In an exclusive roundtable conversation, five veteran corporate planners compare notes on the evolution of event marketing, the growing importance of strategic meetings management, and the endless appeal of a job where ‘there is never a boring day.’
Kelley Butler, Director of Meetings and Events, McDonald’s Corporation
Susan Katz, Director of Corporate Events and Travel, True Value Company
Carolyn Pund, CMP, CMM, Senior Manager of Global Meetings and Events, Cisco Systems
Kati Quigley, CMP, Director of Event Marketing, Microsoft Corporation
Lisa Schelle, CMM, Director of Global Meetings and Events, Nike Inc.
How did you end up in your current position?
Kelley Butler I actually came on staff here at McDonald’s eight years ago. I was a consultant for them at the time. So I came in specifically for the purpose of bringing my event and entertainment background in, which was a discipline they did not have here.
Carolyn Pund My past roles have spanned meeting functions in finance, procurement, travel, corporate meetings, and event marketing. Prior to joining Cisco in ’08, I spent 11 years in event marketing at another high-tech company. I joined Cisco in the travel/meeting organization, and through conversations to build operational efficiencies between complementary job functions, the SMM [strategic meetings management] team joined event marketing and continues to support enterprise-wide meetings and events.
Kati Quigley I have been at Microsoft for almost 10 years now, but I just switched jobs within Microsoft. So for the first nine-and-a-half years I was director of event marketing in the central marketing group, [which] went across all events in the company. I just switched to the worldwide partner group. And so I own and manage the community of partners as it relates to events.
Lisa Schelle I was working in our event marketing/meeting management department, which reported up to global brands, and our department supported the entire company plus our affiliates. They did a realignment, because we did support the whole company rather than just global brands. So I changed my role and took the majority of the department under corporate services, which reports up to finance. And then global brands kept a couple of dedicated planners for their group. I am currently the director of global meetings and events, so I went from a department manager under that group and moved the rest of the team over.
Susan Katz It was a recommendation by somebody who I worked with who suggested that I take a look into the opportunity. It was intriguing to me, because I report in through the VP of marketing. And I thought that that was an interesting opportunity to really grow and learn about marketing, and I truly thought it was the appropriate place for what we were doing, because what we were doing is face-to-face marketing.
Have you worked in another sector of meeting planning – association or government, for example?
LS Early in my meeting career I worked for a not-for-profit organization in New York City. It was very different on many fronts, but probably the most different was that it was all at a venue. So the meetings were pretty turnkey. They were [a] foreign-policy [organization], so the role was primarily around getting the right speakers for the membership base and then bringing in the press if the press was involved. Here our role is really to manage the entire meeting, from the content, to the strategic alignment of the meeting, to all the logistics. There are about 280 meetings a year for my team, so rather than it being turnkey, each meeting is unique and customized for that group.
KB My background is a little bit different. I had never actually worked in meeting planning prior to coming here into the McDonald’s meeting and events department. I always was a third-party company in the strategic-business communications arena, producing major marketing events and entertainment. And prior to that I worked for Hyatt Hotels. But throughout my entire career, McDonald’s has always been my customer. So I have grown up with them for 27 years, but just in different facets.
I think the biggest thing that I learned coming into the corporation was how to maneuver and get things done. That was the biggest challenge – the layers you had to get through to get at the table in order to be part of the decision-making process early. I think much more so now from where we have come in the industry, we are at the table and part of that process, but it was a good few years trying to figure out how to maneuver and move things quicker.
CP In my early event days, I spent seven years in nonprofit, and have been in corporate-planning/ management roles in Silicon Valley networking companies since that time. You use different management skills for mobilizing volunteers – you have a budget, usually small, and figure out how to make it happen. There’s a different sense of purpose.
KQ Before [joining Microsoft], I was on the association side of the business and worked in Washington, D.C., for 11 years. I think the biggest difference for me is just the pace at which decisions are made and the agility that you have to show, because on the association side it would take several cycles and long, drawn-out decision-making time to move forward, whereas here it could change on a dime. You think that something is all set, and the next day your whole world is different.
SK The majority of my career was spent in the not-for-profit [sector]. The way we look at our events and how they fit corporate goals is [with] a much more strategic view [at True Value]. The whole retail side of it is totally different than what I was doing on an association or not-for-profit side. We make money on our show, do not get me wrong, but really the money we make on our show is not the way we make money as a corporation. In the past, the show was make-it-or-break-it for the budget of the organization.
