Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Client Relationships in Today’s Business Climate

As I network with other business owners in our field, I find we are all in the same position. Our long term clients are no longer able to fund meetings or events. They are told that if they do any meetings they will be planned ”in-house”. Whether the client is corporate, government, or association, the answer seems to be the same. In this economic climate, no one is spending money on meetings.

I talked with a representative from CISCO who told me their solution was to do their annual meeting using video conferencing. She said it saved them thousands of dollars. When I asked about what kind of feedback they got from those attending the video conference, she said they “did not like it” and that the typical response was that they missed the networking component of getting together. It was too impersonal. There is a message to all of us in this as we keep hearing that video conferencing is the wave of the future.

So what does this change in the elimination of meetings and conferences mean to us? It means that instead of relying on our old tried and true method of marketing (referral from a satisfied client or attendee), we need to dig in and learn how to market our services. That means we need to be the ones networking, getting involved, and following up with potential leads. In the past a lead usually meant a potential new client, now we talk about soft leads, warm leads, and hot leads. It is also teaching us patience. We need to develop relationships with potential new clients and keep our name in front of them as often as possible.

Another thing that we are doing is ensuring that we have all the certifications we need to keep us viable and visible. Things like being federally certified as a Small Business, a Women Owned Business, and as a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (because we are women, if you can imagine that!). We are registered with the State and the Federal Government, signed up as vendors with the major corporations that need to have set-asides for small business, women owned, etc., and we are marketing to those companies that require those set-asides.

Most importantly, we are not forgetting our loyal clients – those relationships are as critical as ever! They can’t use our services today, but the economy will change and will they will once again require our services and support. We don’t want them to forget us. It is always about RELATIONSHIPS!

Linda Begbie • Executive Director and Meeting Planner at RDL enterprises.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pillars are Killers

In a previous post,I mentioned briefly the need to be aware of the actual shape of a room when deciding how many people could fit into the space. Just recently, I had this come up in a project I was working on with on of our meeting planners…

We had booked a room for a client’s reception (as part of a larger program), which was located a short distance away from the bulk of the meeting space assigned to our client’s conference but still within the hotel. The distance was not a problem, since folks would have a break between the end of the last session and the start of the hotel. Besides, the room had great lighting and ambiance, overlooked the pool, and was close to the bar – all advantages for this particular event. The room also had pillars, which was not an issue as people would be mingling and, apart from a few announcements that would be made throughout the evening, there was no program to speak of. In fact, the pillars could be used to good advantage in this case. We could decorate them to reflect the theme of the evening, we could place food around them to make natural “centers” around which people could meet, or we could even combine the two approaches.

As happens frequently in the run up to a conference, plans changed… the reception needed to move to a different room (for various reasons) and we started considering the room as a place for lunch. Great idea! People would love the natural light the room offered and there was plenty of space for everyone to fit comfortably. The speaker would have a great backdrop to their talk and…wait a sec…did we just say “speaker”? Yes. The Keynote Speaker would be on right after lunch, with slides… This is not good. The room has pillars, several of them, spaced fairly evenly throughout the room. This would mean that many people would not be able to see the slides (or the speaker) and the speaker would not be able to see most of her audience. We quickly re-looked at our space and found a much better alternative for them to use.

As the meeting planners for this client, we had done a site inspection of the hotel, where we physically looked at the space and walked through the areas we would be using. We were aware of the advantages and drawbacks for the space – the location within the hotel, the room size, the existence and placement of pillars and windows, etc. – and could work around that, finding the best fit for our client’s program. What was a non-issue, or even a plus in one instance, would have been a liability in another. By knowing the space in more detail beyond what was listed on the hotel’s spec sheet, we avoided a potential crisis long before it could become a problem.

- Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How do I make sure that people who come late to my reception still get something to eat?

This can certainly be a problem with some groups. I used to work with one group (no names!) where, if all of their food was put out at the beginning of a two-hour reception, it would all be gone in the first 15 minutes. When you do not have the budget to simply add more food, this can be a serious problem. Here are a couple of ideas for dealing with that…

My favorite tactic is to distribute the food service throughout the evening. Instead of having the hotel put all of my reception items out at the start of the reception, I will have them put out one half or even one third of the total out at the beginning. Then, at previously determined intervals, the banquet staff brings out more food. This gives the illusion that you have added more food and forces people to slow down a bit in their consumption, allowing the latecomers to have a chance to try all of the wonderful items the hotel has prepared. You, as the meeting planner, do have to monitor this process closely as you may need to adjust the timing and/or amounts of food that are brought out each time.

Another solution is to have servers circulate through the room with your hors d’oeuvres on platters. This approach also has its advantages over the “put everything out at once” method. You can control how often the servers make their rounds of the room and you can have them make sure that they get to everyone. Another benefit is that people tend to take less from a server’s tray than when they can simply walk up to a table and load up a plate. This is partially due to the fact that there is an “observer”, which makes people more conscious of how much they take, but is mostly due to the fact that the attendee typically does not have a plate, so they are forced to eat items as they pick them up. By the time they have eaten the items they have selected, the server has moved on to other guests. As an added bonus, your guests have the treat of having someone serve them, which always makes a good impression for your event.

Notice that, in both cases, we did not order more food. We can ensure that more people get to sample the food provided…without spending more money on the reception. And our clients’ guests still experience an enjoyable reception. However, these tactics do not work 100% of the time. There are times when we are still stuck with either purchasing more food for the reception or telling people there is no more food to be had. In spite of this, we have used both approaches successfully on many occasions and they remain strong tools in our toolbox. Do not leave them out of yours!

- Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Digital Publication Comes Online for SGMP!

SGMP, The Society of Government Meeting Professionals, has launched the inaugural issue of Government Connections – as a digital publication.

In this exciting new offering from SGMP (and, yes, I am a member), readers can access the association’s newsletter at any time through their computer. This offers several advantages over printed distribution. It is environmentally friendly – you read it on your computer and only print out the pages you want. And no waiting for it to arrive with the mail – you can check for the latest issue at your convenience (SGMP members get email notifications).

It also is more visually appealing than many online publications I’ve seen. Where most groups just upload an electronic version of their physical publication or re-format it to look like a web page, this publication actually looks like a magazine right in your browser! The system allows for searching of content, zoom presets, single or double page viewing, and many other features. You can also download a PDF version of it to your computer to peruse at your leisure. All in all, it seems to be a pretty good setup. I am looking forward to checking it out in greater depth and seeing everything this has to offer me as a reader.

If you are interested in seeing the current issue of Government Connections for yourself, click here and dig in!

- Karl Baur, CMP • Project Director