In an effort to better understand the idiosyncrasies and stressors of the job, lets find out what the most challenging parts of the job are. Here’s the top 5 challenges faced by Meeting Planners:
Planners within the pharmaceutical, medical and healthcare worlds have become religious in insuring that every aspect of every HCP (health care professional) meeting falls within the constantly changing parameters set forth by the government, and their own internal regulations. Venue selection and making certain that the location does not come across as a “vacation destination or resort” and that the hotel selected falls within the HCP compliance standards. Menu price caps which initially sound feasible, but once you take wine with dinner and a cocktail reception into consideration that $125 dinner cap suddenly becomes very challenging. Ensuring that every meeting AND meal has an educational component attached to it. Entertainment….it doesn’t exist in this world unless the attendees foot the bill. Internal compliance as it relates to working within the addendums issued by the individual companies legal departments; getting alignment and agreement can take time and energy planners don’t have to spare.
In the supplier dominated world that we all currently reside in, availability has become a HOT topic across the country, especially with the influx of short-term meeting demand. Planners understand that availability is tight when the turn-around for a program from receiving the RFP to arriving on site is only a few short months, at best. The challenge is that the Decision Makers don’t! Planners now have the difficult task of education decision makers, and attempting to provide them with the city they want to be in, but explaining why they may not be over the exact dates they want.
We all know that most medical/pharmaceutical meetings are space hogs; and the planners understand that too! The challenge they face is that RFPs are being Turned Down right out the gate if the Rooms-to-Space ratio isn’t perfect for the hotel, or if the pattern isn’t perfect. BE HONEST before turning down a piece of business. Tell them the rooms-to-space is off, and what would need to happen to make it work for the hotel. Is it rooms rental, forgoing 24-hour holds, etc? SIMPLY SHARE that information with them…..they GET IT! At the same time, please DO NOT propose space that really won’t work just to send a proposal. Get creative with them to figure out a way to make it all work or propose a pattern that would work. Again, with the suppliers’ market being the way that it is, planners know that they have to be flexible to get the location they want, or the dates that they want, or the hotel that they want. Rates and flexibility to work with them on concessions. So, maybe we can’t reduce the rate, but can we budge on a concession that is important to them to be a great partner and build that relationship, without setting a precedent?
KEEPING UP WITH CHANGE
This 4th topic is a big one from whichever way you look at it. Technology, Turn-over, Budgets, City/Location, Content. Planners are shouting from the roof-tops that change is happening all the time and they need US to “go with the flow” as much as we can! Technology changes constantly, and with educational content being as important as it is for our planner’s meetings, they struggle with hotels keeping on-top of the ever changing technology and making sure that we can accommodate their tech needs. Whether or not we can is a “make-or-break” for them and often times, it’s a challenge they are faced with once they arrive on-site for the meeting. Planners want us to know that they are dealing with a lot of change on their end too, including turn-over of senior staff. Did you think you had a program in the bag and then all of the sudden they went from wanting to be in the mountains to wanting a warm environment? Its not that the planner didn’t do their job, but rather the decision maker changed, left the company, got promoted, changed departments…..who knows! But its happening, and its out of the planner’s control and they HATE it as much as we do.
Whether its on-site or RFPs, responsiveness is a challenge. We all know that needing a response to an RFP in 24-hours is highly unlikely; and planners get it. They know that their sales person is not the decision maker on the property level, but share the process with them so that they have a realistic timeline just as you hope they will share their process and timeline with you. And once you give them a timeline, honor it. Some planners we talked with said it feels like there aren’t enough people in the sales office on the hotel side. Whether that’s true or not, the feeling is that maybe there aren’t enough coordinators fielding the leads and getting them to the right person immediately. Make the effort to touch base once you have received a lead, just let them know that you have received it and will be in touch with availability in “x” hours or days. Responsiveness goes for on-site, too. As we all know, things changes in an instant. Planners want a dedicated conference service person, who can “make it happen” at the drop of a hat. The do not want to have to go looking for someone when something needs to be changed, added, removed, etc. “in the moment.” Overall the key to creating winning partnerships all around is transparency and communication. Understanding the shoes both sides walk in will put you above your competition when working with planners from the medical/healthcare/pharmaceutical segments, and put your customers at ease. Whenever in doubt, pick up the phone and ask! And make sure you offer your planners the same courtesy you expect and hope for from them. We are all in this together so we might as well learn to play nice.