And the other big aha for me is how rapidly decisions are made. People changing minds, people deciding they need different things is standard within the industry, but really at a corporate level, we can find out a week before a meeting that they need to gather a sales force in this city at this time. We are really responding to very last minute requests.
What department or function do you report to within your company? And why does it make sense for you to be located there?
KQ I just switched to the worldwide partner group, but I am still in the marketing team of the worldwide partner group. That makes sense, because how Microsoft looks at events is as a vehicle for marketing and for us to be able to reach our customers, our partners, [and] accelerate the sales cycle. We have strong partners in procurement and finance, but we are separated and have different goals.
LS I’m in the global meetings and events department, and as I said, we report into corporate services and directly up to global finance. That was a realignment made about five years ago. And I suppose there could be a case made for the benefits of reporting up to finance and also up to event marketing, which is where we were before under the global brand. From a strategic meeting management standpoint, it does make sense to report into finance. However, we are managing meetings and events for internal clients who are the business units, and so from that standpoint sometimes there is not always an alignment of goals from the corporate side to the individual business units.
KB We report into system communications, which is part of corporate relations. A majority of the things that our department is responsible for behind the strategic side of the communications and managing is similar. It’s a lot of internal business audiences, as well as our franchisees. We do not do a lot of customer-type events, outside of the things that we support within Olympics and World Cup, from a marketing standpoint. So for us it does make sense. We are very much at the table in all of the planning process when it comes to communicating and message development.
Do you operate under an agency model, where your clients are the other departments and they come to you with their meeting needs?
LS For us, our clients come to us. They have a meeting, they register the meeting, and then we assign the appropriate meeting planner for that group. So we are then working with them to create the meeting that they are initiating.
KQ For the job I just left [at Microsoft], we had internal clients where we produced and executed on the events from the other areas of the company. And the job I just moved to, I am actually now a client to them. So I own and create the event itself. It is a really good new perspective on the world; I’m going with depth versus breadth.
KB It’s similar to what Lisa does. We actually are responsible for our strategic meeting management program as well as the fact that we support internal customers who come to us with a meeting request, but then we also are responsible for designing and executing our two largest conventions. One goes to our franchisees worldwide, and then the other one is actually done for our U.S. managers.
How is meeting planning seen at your company? Is it considered a valuable professional skill set in its own right?
SK Absolutely. I think as we have been able to prove our value both in thought processes and bottom line, people ask us now in advance. The goal is to get them to involve us early, so that we can help them achieve their final goals.
CP I think upper management sees value in having events driven from an organization where professional event knowledge and execution is the core competency, and not second to another job function. As an organization, we are the hub of internal and external event and meeting services, encompassing market intelligence, strategic engagement, virtual events, Cisco TV, on-site conference centers, event technologies/global meetings portal, the Cisco Speakers Bureau, our incentive concierge, tier-one shows and conferences, metrics and measurement, and our global SMM program. Because of consolidating all of these event-related services and disciplines into one organization, there is recognition of this team as having the professional expertise for Cisco events.
LS We have always been a really meeting-centric company. And those are really the essential vehicles that we use within the company to drive innovation and brand connections for both internal and external audiences. But up until now that innovation has really been applied more to the creative aspects of events. However, now what we are doing is really incorporating strategic meeting management, so that is changing our role a little bit within our company.
So, again, we have two kinds of internal stakeholders – key stakeholders – at our company, and one is our CFO, who really does rely on us to put in place the strategies that are going to help gain control over meeting-related costs and business practices and things like that across the company. But then from the other side of the fence, working with our internal clients, they really do rely on the professional event-management team to help them execute and plan their meetings.
KB We are very similar to what Lisa just said as it relates to her company. We have a culture that is very much about face-to-face meetings, so the meeting-planning and creative-services department has always been expected to be part of those things. The other thing that we do here because of how global we have gotten is that we also provide training and education in meeting planning for folks that we cannot necessarily support full-service, so that they can actually go out and execute the things that they need to do in the way in which McDonald’s expects it to be done for the brand. So we do a lot of training to basically teach them to fish on their own.
