Friday, September 23, 2011

Should You Outsource Your Meeting to An Independent Meeting Planner?

Many individuals never think of hiring an independent meeting planner because they figure they can handle the workload themselves or they will rely on their volunteers and/or suppliers to pick up the slack. However, in today's fast-paced, dynamic world,  you should take a second look at what an independent planner can bring to the table. Here are some ways we can help: 

Full Service Meeting Management

This is a turnkey option where the client turns everything over to the meeting planner. When considering this option, make sure to do the following:
  • Vet their background, (see my website for a good list of questions to ask them) 
  • Ask for references and then make sure to call them
  • Ask for a listing of partners or suppliers they've worked with before
  • Clearly define their role and responsibilities and make certain they are comfortable in the project management role
  • If they have multiple events going on (most of us do), ask them if anything is going to conflict with your event
  • Make certain you know how many hours per day/week/month you expect them to work on your event, especially as your event draws closer

Logistical Management

This is the "nuts and bolts" of meeting coordination. Typically, independent planners get involved in one or more the following ways: 
  • Plan the food and beverage
  • Registration and greeting of attendees 
  • Managing the speakers and exhibitors (if you have a trade show) 
  • Crisis management, if something goes wrong
  • Liaison with all your partners (venue, AV, caterer, sponsors) 
When outsourcing logistics, define roles and responsibilities clearly. Include the planner in all communications and schedule regular conference calls with written reports. Initially it may be monthly, but as you get closer the event, communication will probably be weekly or daily.

Site Selection and Contract Negotiation

Independent planners have a plethora of resources and relationships in the industry and are often times better suited to negotiate on behalf of their clients because they clearly understand the needs of  the client and the event. Think of us as you would a real estate agent, we are a neutral third-party who has your best interests at heart.  

In order to save you time, independent planners can have all inquiries regarding your meeting directed to them, thus freeing up a lot of your time. 

An independent planner can: 
  • Issue the RFP
  • Collect the proposals
  • Compile them into a report with their recommendations
  • Arrange finalists site visits
  • Accompany you on the visits and 
  • Be apart of the final negotiations with the venue. 

You can expect to pay a fee directly to the meeting planner, either an hourly rate, per-project, or percentage of budget, depending on what your perimeters are. Whatever you choose, be prepared to write a check for 25% to 50% of the total estimated fee at contract signature. 

Taking the time to understand how an independent planner can help make your event be successful is the first step in determining what you should outsource. Once you have defined all the event planning steps, do an honest assessment of what you and your staff can or cannot do, due to time limitations or knowledge deficiencies. Most experienced planners will take an initial meeting, free of charge, to determine how they can help. Don't let your event suffer! Hire an independent planner today!

De-de Mulligan, CMP, CMM is the President of Mulligan Management Group, LLC, a full-service meeting planning firm in Hudson, Ohio. De-de has over 18 years experience in the areas of non-profit, corporate, and small to medium sized business meeting planning. E-mail her, follow her on Twitter @DedeMulligan or become a fan of her Facebook page.