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Corporate planners have an optimistic outlook for 2008

Meeting planners can look forward to a vibrant year ahead, as long as the Canadian economystays steady and the value of face-to-face meetings in corporate boardrooms remains strong.


Meeting planners can look forward to a vibrant year ahead, as long as the Canadian economystays steady and the value of face-to-face meetings in corporate boardrooms remains strong. By Sandra Eagle, Market Report, Jan/Feb 2008

Corporate meeting planners will have their BlackBerrys on overdrive this year, if the predictions of corporate respondents to the 2008 Market Report play out to expectations. Technology, green initiatives and evolving workplace demographics are some of the current components thrown into the meetings mix in a constantly changing industry.

According to 39 per cent of corporate respondents, the increased use of the Internet and other technologies is the most significant change to the meetings industry in the last five years, while 32 per cent cite increasingly short lead times as significant. Among technologies used for planning all or most of their events, 54 per cent of corporate planners used websites, 45 per cent used e-mail marketing, 41 per cent used online registration and 20 per cent used flash drives. What is telling is the increase in usage of newer, social forms of technologies in the planning process.

For instance, in 2007, only 6 per cent of corporate respondents had used video-conferencing. This year, 27 per cent of respondents had used it for some events. The relatively new phenomenon of social-networking sites increased in visibility and adoption, with 6 per cent saying they had used it for most, and 19 per cent saying they had used it for some, of their events.

For Les Selby, CMP, CMM, team lead, Enterprise Solutions Meetings & Events, with Mississauga-based Carlson Marketing, the increased use of technology is the status quo. His team of six plans over 300 events per year, with a Vancouver branch office and three contract employees when the workload warrants it. “We have proprietary tools that we use for web registration, budgeting, meeting registration and to track financials and sourcing. We have launched emerging technologies such as Meetings 2.0, a mobile and social network that can be used before an event to develop interest, during an event to promote interaction between attendees, and after an event to reinforce the event’s message. As we have introduced and presented this technology across the board, many large companies are interested in it. Of course, the smaller, techno-savvy company audience is quicker to embrace the technology.” Generational demographics also play a part in the technology story. “The digital workplace and the adaptation of wireless technology is easiest among the younger generation,” Selby notes. “They’re so used to it, it doesn’t even phase them. It takes longer for the older generations to adapt, but they do, eventually.” He adds a quick caveat, though, that he is seeing an increase in the number of face-to-face meetings where you get to actually shake someone’s hand.

For Toronto-based Joanne Merrick, a promotions manager for Rogers Business & Professional Publishing Group, virtual conferencing is something she is looking into for her group in the medical and pharmacy industries. She plans three awards events, two symposiums and 10 workshops per year. “It would have to be sponsorship-driven,” she says,” but it would enable us to reach more attendees from across the country.”

But technology’s use in the planning of an event is only part of the story. It also plays an increasingly large part in green initiatives in the corporate mindset.

Leanne Bernardo, coordinator, events & promotions with Toronto-based Molson Canada, says the 600 attendees at the annual national conference don’t really want a binder full of paper with conference details. “We do everything now online, electronically. We find when we do a full-sized agenda, people really don’t look at that. We find that a small, lanyard-sized piece of paper with all pertinent details is enough for participants, so they can refer to it and keep it on them.” When she is involved in consumer events, such as contests (think Coors Light Maxim Golf Experience), she finds she is using text messaging and different websites such as Facebook and blogs. In the office, the staff of 15 she works with in the promotions office attempts to be as paperless as possible, using e-mail folders as a more permanent and efficient system for data retrieval.

GREEN SCENE
Reducing the amount of paper at an event is usually just the starting point of green meeting initiatives. Surprisingly, the corporate group ranks below association and third-party planners when it comes to the integration of greener meetings. While 20 per cent of corporate respondents have asked a supplier about their green practices, only 11 per cent have tried to plan a green meeting or event and only 7 per cent have actually done one. Five per cent have included a green clause in an RFP. Seven per cent have booked an event venue, and 4 per cent have booked a hotel, based on its green principles.