KQ We do have a formal role that is defined globally for event marketing. We actually shifted it globally from event program manager to event marketing manager about five years ago to emphasize the importance it plays in the marketing and sales function. With that said, there are still several people around the company that think that it is the fun, easy part of their job, and so they try to do it without any sort of professional assistance. So it is still the wild, wild west in quite a few areas. But it has gotten much tighter and cleaner in the last few years.
What role do meetings and events play when it comes to helping your company achieve its goals and fulfill its mission?
KQ Well, if you look at it, we have external and internal [events], but they all lead to the bottom line at the end of the day. We are not an event marketing company. We are out there to sell software, and so it has all got to lead to that. It is one of our largest marketing expenses, though – it is only second to advertising.
KB Meetings play a big role here within our system, especially because we roll up into communications for a global franchise business, in order to be able to keep everyone aligned and meeting our business objectives and priorities. We constantly have to use meetings as our mechanism to do that, and all of the training at the various levels that lead up to that messaging. If we did not have face-to-face, it is hard to get all of that out there anymore, even using technology and innovation.
LS At Nike, our culture has always been very, very event-centric. Our company goals are really to drive innovation and create brand connections, and meetings and events touch every aspect of that. Our team is responsible for managing everything – leadership meetings, team meetings, product launches, media summits, sales meetings.
CP One of Cisco’s core principles of operation is collaboration, and meetings – whether they are physical or virtual, internal or customer-facing – are critical to getting business done.
SK We have a Spring Market and a Fall Market – they are buying shows. We set up over half a million square feet of exhibit space. The interesting thing about that is, 40 percent of that show floor is corporate space where we are delivering the corporate message, and then the other 60 percent is product that we actually sell to the storeowners. Displaying that product, getting them to understand why they need to buy that product – all of that has to be done on the show floor. And really all of our education and major events that surround it also are talking about what we are doing for them in helping them to be successful and trying to influence them to change in ways that we feel are going to be critical to their success.
Where is your company in terms of implementing SMM practices?
CP We have been on the journey for almost four years, and today have in place a fairly mature global SMM program, with service teams in the Americas, APJC [Asia-Pacific, Japan, and China], India, and EMEAR [Europe, Middle East, Africa, and Russia]. It is fully operational, encompassing policy compliance, leveraged sourcing, contracting, approvals and payment processes, website design, housing management, full-service logistics planning with on-site delivery, payment processing/reconciliation, evaluation services, spend, and compliance reporting. The key to any measure of success for us has been a strong policy with both internal and external partner support.
KB I am actually in phase one of the implementation. We have spent the last 18 months benchmarking with all of these great individuals you are talking to on the phone, who helped me get where I am at right now. From our perspective for a global brand, we were at the bottom when it came to centralizing our sourcing and contracting process, trying to mitigate as much risk as possible. And then when you talk about how you go about leveraging funds and putting your meetings at the right places – it goes back to, if you do not have the right data and the metrics to tell your story, it is very hard to go in and be able to leverage that brand.
When we first started the program, the one thing that I heard globally was, “Could we just plant it one place where we have a master calendar?” You put management on events that you want them to be at, and their schedule gets so full that you have people canceling meetings because management was not available. It is just little things like that that started the process.
KQ That is funny, Kelley, that you said that. I have spent years in my previous job here at Microsoft trying to get one central calendar, and it is almost impossible just with the volume of events. We were scheduling over each other. We do not have a formal SMM program, but we do follow a lot of the principles of it and have for quite a few years through the partnership the central marketing events team has with procurement.
LS Like Kati, we do not have a formal SMMP. However, because my team is the corporate resource for meeting management here at Nike, we have implemented SMMP within our scope of responsibilities. We have put a lot of things in place, like a meeting-registration tool, and we have been working on technology and building a framework to track and report meetings. We put a lot of standardizing practices and a lot of those tools and processes in place, such as centralized sourcing and hotel contracting. I think the biggest challenge is really informing and educating people as to why these are important. With our culture, you have to take a bit of a softer approach, so we built a lot of outreach programs really to do that – to engage people in part of the process.
Has your meetings program been affected by the economic and political climate over the last few years – the AIG Effect, the GSA spending scandal, and so on?
SK AIG/GSA really did not affect what we do very much. Everything we do we have always been very cautious about to begin with. But I will say the economy certainly affected what we do and how we do it. Our attendance has certainly been impacted at times, based upon whether the storeowners were doing well at retail or not, and that affected our sales on the show floor, which also is economically driven. We have seen some meetings canceled very last minute, mostly when looking at how the retailers are doing and what our sales are like.
