Meetings today remain one of the premier ways of delivering content to a group of stakeholders. Over time, these important business events have evolved into many forms of delivery – from the traditional face-to-face meeting to remote satellite meetings, webinars, virtual seminars, virtual tradeshows – but their function and purpose remains essentially intact.
Along with an ever-changing economy, there has also been a shift in perspective when it comes to questioning the value and return on investment of meetings. If meetings are to continue, many ask, will they still involve physical travel or will they migrate online? All of these questions and situations put a different slant or spin on the importance of meetings. Fortunately for the meetings industry, the response has been that meetings are still relevant, necessary and instrumental in delivering your message – a driver of enthusiasm, passion and commitment as well as a tool to engage your stakeholders.
Traditionally, much importance has been placed on the inherent value of meetings, but as the justification and the dollar spend became more scrutinized, so did the team that delivered that meeting. As a result, it has become increasingly important to engage the planning team earlier in the process. As the stakeholders develop the ROI, the business plan for the meeting and setting the goals and objectives, it has become increasingly critical to engage the planner of that event in that process. The delivery of the event becomes the canvas and the objectives of the organization become the design that creates the art on that canvas. Once these factors are determined, the planner is then able to work strategically to ensure that the key messages and outcomes are realized.
As budget constraints and other economic effects have made their presence felt in organizations, however, some companies have downsized. In many cases, meeting planning departments have been consolidated into other teams or even eliminated altogether. For a growing number of organizations, the meetings that continue are made possible due to their ability to engage remote services in the meeting planning process by hiring a third-party meeting planner.
Third-party meeting planners are engaged by organizations to either fully deliver an event (if the meeting planning expertise does not exist inside an organization) or to supplement an internal team. Today, as never before, the third-party meeting planner has become a much-needed extension for many organizations.
A third-party meeting planner can be either an individual or a small- to medium-size entrepreneurial group that specializes in meetings and all the aspects that surround the logistics of an event. The expertise a third-party meeting planner can bring to your organization can only be measured by the vast experience and knowledge planners gain from various experiences, events, locations, dynamics, organizations and much more that they have gained over many years with many organizations.
The true value of a third-party meeting planner, however, is to be found in the early stages of the planning process. By engaging third-party planners in the discovery and business planning phases of an event, clients can benefit from the experience and knowledge of best practices from previous similar events. Third-party planners may also bring an entirely different perspective to an event that a client may have overlooked. An internal meeting planner will understand his or her organization but may not have a vast array of out-of-company comparisons to draw from – a definite benefit of working with a third-party planner.
The third-party meeting planner may also be an expert in a specific field such as pharmaceutical or financial services, or may be a generalist with experience in a variety of organizations. Their skills also range from incentive programs to conference planning and management, corporate events, fundraising initiatives, special events and much more.
The choice of specialists and generalists is as vast as your needs. The majority of third-party meeting planners have accreditations such as CMP (Certified Meeting Professional) or CMM (Certification in Meeting Management) or CITE (Certified Incentive Travel Expert) or many other designations. Accreditation ensures third-party planners have professional education in their areas of specialization and that they are re-certified on an ongoing basis to remain current and knowledgeable in their respective disciplines.
Look for credentials
Third-party meeting planners are most often members of various associations that represent their disciplines and can be sourced through those organizations. Some of those organizations include: CanSPEP (Canadian Society of Professional Event Planners), ISES (International Society of Event Specialists), MPI (Meeting Professionals International), SITE (originally known as the Society of Incentive and Travel Executives) and others.
When you are sourcing a third-party planner, do your due diligence when choosing candidates to ensure they have the depth of knowledge you are seeking (this goes further than just reading a resume) and that their list of upcoming events ensures they have the time to work on your project. Many have staff (therefore time is not a concern) but there are also those who are independent so juggling and time management is critical. There are third-party meeting planners who focus on the strategic element of your event as well as logistics and there are specialists in strictly logistics. In addition, there are third-party meeting planners with multiple languages and some who work primarily in English. Therefore, as you are searching for the right third-party planner or company, review all the elements that will ensure the success of your endeavor. Third–party meeting planners can be a definite asset to any event you will undertake, and there is a combination that will work for you and your needs.