuable feedback. Furthermore, what happens if one particular sales rep leaves? It is imperative that he organization have centralized, integrated access to all of this information.
Think about dealing with all of this over the course of many years and hundreds of thousands of different events, meeting planners, and sales reps. That’s a lot of data!
Now let’s look at it from the side of meeting planners.
I’ve done my fair share of event marketing and management, but I was interested in hearing what someone else had to say in regards to the challenges of meeting planning. Therefore, I reached out to Vicki Hawarden, vice president of knowledge management and events for Meeting Professionals International (MPI) to ask two questions:
- What are the biggest challenges meeting planners face when it comes to using web technology to orchestrate a successful event?
- How much of a role does social media play for meeting planners, and if it is significant, what are the benefits and problems?
She was kind enough to answer, and here is the response:
- To me, the biggest challenge is integration. So many software programs and technology vendors offer solutions to one or more pieces of the puzzle, but few of the solutions are comprehensive. And if they were comprehensive, it would be a little scary to put so many eggs into one technology basket. So for me, the challenge has always been how to balance our supplier solutions so we get the best from each partner, without excessive overlap or without creating difficulties with disparate systems talking to each other. For example, suppose we want to allow our speakers to submit content on-line, push that to our community, let attendees interact with speakers or create their own unique agendas, plus input exhibitor appointments into that schedule. We could work on this project with a content vendor, our audio visual company, our on-line exhibit software or a combination thereof. It’s hard to know what will be easiest to implement and provide the most seamless and user friendly results.
- Social media is probably not a big issue, yet, for many planners. But given how interconnected we are all becoming, and how easy it is to use the new social media on our cell phones, I’m sure it will become an issue sooner than later. I’ve grown used to staying in touch with my friends and associates through Facebook, and it would greatly enhance my meeting experience to have this same connectivity with peers, speakers, potential suppliers and so on. The trick is to provide something easy to use that’s not intrusive, and the choices are confusing at the moment. Again, there are so many features to evaluate, and without experimentation, it’s hard to know which ones will really be a hit with attendees. MPI is experimenting with different types of social media tools at our MeetDifferent conference in February, in Atlanta, and the whole point is that MPI will try out some options so meeting planners can experience the results.
I couldn’t agree more with Vicki’s response to the first question. It is important for your organization to align itself with vendors that play nicely with other platforms, or choose one company that provides a suite of systems that address your needs. My vote would be the latter because it will save you an excessive amount of (no pun intended) meetings communicating the same requirements over and over again and dealing with different individuals.
When it comes to second response, I will take the opportunity to interject some recent personal experience. Not too long ago I conducted a follow-up survey asking attendees how they heard about the event. The overwhelming response was Word-of-Mouth. Now I know that cannot be true because of the location it was held in and the other questions asked. Furthermore, when I looked back at the analytics I saw a good amount of traffic coming from places like Twitter, Facebook, and the blog. This is interesting because it shows that discussion of the event had became such a part of the online conversation that in hindsight attendees believed they simply heard about it. Combine this with some of the onsite event Twitter apps we’ve seen in use, Facebook groups, YouTube video campaigns, Flickr views, friends feeds and RSS readers, it starts to add up to an even greater event experience.
After all, don’t we want folks to come to our next event?