KQ Obviously the economy did [affect Microsoft’s meetings program], and so we were much more financially aware of what we are spending and why, and the measurement piece is so much more pronounced and important to be able to show the real need for ROI. So I think in the long run it actually made us a lot smarter about our spending, rather than doing things just because they have been done before.
CP Our meetings program was affected by the economic impact. In 2009, Cisco took a bold step to reduce costs by eliminating internal travel and meetings, replacing them with virtual alternatives – meaning we used our own “Cisco on Cisco” technologies to have internal meetings, either by Webex or Telepresence. Three years later, it’s been interesting to watch. Some travel and face-to-face meetings have been returned; however, the new behaviors that were created from not being able to travel made people more efficient in utilizing webcams/collaboration technology, and finding ways to achieve the same results. It also spawned a whole new culture of hybrid meetings, so that today almost every physical meeting has a virtual component, and those events that went purely virtual have added back elements of physical attendance. The overall results saved a lot of money and enforced new meeting behaviors.
LS We have not been affected by [the political climate] at all, and we were pretty minorly affected by the whole economy. So we have been really fortunate in that regard. As far as meetings and events go, though, as well as everything else in the company, there has been more scrutiny. I would not say to any extreme amount, but just more disciplined in how we are moving forward and spending our money.
KB Yes, I would agree with that. I do not think we were impacted in that meetings went away. It was just more due diligence around being smart about what you are putting out there, and if you have the majority of your audience in the backyard, you should be looking [to meet] in the backyard.
KQ That it is ever-evolving. It is not predictable. And I get exposure to such a broad view of the business as well as the ability to meet people from all over the world. There is never a boring day. [Laughs.] I can absolutely tell you that.
LS I could not agree more. I think that we tend to be a certain breed of people that come into this business. [Laughs.] And I think we all have a curiosity about the world, and that is one of the main reasons I think people get into this line of work. You are exposed to so many different cultures and so many different people. On the professional side, the networking is incredible.
CP I like that part of our culture is to lead and take risks in doing new things. I like working for a world-class company that believes being average is over, and whose mission is innovation to change people’s lives. I love (and am exhausted by it at the same time) doing business globally. I love thinking strategically global, but learning to deliver culturally local. Each week on my team calls, I enjoy accents from India, Singapore, Great Britain, and kind of Southern – it reminds me every day that we are only a very small part of a big world, and there is so much to learn.
SK It is never the same; it is always something different. Frankly, at my point in my career, my greatest pleasure is building great teams to produce wonderful events that everybody can feel proud of.
KB I think the fact that we never have two days alike adds to the adventure of everyday life – the opportunity to be able to benchmark, collaborate, share ideas, be part of the change, from the bottom on up and then also out from the various different types of professions that we are actually touching and interacting. I cannot say that I go home every day without having learned something else new.
PCMA 2012 Global Corporate Summit
PCMA is convening its first-ever Global Corporate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, this month. Our five roundtable participants played a role in helping shape the event, and all of them will be attending. We asked them what they’re looking to get out of it.
Carolyn Pund I am excited about the opportunity for the group discussions. Whenever you get the caliber of individuals together that PCMA has invited for this summit, the one-off conversations and relationships provide camaraderie and value-sharing far beyond the days of the summit.
Lisa Schelle I am interested in learning new insights or perspectives from people outside of the U.S. There are just so many differences in the way that we view our tactical work – in hotel contracting, for example. From a more strategic piece, I think a lot of the conversation will be about SMM or things very similar to that, and how we work to help our organizations leverage and reduce spend and manage their costs.
Kelley Butler From my perspective, we have been so U.S.-centric here at corporate in the home office. While I do have the opportunity to interact with a lot of our world communications partners, just really understanding what our world means in their world – how we can enhance and influence it, and then how they can help reciprocate back.
Susan Katz I am really looking forward to hearing from other planners what their challenges are and some of the creative solutions as to how they are working with them. Our time frame these days has really shrunk as to when we get information and how quickly we have to turn that information around into meetings, and I would love to hear how people are using new technological solutions in order to help expedite the process.
Kati Quigley The women on the phone [for this roundtable] – we have been working on the program itself. So I am so excited to spend time with them. It goes back to the value of face-to-face.