In June I had the honor of being able to partner with Ambassadors Performance Group (the largest publicly held meeting and incentive house in North America), Ritz-Carlton Hotels & Resorts and United Airlines in the first Meetings and Incentive Industry Summit, held at the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna Niguel, Calif.
The attendees came from many Fortune 100 companies. The major topics discussed were the effects of the current economy, advances in technology, the importance of return on investment (ROI), and how technology and ROI relate to today's meetings and incentive market.
The summit is a landmark event for our industry. It points toward the new demands being placed on special event professionals.
We as event professionals are being called to duty in a very different way than ever before. In the end, I believe that this will prove to be a good learning experience for all of us, and will allow us to be better prepared in the future.
It is fundamental that we let our clients know that we consider ourselves partners with them in all their meetings and incentive endeavors. The reason that I stress “partners” as opposed to “suppliers” is that we must consider all of our clients' interests in view of budgets and requirements for each event.
We must show clients the value of our services in terms of ROI. This is very different for most of us, as we have never really been put into the position of constantly having to defend the reasons for spending the dollars we ask for. We have to ask our clients as well as ourselves, “Can we afford not to stage this event?” In the climate of cutbacks and budget-conscious CFOs, we must show the value of our services as well as be flexible in regard to clients' needs in the dollars department.
It is unfortunate that we have not been trained to look at events with these considerations in mind. Yes, we have said the event was a success if the food was good, the decor beautiful and the entertainment exceptional. In the past, we would say that the guests had a great time, so naturally they want to work hard in order to come back next year.
This will not hold water in the days ahead when we are trying to sell our services. Now we must also ask, “Did we provide a service that our clients felt was well worth what they paid, and did it meet the ROI goals they had in mind?”
Where do we start? First, try to lose the fear of finding out the facts. Send out a post-event questionnaire asking if your company accomplished the business goals that your client set for you.
Whatever the answers are, this questionnaire will be the perfect marketing tool to sell future jobs. If the answers are not favorable, you will learn what you need to do to sharpen your abilities in the future. If they are favorable, you can use the answers to sell future events.
Having been in business in a leadership position for three different downturns over the years, I look at the state of our economy as an opportunity to build stronger relationships with my clients. Yes, it is OK to lower your profit margin when your clients need it. It is a small price to pay for future loyalty. Remember, things will change again, and we will see an upswing. Our clients will remember who worked with them just as we remember who works with us in time of need.
Bad times? No, times to make us better and stronger for the future. Attitude is everything.
To see further results of the summit, go to www.ambassadors.com/summit/media.
John Daly is president of John Daly Inc., International, a design firm (805/963-5007), and CEO of PRA, a destination management company (805/884-0600); both are based in Santa Barbara, Calif. His e-mail address is [email protected].