Third party planners play an important part in the world of meetings. Whether a company or organization needs help in locating and securing a hotel and meeting site to more comprehensive services including registration and meeting management help, these independent planner groups can be crucial to an event’s success. Midwest Meetings had the pleasure of learning more about a meeting planners role in this type of organization through Susan Kainz, Global Account Executive with ConferenceDirect®.
Susan Kainz: With over 12 years of experience in the meeting/hotel industry it was a comfortable transition into meeting planning. Having held positions in sales and marketing with several hotel companies and an executive level position with an independent hotel, I found my role with ConferenceDirect allowed me to use my strong negotiating skills to guide clients through the changing facets of venue contracting and meeting management.
I really love being with an independent contractor because it provides the opportunity for me to focus on my client’s needs and have balance in my work, home and personal life.
MM: Since ConferenceDirect is a third party planning company, who are your customers and what role do you play?
SK: As an independent meeting professional with ConferenceDirect, my role is to work with meeting professionals ranging from corporations, associations, non-profits, etc., to find the perfect location for their meetings with guest rooms in any city worldwide. Our clients not only use our site selection, contract terms and negotiation services but are offered a full slate of professional meeting services, from conference marketing, housing and registration to strategic meetings management.
MM: What do you see as your biggest challenge within your market?
SK: The biggest challenge that meeting professionals face is the challenge of how to demonstrate the value of their meetings. When I partner with groups, I take an active role in documenting how site selection and contract term negotiations result in cost savings and helps the client maintain their budgetary goals.
In the meeting planning process the challenge is to make sure meeting/conference attendees appreciate the return on their investment of time and dollars. The more the meeting/conference agenda and educational content can be tied to the organization’s mission, the greater the value of that meeting is appreciated.
MM: If you had to switch to working in another meeting segment (corporate, government, non-profit and independent) which would you choose and why?
SK: The advantage of being an independent planner with ConferenceDirect is that we partner with many different organizations from corporations, associations, government, non-profits, as well as sports teams and fraternal groups alike. The common theme is they all have the same need to resolve the disparity between tight budgets and increased pricing.
MM: How has public perception on meetings and conferences affected your events (if at all)?
SK: Whenever meetings are cited in the media as an example of corporate greed or excessive government spending the public perception of the meetings industry is impacted. As a result of this negative perception, groups are more selective on the types of properties or locations of the meetings. In addition, attendance at meetings, especially in the association and non-profit markets, are declining due to budget cuts. The positive outcome is that larger conferences are being reconfigured into smaller regional meetings where less travel dollars are spent.
MM: How do you stay connected with your attendees?
SK: Mostly by emails and we also use social media campaigns.
MM: How has technology changed your planning?
SK: ConferenceDirect associates book a meeting every 15 minutes which results in more than 8,000 events a year. Each time we do, the details of the booking are entered into an extensive database, which helps associates prepare comparative analyses giving us the market intelligence to secure the best possible terms.
Registration for most mid-to-large conferences is done using technology. Having the option of online registration makes it easier for attendees who can sign-up any time or any day. For the organization, the online tools available provide the ability to customize registration, capture individual preferences/needs and ensure onsite registration runs smoothly.
MM: What’s the best advice anyone’s ever given you?
SK: Get involved in the industry! I have been actively involved with Meeting Professionals International (MPI) for over seven years. This organization offers me a connection to industry knowledge, new and compelling ideas, plus professional relationships so that I am able to have a voice in the meetings industry.
MM: What do you find most rewarding about your job?
SK: Saving money! Through leveraging ConferenceDirect’s buying power or utilizing resources and efficiency in the planning process there is nothing more satisfying to know that my clients have saved money and produced very successful events.