This is the first in a series of five Meet the Planner profiles, in which we get event planners' insights on their jobs, their motivations, and their challenges — as well as their thoughts on venue and hotel interactions.
Leanna Mosquera likes to be busy. Fortunately, as a meetings and events specialist at AxoGen, “there’s never any spare time,” she says.
That may not seem like a desirable quality in a job, but the ever-moving, ever-changing nature of full-time corporate planning is right up Leanna’s alley. “Going into the day knowing I have 100 different things to do and each day is going to look really different — that’s definitely what motivates me to keep going,” she says.
AxoGen, a human tissue company based in Alachua, Florida, creates technology that helps restore sensation and function in patients who have suffered nerve damage. For the past year and a half, Leanna has been running their educational events, which train surgeons on new techniques and data that allow them to better help their patients.
While the company organizes as many as 300 small, regional events a year, it’s the 20 or so larger programs that take up most of Leanna’s time. They’re held all over the U.S., each with about 60 attendees. “I know they sound small compared with big conferences, but we’re in charge of booking literally everything — meals, travel, hotel, an offsite dinner.”
No Matter How Big the Budget Is, Planners Can Always Use More
Even with a relatively small number of attendees, Leanna, who started her career as a planner in 2010, has been lucky enough to see her event budgets increase at AxoGen — which wasn’t always the case in her previous positions in the education field.
“Our company really believes in what we do. But they obviously want good reasoning and good data to continue to give us more money,” she says. Providing solid evidence to justify her event budgets has been easy ever since she persuaded AxoGen executives to invest in Cvent’s event management platform. The technology gives her and her team immediate access to all the analytic insights and reports they need.
And whatever money the company is willing to give, Leanna can use. “I think all planners struggle with restrictions on budget. We have a healthy budget, but it’s still never enough. I know I could make events run much smoother or give the surgeons a much greater experience if I had more money to do it. So we’re always trying to be creative.”
Attendees Want Meeting Destinations With Vacation Potential
For the larger educational programs, Leanna looks for U.S. destinations that have “a vacation draw.” She likes to entice surgeons with big, attractive cities where they might bring their family along or take a few extra days off work.
She isn’t alone: In Cvent’s 2018 Global Planner Sourcing Report, 21% of planners cited activities and attractions outside of the venue as a top influence on their destination choices, an increase from 18% in 2017’s report. Attendees, meanwhile, are latching onto the so-called “bleisure” trend. In a 2017 survey by the GBTA Foundation, 37% of North American business travelers extended a work trip for leisure in the past year.
Venues That Pay Attention to RFP Specifics Have an Edge
While selecting the destinations may not be incredibly complicated, nailing down the right venue in those cities isn’t always as simple. During the RFP process, Leanna gets frustrated when hotel sales staffs suggest alternate dates or too-small conference rooms, “even though we’re telling them our specific needs and dates.”
She says that using the Cvent Supplier Network has helped reduce those issues, thanks to its very specific forms, but venues still need to pay attention to the RFP details — they remain extremely important on many levels. If a response has the wrong name or dates in the wrong month, “clearly you didn’t really pay attention to the proposal at all,” Leanna says. “I don’t have time to go through 30 incorrect responses for each program that we do,” so venues that provide inadequate information are more likely to get rejected right off the bat.
If there’s a specific reason a hotel needs to offer different dates or a particular conference room — another big group, for example — the staff should be straightforward and transparent about why. “It would definitely make us try to be a little more flexible, if we knew all the details about why they're proposing something else,” Leanna says.
She also wishes that hotel sales managers would streamline their phone conversations. “I’m all about picking up the phone and calling, but they want to set up an hourlong meeting to go through their proposal in detail. I don’t have an hour to carve out for every single property that sends me a proposal.”
Leanna would prefer that venues answer any of her major questions via email or, even better, make sure to lay out all the requested information in the original RFP response. Then, a short, 15-minute phone call is enough time to talk through any other specifics.
Onsite Experience Determines Likelihood of Repeat Business
Once a hotel passes Leanna’s RFP process, it’s all about the onsite experience, especially since AxoGen’s events leverage just about every hotel service available, from audiovisual equipment to the concierge to transportation. “If the banquet staff isn’t refilling the buffet line regularly or the Wi-Fi isn’t working, those are the things that will make us consider switching properties.”
On the flip side, a good experience will certainly earn Leanna’s loyalty and repeat business. “If the staff is just outstanding and we don’t ever have to ask for things — they just anticipate our needs — we are automatically willing to go back to that property.”
She doesn’t expect that things will go perfectly. In fact, she lives by the advice that you have to remain calm, “even if the world is falling apart.” But hotels and venues must remember that for Leanna and countless planners like her, little things can go a long way in building trust, strengthening relationships, and attracting business.