Faced by a flu pandemic crisis that required a flurry of unforeseen meetings, a corporate travel executive at a pharmaceuticals firm realized he had to transform his company’s “freestyle” approach to meetings into an end-to-end Strategic Meetings Management Program (SMMP).
The result has been greatly improved efficiency and cost savings in virtually every sector of the company.
Look at how things work – or don’t work
When the crisis hit, “we decided to look at how our meeting systems worked,” said Will Anderson, deputy director of travel services at Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of the Sanofi-Aventis Group, in Swiftwater, Penn.
After consulting with the head meetings manager, Anderson, who oversees both travel and meetings, decided to adopt the planning solutions offered by the meetings software company StarCite.
“That has enabled us to build invitation pages, to register attendees, to build budgets and much more. Together, we now have a well-defined meetings management strategy in place,” Anderson said.
As a result of this heightened efficiency, the Swiftwater office is now able to run 460 meetings, up from 200.
“We continue to purchase new modules, which afford us free training. As a result we’re growing and have added an additional meeting planner.”
The efforts of Anderson and his team have been recognized for best practices by the Global Business Travel Association
Defining the meetings universe
Capturing data on meetings and travel spend is crucial for all companies, but especially so for a company such as Sanofi Pasteur.
“Because we are a pharmaceutical company and because of the sunshine acts under which we operate, we have to report everything we spend,” Anderson said.
“StarCite allows us to capture all our data, and it’s very granular data, and report it. That includes any money we spend, including any dealing with doctors and other speakers.”
As a result of having its SMMP in place, Sanofi Pasteur now has a baseline of spend across the company, putting it in a better position to negotiate with suppliers.
“It’s an electronic funnel” Anderson said. “You know how much you spent with Marriott or Hyatt or whoever the supplier is. All the divisions can leverage that spend so they can negotiate better.”
Capturing its spending data means that, for the first time, Sanofi Pasteur can target a company-wide savings goal and can get a grip on how much a meeting will cost.
“We can define our meeting planning universe. There are so many different forms of payment with which we get involved that it’s sometimes difficult to know how much the company is spending,” Anderson said.
Consulting the calendar
Among other advantages is the ability to track compliance, including who approved the meeting and why, he added.
“We are also able to have a master calendar for the company so the company as a whole knows about all the meetings that are taking place,” he said, adding that the master calendar is a useful tool when meetings cancellations occur.
“If we make a deposit and it turns out somebody else in the company can use that meeting time and space and they see it on the master calendar, we can still use it.”
Templates for small meetings
One of the SMMP accomplishments Anderson takes pride in is establishing a template for small meeting contracts.
Using a small meetings solutions product, Sanofi Pasteur “put together a sort of Petri dish where we negotiate contracts with affiliates local to my office in Swiftwater. We were able to pre-negotiate contract terms and conditions that could be used for all our meetings.
“Now we have rolled out those basics to administrators in other offices, with still more to come.”
The new system means that administrators in different offices no longer have to make phone calls back and forth. Instead, they can book an offsite meeting of up to 200 people – including overnights – simply by using the systems in place.
“For a second tier of service, which might be larger meetings, administrators must go to a traditional meeting planner within the company,” Anderson said. “And for a third level of service, which might be a larger or national meeting, they might use a third party meetings management company.”
Payment to suppliers has also has been made far simpler. Expenses are charged to an American Express Corporate Meeting Card, managed by Anderson’s group.
An integrated StarCite-American Express tool allows planners to reconcile the corporate account with the budget on a virtual basis. At the end, pushing a single button creates an end-to-end auditing trail.
Suppliers benefit as well
According to Anderson, the company’s hotel partners are also benefitting from the changes, despite the fact that the company has more leverage with them.
“Hoteliers might think it’s a leverage situation. But they will also know their market share will go up if they have a contract with us and they seem happy with that.”
Advice to others
For others who want to institute a SMMP, Anderson advises them to first examine the available technology and then “make as many people in all your diverse departments know what you’re trying to do – and what’s in it for them.”
He is puzzled by the fact that meetings are frequently not factored into travel spending.
“A company will build a traditional travel & entertainment system, then take the meeting part and just tuck it in. The system we designed uses meeting planning technology designed by meeting planners for meeting planning.”