A balancing act

July 28, 2010
by Tony Wagner

Procurement experts have played an increasingly prominent role over the past several years in travel and meetings and event (M&E) management.

However, our recent research reveals that a disconnect remains in many organizations between the procurement department and the people that typically handle the planning and execution of M&E (such as marketing, communications, and sales departments).
The research, conducted by Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT)’s research arm, the CWT Travel Management Institute, found that 76 percent of global M&E programs do not have a strategy in place to define objectives, direct supplier management efforts or define and streamline processes.

Similarly, 67 percent of M&E programs do not have an established policy to co-ordinate contracting, the use of preferred suppliers and risk management at the individual meeting or event level. And clearly, identifying meetings spend is a significant challenge, as only half of the meeting planners surveyed in our research said they were able to estimate their M&E spend.

As cost savings and risk mitigation continue to be of critical importance to companies, procurement’s involvement in M&E is only expected to increase. This means traditional M&E stakeholders not already doing so must adopt some procurement disciplines—or risk relinquishing their M&E responsibilities to procurement experts.

Big savings

With proper purchasing management, companies can save between 10 and 25 percent on M&E spend, depending on the characteristics of their events. This is where corporate procurement experts can bring incredible value to their organizations. They can use their experience and expertise to lay the foundation for effective M&E management.
Once procurement experts become more involved in establishing foundational elements, M&E programs can become more advanced, focusing on best practices such paying as many supplier costs as possible using a single mode of payment—preferably a corporate meeting card—and asking attendees to use their corporate credit cards for reimbursable expenses.
M&E specialists are catching on to the value of the procurement team: 42 percent of meeting planners surveyed in CWT’s research said they expect the involvement of procurement experts to increase in the next few years. There seems to be a significant opportunity for corporate procurement professionals to share their expertise with colleagues involved in M&E planning.
That said, while adopting better procurement practices is undoubtedly part of the future of corporate M&E, I caution companies not to confuse that dynamic by cutting costs too much, to the detriment of their programs. The procurement and M&E planning departments must strike a balance between smart spending and the event objectives (and attendee experience goals) of each program.

At the end of the day, implementing a M&E program that includes experts from various departments and that collaboratively works to identify and consolidate spend will be the most effective way of saving your company money while still meeting the key goals for each meeting. Like many things in life, it’s all about a balanced approach.

Tony Wagner is vice president of meetings and events for Carlson Wagonlit Travel North America. A full copy of CWT Travel Management Institute’s latest research, “Meetings and Events: Where Savings Meeting Success,” is available here

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