Meeting Mentor Magazine

December 2018

ConferenceDirect Solutions: Brian Landers

How to Maximize a Meeting’s Buying Power

Conference Direct - Meeting Mentor - Headshot - BrianLandersNothing contributes more to a meeting’s success, said Brian Landers, CDS, than a clear and deep understanding of the goals of the event organizer — strategic, financial, educational or a combination. And the best way to achieve these objectives, the senior vice president/team director of ConferenceDirect has learned, is to become an extension of the internal team.
“Clients can be more successful when we provide them with all the benefits ConferenceDirect offers and at the same time bring good value to our hotel partners.”

A strong partnership is especially critical right now for his corporate clients. As mergers and sell-offs take place, a national sales meeting of 400 may become 800…or completely disappear. Hotels, too, can routinely change flags. As a result, Landers is especially attuned to such scenarios so that he can work through expansion (or cancellation) issues with both clients and hotel partners.

Leading a team of 30 associates, Landers identified some critical issues his clients are facing and best practices he and his colleagues follow.

Protecting dates. With the strong seller’s market, he spends much time educating customers on the necessity of protecting future dates at destinations where they want to be. This isn’t easy when companies don’t want to show liabilities for future contracts on the books. Example: For a national sales meeting in April 2017, he searched 30 hotels in six cities to find two hotel options. “If we’re having so much trouble 15 months out, what will we face in 2018 and 2019?” he posed. So it’s imperative for customers to think long-term. “Even with huge inventory in a destination like Orlando, nothing may be available in that quarter,” he said. “Other destinations may have to be looked at. We have to present the implications to clients if they’re not ready to make a decision.”

Protecting rates. Because “everything is cyclical,” Landers uses an array of tools to track market rates — what other ConferenceDirect clients are paying for the same dates and venues, as well as transient rates online. “We may look at contracting a future rate with a hotel and then back out a percentage decrease each year between now and then, knowing that escalator may or may not be enforced based on the economy. The customer can benefit from contracting a lower rate with an annual adjustment, while the hotel is protected if the market increases,” he explained.

Example: A large software company hosts 9,000 at its conference. Landers has to be very strategic in advising which future cities will work for the meeting size, general session, breakouts and exhibit space, since only a few truly can accommodate them. “Otherwise, in 10 years they won’t have an option,” he said. “And between now and then, we will likely have some shift in economy and hotel inventory, or even two cycles.”

Projecting bandwidth. When Landers first started, it was a big deal to get clients complimentary 800 and local calls in their rooms. Today, wireless connectivity and bandwidth capacity are as important to negotiate as room rates. Over time, he has refined how to negotiate the premium services that his clients’ attendees get at home and expect to access on site. The big issue now is: What will the Internet look like in five years, and what will meeting groups face that doesn’t exist today?

Until that is clear, the solution for future negotiation is: Document event Internet usage. How many connections were required at last year’s or a similar event? How much bandwidth was used on different days and at different times of day? “Not only must we negotiate an affordable price for clients, but we need to understand that hotels pay for infrastructure that requires revenue payback,” Landers noted. “It’s not free.”

Going beyond rooms. While ConferenceDirect was founded on site selection and contract negotiation expertise, as client needs have grown, it has added important services and leveraged its value to help clients save even more money on their meetings. Example: One client was unhappy with its decorator and wanted to establish a better long-term relationship. So Landers brought to the table a more competitive bid from a ConferenceDirect partner. It’s about being strategic, he said, such as contracting a destination management company with multiple offices in cities where a group will be meeting, or the same food and beverage provider in multiple convention centers being used for future meetings. At the end of the day, “it’s about how to maximize the buying power of the customer.” — Maxine Golding

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About ConferenceDirect
ConferenceDirect is a global meetings solutions company offering site selection/contract negotiation, conference management, housing & registration services, mobile app technology and strategic meetings management solutions. It provides expertise to 2,500 corporations and associations through our 325 Associates globally. www.conferencedirect.com

About MeetingMentor
MeetingMentor, the leading publication for senior meeting planners, is circulated to the clients, prospects and sales associates of ConferenceDirect, which books more than 3.87 million room nights. www.meetingmentormag.com

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