Presenting a United Front
By Marilyn Healey, President , Association for Convention Operations Management
Throughout the overall meeting process, it is important for convention services managers (CSMs) at hotels, convention centers and convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs) to work together to ensure their clients feel all three areas are united and collectively have their best interests in mind. CSMs must work together to sell the destination as well as the amenities and benefits their particular venue can offer clients and attendees.
Starting with the initial site visit to any city, a hotel, CVB or convention venue has the prime opportunity to unite in addressing the needs of a particular meeting planner. As a convention services professional, it is helpful to be a part of the initial site visit, as during this process, CSMs have an opportunity to establish initial rapport with the client, find out their objectives and any selling points or specialized needs.
Devon Sloan, CMP, Director of Events at the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador indicates that at the Hilton, they are being asked to accompany the sales manager on more site inspections prior to the meeting being booked. “They want us there so the client sees a united front in the resort, so they obtain honest information about room capacities and capabilities and also so the client can see the caliber of person they will be working with when the meeting is booked at the resort,” she said.
Working together does not end with the initial site visit, but continues throughout the overall planning process. “Many hotel CSMs are now working with the destination to coordinate the off-site excursions or other entertainment activities,” said Mickey Schaefer, President, Mickey Schaefer & Associates LLC, who specializes in providing strategic direction for the meetings industry, tourism and associations. “It’s challenging for the CSM alone to be more creative with the experience or activity, so working together with the destination CVB really helps the CSM create a unique way to engage the planner, helping them understand everyone is collectively committed to the experience of the attendee, especially when they are off-site.”
Planning activities outside of the conference venue gives CSMs a better opportunity to create emotional connections with attendees, in turn, increasing the chance of them returning, committing to return at another time or having other groups return, according to Schaefer.
She added, “With new tools such as social media being utilized, meeting attendees can now tell thousands of their colleagues and friends whether they enjoyed (or didn't enjoy) their meeting experience,” she said. “Therefore, CSMs and their clients working together to refine and define a customer's experience is crucial to the destination and the important 'word-of-mouth' or 'word-of-thumb' marketing that results.”
CSM Communication: Creating an Open Door Policy
A big factor in the success of any event is effective communication between CSMs and their counterparts at the destination which helps to further showcase the unity between areas.
Shawn-Ta Wilson, CMP, Assistant Director of Convention Services at the Tampa Convention Center indicates that her center has developed a great relationship with the CVB CSMs. “I fully believe in open communication between CSMs of all three disciplines when managing an event,” she said. “If I have been successful in reaching the client by e-mail whereas the CVB CSM has been trying primarily by phone and has not received any feedback, I will let them know that e-mail seems to be the client’s preferred choice of communication.”
“If there is anything I can suggest to enhance the group’s overall experience in our city, I will solicit the help of other CSMs at hotels or at the CVB to make that happen. I also leave myself open to receiving suggestions from them,” she added.
Sheila Mires, CMP, Associate Director of Convention Services at Visit Baltimore explains keeping everyone in the loop is the best way to showcase the unity between areas. “Copying all parties and keeping the communication open within the city makes a huge difference,” she said. “We have also implemented quarterly meetings with the convention center as well as the directors of events for all hotels in the city where we review upcoming groups, sites and promotion tips.”
Client Communication: Being an Accessible Resource
In addition to communicating with their counterparts, CSMs must also evaluate the best way to communicate with their clients. “Each client is unique and the key is to hone in early on what works for them,” Wilson said. “Some clients prefer to discuss things over the phone versus e-mail, but it is important to be able to adjust to your client’s preferred mode of communication.”
“Once a client is turned definite in our system, I send a welcome e-mail to each, whether or not I have met them, outlining the services they’ll receive. I then e-mail or call them every three months from that time until their meeting, unless it is over a year out,” said Karen Kelly, Director of Destination Services at the Savannah CVB and Chamber. “If it is over a year out until the meeting, I wait until the year prior to the meeting to begin contacting them every three months.”
Madonna Carr, CMP, Vice President of Destination Services at Meet Minneapolis agreed with Kelly and said, “The first communication with the client is typically done verbally or in-person during the site visit to Minneapolis,” she said. “The majority of the communication after that is done via e-mail.”
Zack Davis, Convention Services Manager at the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau indicated 80 percent of his communication is conducted via e-mail. “E-mail acts as a quick-hitter so to speak. You can fire off multiple e-mails quickly to multiple people at the same organization,” he said. “I work with not only the meeting planner but their staff as well, so I have to be able to answer a variety of questions quickly to a variety of people.”
“Since smart phones are so widespread, you can answer a client’s request pretty much anywhere, anytime. This allows for a seamless line of communication that makes the client feel comfortable when a need arises,” he added.
At the request of his clients, Davis has been participating in webinars to help answer questions from attendees. He believes webinars will continue to grow in popularity and the industry will begin to see video conferencing become more commonplace in the future.
CVB destination materials can be great resources for centers and hotels when promoting a venue. To help drive clients to their city, destinations utilize a variety of marketing tools to showcase their city’s features. Kelly indicated she utilizes a Destination Services sell sheet that is included in sales packets and a Passkey sell sheet that is included in city-wide clients’ sales packets to help attract interest from prospective clients to the destination.
Davis explains the variety of materials Louisville utilizes to showcase the city and its activities. “We utilize a lot of print materials and we usually package them in different ways and use teasers to lure clients to our website or to individual sales people,” he said. “We also execute a lot of e-mail campaigns with the same teasers and information on the city. If there is something new going on then we will use that as a reason to send something out.”
“One of our salespeople went to ASAE in L.A. and was part of the Tucson Convention and Visitor Bureau booth—a joint effort to sell our property and the city,” said Sloan. “We also participated in an MPI week-end educational event in Tucson where many of the properties hosted MPI members throughout Arizona to rooms, meals, breaks and educational forums, sponsored by MPI, but coordinated by one of our CVB staff—again, a joint effort to show what we can do for clients who hold meetings in our state.”
Rhonda Eaton, CMP, Event Services Manager at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center explains that she uses every opportunity to promote her city during the site visit. “Reno is a small town with a big town feel. I like to talk about the proximity of the center to all the properties here in Reno to the ease of getting to and from,” she said. “There’s a saying in Reno, ‘you can be anywhere in 15 minutes,’ clients perk up when they hear that one.”
“I have two different cities that have a walkable downtown area—the attendees love it and they talk about the experience with their friends,” said Schaefer. “The cities really work on promoting and celebrating it with their future and current clients. This is a way for them to really work together to help attendees become transformed in some way by the destination and want to go back.”
“Cities that work together are noticeable to the client and truly elevate themselves above their competition,” added Schaefer.
Benefiting the Client
“I have found it’s most important to get across early that we as services managers are here for the clients,” said Kelly. “Once they understand who you are and what you’ll be providing them, they’ll contact you when needed.”
Wilson agreed and added, “There really must be a united front as none of us can succeed without the cooperation of the other,” she said.
Marilyn Healey was formerly President of the Association for Convention Operations Management (ACOM), an association dedicated to advancing the practice of convention services management in the meetings industry, and is also Senior Convention Services Manager for the Hyatt Regency Long Beach. Ms. Healey formerly served as Director of Meetings & Convention Services at the Hilton Long Beach Hotel and Conference Center, and then the Hyatt Orange County. An ACOM member since 1996, Ms. Healey received the ACOM Member of the Year Award in 2001. Ms. Healey can be contacted at 562-491-1234. or Marilyn.Healey@Hyatt.com Extended Bio...
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