Meet the Planner
This is the third 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.
As the leader of a company that plans 200 to 300 events a year, Steve Goodman has seen it all — good and bad.
In one particularly memorable experience, Steve’s Atlanta-based company, MeetingAdvice, was running an event for a Fortune 500 company, and all the presentations were stored on one laptop computer. The audiovisual vendor assured them that “it would help save us money and we didn’t need to worry about it,” Steve says.
That’s when Murphy’s Law took over. That sole laptop crashed during the CEO’s presentation in front of several hundred associates, and it took about 20 minutes to get it up and running again. “I was sweating bullets,” Steve recalls. “I’ll remember that day for the rest of my life.”
But that disaster certainly taught him “the importance of having a backup for everything you do, … whether it’s for rain delays, audiovisual issues, a food and beverage crisis. Always make sure you have a game plan for ‘what if,’ because the ‘what if’ is going to happen when you least expect it.”
It’s one of many lessons Steve has learned in his 15-plus years at MeetingAdvice, which plans conferences, trade shows, board meetings, incentive trips, and everything in between. The third-party agency works on a lot of association and corporate events, mostly in North America, because “we’re an in-house implant for several corporations, where it’s our team working inside those corporate environments,” Steve explains.
Hotel Attitudes, Creativity, Flexibility Can Be Deciding Factor
Because his 16-person team plans so many different kinds of events for varying audiences, it’s difficult for Steve to pin down the most crucial criteria when selecting a venue. The property must fit the needs of the particular meeting, obviously, including breakout space, general session space, and food and beverage requirements. He also must take into account the client’s budget and the destination, especially its accessibility and offsite event options.
Even the little logistical things can make a big difference. For instance, if the event includes an offsite dinner, does the hotel lend itself well to loading and unloading buses of people going to that dinner? “I could go on and on about all the things that go into picking a particular venue,” Steve says.
But, assuming all that works, the intangible factors come into play. “Definitely what we look for is the creativity of the hotel, their willingness to be flexible, and attitude,” he says. “So many hotels take your business for granted, and the attitude that salesperson or catering manager has when you meet them is probably the same attitude that they’re going to have once you’re on-property.”
In fact, any hotel employee can impact Steve’s decisions. He looks for “a level of professionalism from the minute you pull up to the hotel and you meet the doorman, to the front desk, all the way through housekeeping. The level of professionalism that is shown by the staff typically resonates on what type of event you might have at that property,” he says.
He’s not alone in that opinion. In Cvent’s 2018 Global Planner Sourcing Report, 45% of respondents said the professionalism and responsiveness of the hotel staff was the top reason for not returning to a venue, making it the most cited answer — by far.
Venue Negotiations Are ‘a Two-Way Street’
Steve also likes it when hotel staffs do their due diligence to understand the event and the client’s perspective — and, of course, event planning basics. “It drives me crazy when we walk into a hotel, and they don’t understand industry terms or the flow of a program.”
Another pet peeve? “Overselling the property, whether that’s with regards to how many people can fit into a room or some of the capabilities at the hotel,” he says. “You get to the property, and they can’t execute like the way it was sold.”
Hotels should be “totally transparent — telling us the good, the bad, and the ugly before we go to contract.” And, on the flip side, Steve recognizes the need to negotiate fairly while trying to get a good deal. “It’s a two-way street,” he says. “You want (the event) to be important and a good piece of business for your supplier, whether it’s a hotel or convention center, and get the best value you can.”
More Technology and Longer Lead Times in Today's Events Industry
That interdependent relationship will always drive meetings and events, but the way hoteliers, planners, and even attendees interact is constantly changing. For instance, “with all the consolidation that’s taking place in the industry, … it definitely has switched from a buyers’ market to a sellers’ market,” Steve says. “As a result, you have to book further and further out in order to make sure that you’re getting the right property for the right program.”
Another industry trend he’s observed is the infiltration of technology throughout the event life cycle, from the planning phase to the onsite journey to the post-event reporting and communication. “That technology can create a better experience for our client, certainly, and, just as importantly, for the attendee at any given event.”
Those changes — and many others — are just par for the course, Steve says. “In this industry, things are constantly changing, and you can’t be fixed in your ways. You have to be openminded and able to react quickly to changing times,” he says. “I love using the saying that God gave us two ears and one mouth, so listen more than you speak. … I think people who (do that) and are openminded and quick on their feet in different situations are the ones who are the most successful.”
That’s good advice for professionals working on both sides of the group business fence — the planners and the suppliers. When everyone is flexible, fair, and honest, the potential for successful events is endless.