Should You Outsource Meeting Planning?

Third-Party Planners: Yay or Nay?

Today, many organizations, government agencies, associations, and corporations are faced with diminishing budgets and overstretched staff.  As a result, they consider outsourcing vital tasks, including meeting and event management needs.

As the person in charge of your company’s events, conferences, meetings, or trade shows, you’ve mostly likely asked yourself this question:

To outsource or not to outsource?

Just with any business decision, there are pros and cons to weigh out. Consider this your guide to determine if outsourcing meeting planning is right for you and your event:

3 Common Ways to Outsource Meeting Planning

Site Selection/Contract Negotiation

There are numerous outsourced meeting planners and companies (also known as third-party meeting planners) that specialize in helping you search for the right venue and on the contract phase of planning a meeting.

Once the third party planner sends out the RFP, compiles all of the proposals for you to review, and offers their feedback, you then decide which hotels move on as finalists in your decision. The third-party planner can then arrange venue tours, help you make your final decision, and assist you with contract negotiations.

PROS

  •   These third parties have staff deployed throughout the country and are up-to-speed on the  latest hotel developments and local issues.
  •      They have established relationships with major hotel brands and have overall knowledge how the brands differ and what each brand can offer your event
  •      They have experience with hotel contracts, a skill which can help at the negotiating table

 

CONS

  •      Third-parties often receive incentives, including frequent traveler points and complimentary stays, to book business at certain properties. This is in addition to getting paid a commission by the winning property.
  •      Because of strong relationships and incentive programs, third-parties may have biases and lean their preference towards certain properties, regardless of your program goals
  •       They may have limited market knowledge and only suggest the properties they are already familiar with or being offered incentives by, even if the hotel or market is out of your price range. Thus, limiting your destination choices.

(Note: Groups360 Meeting Advisors do not have any incentive arrangements with venues that would bias recommendations. Instead, they use GroupsSync, which predicts the market price before you contact any hotels).

 

Logistics

As more internal meeting managers take on a more strategic management role in their companies, you may need to turn to outsourcing another outside meeting planner to focus solely on the nuts and bolts of the event.

This can include managing speakers and exhibitors, planning all F&B, and arranging all off-site events and activities – freeing you up to focus on the big picture.

PROS

  •   With time-consuming logistics off of your plate, you can now manage the event from a higher level and concentrate on the content that really matters to you and your attendees.
  •   Many third-parties have worked on events of all types and sizes and are familiar with the essential tasks, the details involved and the timeline of each
  •   Because third parties are able to charge a commission to the hotel and several other vendors they use, their services to you often come free of charge.

CONS

  •   Again, third parties may have biases with certain vendors (such as transportation providers, AV companies, and destination management companies) that they are awarded incentives and commissions from. These meeting planners may push for a vendor, even if they are not within your budget or in your best interest.
  •   Outsourcing the logistics of your event to another planner can easily get complicated. Without thorough communication, significant details can fall through the cracks, information can be misinterpreted, and deadlines can be missed.
  •   You need to invest a lot of time to thoroughly educate the third party on your company’s objectives, event goals, company culture, how your company likes to do business, introduce them to decision makers and educate them on your team’s procedures.

Full-Service Meeting Management

Perhaps you have too many events on the calendar. Perhaps you’re called on to act as more of a strategy lead for the entire department. Or, perhaps you and your staff have plenty of other projects to work on.

In that case, you can outsource a third-party meeting planner or meeting planning firm to handle the entire event, from site selection to logistics to event follow-up and reporting.

PROS

  •   You can maximize your purchasing power when you have access to the third-party’s established relationships with vendors and venues.
  •   You’ll save time on researching vendors, collecting pricing, negotiating, organizing all the details, collaborating with many moving pieces, etc. This will free you up to focus on the larger picture of driving ROI from the event.
  •   Outsourced meeting planners generally have extensive hospitality experience and are up-to-date on any industry trends that would impact your event.

CONS

  •   When you hand over the reins to your meeting, it’s easy to see how you may lose control of both the big picture and the important details at any given moment. Depending on the size of the event, the third party planner may come with extra staff, which means more people to keep in the loop, more lines of communication, more complications likely to happen.
  •   You can’t simply hand off your attendee list and event dates to an outsourced meeting planner/planning company. As stated above, you will need to make a major investment of your time to thoroughly teach them on what matters to you and your company and your procedures. This tedious process is very similar to hiring a new employee, with a complete orientation and on-going education.
  •   You may end up spending more money when outsourced meeting planners highly recommend event vendors they receive incentives from. This bias means you may not be presented with all the options, you’ll be driven to select a venue and vendors that are not the best fit and outside of your budget.

If you decide to move forward with a third-party meeting planner, conduct a thorough background check into their experience, chat with former clients, and reach out to some of their suppliers to get a better gauge on their work style.

Clearly define roles, responsibilities, deadlines and how you would like to be updated on milestones.

And, most importantly, insist they be transparent about how they are getting paid, so you are clear on any incentives and commissions they receive from both venues and vendors.