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Getting to grips with bottom line

It has taken global recession for strategic meetings management (SMM) – the monitoring and organisation of meetings on a company-wide level – to be taken seriously in the UK.

With its seeds in the early-1990s, SMM has lain dormant until the recession took hold and senior management began to bear down on costs, putting pressure on event organisers to demonstrate return on investment (ROI), risk reduction and increased productivity.

Now, SMM programmes are well on their way to becoming common practice not just in larger companies, but in smaller businesses (SMEs) as well.

Alan Newton, global supply chain director at Grass Roots EventCom, says: “A well-structured and managed SMM programme will improve the productivity of a company’s meetings and events by focusing on critical areas: quality of meetings, compliance to SMM policies, meetings completed on or below budget, meetings actively managed, and realised or implemented cost savings.”

This area of procurement is still a niche specialisation and has yet to fully mature, as many company managers still class meetings and events with travel, which has largely become commoditised. However, the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply believes strategic sourcing can save anywhere between 10 and 29 per cent, and a report prepared for the Hotel Booking Agencies Association says about 40 per cent of corporations cannot identify how much is spent on meetings.

Communication is the byword here and the potential savings of a well-implemented SMM programme will lead to rewards in the long run

Technology presents one way to approach meetings ROI, not only by tabulating expenditure across a company and thus calculating savings, but by compiling feedback on all aspects of the event life cycle.

But once the data is collected, how can a business use it to save costs and reduce risk? Effective analysis can provide a company with a sort of heat-map of their meetings and events expenditure, indicating areas of redundant or non-compliant spending.

Mr Newton says: “Good data analysis will underline critical trends within an organisation and identify areas of risk due to lack of compliance or other key factors. Comprehensive data analysis will also allow a company to streamline processes, and enhance the level of value and savings within a SMM programme over time.”

One area where some companies stumble in their SMM programme is the management level at which it is monitored and decisions are made. Too often the implementation of a programme falls to a niche department or a few individuals in a company, whereas the cost savings and company-wide standardisation involved with a successful programme require involvement and communication at all levels, from the boardroom to the meetings and events booking team.

This can create challenges internally as departments and staff members will have to change their approach and focus on communication both vertically between management levels and horizontally from one department to another. You only have to open a newspaper to see how resistant people are to change, but communication is the byword here and the potential savings of a well-implemented SMM programme will lead to rewards for a company in the long run.

Although evidence suggests SMM has been slow to take hold in the UK and led mostly by larger corporations, Mr Newton argues that any SME could benefit from implementing such a programme.

SMM programmes are slowly but steadily gaining ground in the UK, taking firm root due to demonstrated cost savings, and gradually trickling down from larger corporations to medium and smaller companies, driven by increasing pressure to deliver value for money.