The main reason that corporate planners had not participated in these initiatives is that they are still learning how to implement aspects of a green meeting (46 per cent), like things the way they are (15 per cent), are worried about costs (14 per cent), are worried that it would take more time (8 per cent), or say that no green initiatives are available.

“More and more companies are interested in green meetings, and a number of clients are starting to implement initiatives on their own. They are looking to their meeting planners for recommendations and information. While none of our companies are refusing to book a venue based on green practices, that day may come,” says Selby. He adds, “a couple of clients have also asked about carbon offsets. They want to know what the real value is to them. The entire green movement is not a question of if, but when. Planners need to do the research and provide information.”

LEAD TIMES 
One issue that resonates with planners across the board, but specifically with the corporate set at 32 per cent, is increasingly short lead times. “It’s difficult to find space without a room block; you cannot bid until 60 days out. It’s hard to find the right space in the right city at the right time. It’s harder to find really good space in Toronto, and we find the same shortage and hesitation in Calgary, Vancouver and Montreal,” says Selby. Bernardo concurs. “Timing issues are my biggest challenge. Timelines are getting shorter and shorter, but the size of events is getting larger and larger. This makes for a stressful planning process and not feeling as organized throughout the execution as most planners generally feel comfortable with.” Merrick says trying to secure meeting space without the room block is one of her biggest challenges. “I can’t blame them [the hotels] because they’re saving the space for people with room blocks.” This is where her agreement with the Fairmont properties “plays a huge part” in her quest for event space.

THE OTHER GREEN SCENE
There is optimism in the strength of the meetings industry for the coming year. While 65 per cent of corporate respondents say the number of meetings held within Canada will remain the same, 28 per cent say domestic meetings will increase. Twelve per cent say they expect meetings held in the U.S. to increase and 8 per cent expect an increase in international meetings. While this bodes well for the industry, the bellwether industries of the U.S., mainly manufacturing and housing starts, are taking a hit. Selby adds a note of concern for 2008. “One thing we have to be mindful of is the U.S. economy, and what that might mean for the Canadian subsidiaries of a U.S. company or a Canadian company with a large U.S. market. We have to be aware of what it means to our busine
ss
.” Throw in the unknowns of a wide-open race for the presidency of the United States and it’s anyone’s guess as to how this year will unfold.

Despite this one dark cloud on the horizon, which may or may not evolve into a recession, corporate meeting planners are upbeat about the year ahead.

“Our industry continues to be vibrant and exciting,” says Selby. “No matter how long you’ve been in the business, you’re always learning something.”

SURVEY SAMPLER
260 corporate planners responded to this year’s survey.

41% of corporate planners are members of the management team that determines the educational content or business message of the organization’s meetings or events.

Online registration, websites and e-mail marketing are the top technologies used by corporate meeting planners, while 73% say the Internet remains the most influential source of information when planning a meeting or event, followed by word of mouth at 71%, trade shows at 33%, convention and visitor bureaus at 29% and M&IT Buyers’ Guide at 27%. 

27% of corporate respondents have used video-conferencing for some of their events.

More than half of corporate respondents – 54% – have between 1 and 10 years of work experience. 8% are in the process of obtaining a professional designation.

46% of corporate planners are still learning how to implement green meeting initiatives. 66% of corporate meeting planners say they initiated the idea for a green meeting. 51% say that a “green” meeting would cost much or a little more compared to the costs of a regular meeting.

Corporate recognition rewards or certificates (43%) edged out the year-end cash bonus (37%) as the incentive awarded to a company’s top performers this year.

28% of corporate respondents say they expect the number of meetings/events to be held within Canada to increase, while 12% say they expect meetings in the U.S. to increase in 2008.

(Source: M&IT magazine 2008)
Sandra.eagle@mtg.rogers.com



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