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Why Most Wine Lists Are Poor & Five Things You Can Do About It

May 30, 2007

By Michael Green

Most hotel and conference center wine programs are a study in vinous mediocrity. Commercially acceptable at best, though if you factor in typos, missing vintages, outrageous markups, lack of wine knowledge and poor wine service you quickly get to mediocre.

Remember what I spoke about in my last posting ― “Wine and Food: The Perfect Event Partner.” Think of food and wine as your marketing partner; it can brand your event.

Five Things You Can Do to Stack the Bottles in Your Favor:

1. Get the Wine List WELL in Advance. This will give you an idea of what you have to work with and how committed the venue is to a wine program. As you peruse the list, ask yourself the following: Does the list feature both prolific and boutique selections, are vintages listed (yes, vintage can make a difference), is the markup over 300%? Do any of the selections excite you? Does the sales or banquet manager know anything about wine (and wine and food pairing) beyond what they are trying to sell?

2. Ask For the REAL Wine List. Often the venue will present you with the banquet wine list, which features “easy” to get selections. These limited selections are high-volume products that are often easy for the hotel to get on a regular basis. Not a bad thing necessarily but can be limiting. Ask for the full wine list – the list that is used for the general hotel/hotel restaurant. This will often be more global, and more well-rounded.

3. Ask to Speak with the “Wine Guy.” Involve the beverage director/sommelier or food and beverage director when considering selections. If they know you are serious about using wine and beverage to help brand your event, they might special order something for you (often at a lower markup) since the venue does not need to hold onto extra inventory.

4. NEGOTIATE! If you know the markups seem unfair, negotiate. If you are planning many events on-site, they will (most probably) be willing to work with you.

5. B.Y.O. It might be less expensive and more of a branding/marketing opportunity to bring in your own wines. Even with a corkage fee of $10-$20 per bottle you might get a better-quality wine for the money. Source that special wine yourself.

Wine: A powerful event tool to make your event even more, well… eventful!

Wine and Food: The Perfect Event Partner

May 29, 2007

by Michael Green

FACT: Everyone needs to eat, most everyone likes to drink and everybody loves to talk about it!

All too often, cautious event planners execute wonderful events but fail to realize that food and beverage can be powerful marketing tools.

Beyond the actual taste and tactile sensation of wine and food there are other – and often more important – psychological factors that are more powerful when defining and differentiating your event. The world is hungry for authentic “can’t be bought” experiences and food and wine can provide tasty opportunities.

Think of food and wine (or more broadly food and beverage) as your marketing partner. They can brand your event.

Think of every decision of the food and beverage journey as a marketing and branding opportunity that can communicate corporate culture, goals, new wins, icebreakers, and product and service launches.

Thirsty For Inspiration? Think Reason, Season and Region

Get to the heart and get your inspiration for why you are having your event. This should generate some creative and appropriate food and beverage ideas.

•Expanding Markets: Develop a wine dinner or reception that focuses on these markets. Ever taste a wine from Mexico, China, Greece or Uruguay?
•Unveiling New Ideas or Trends: Use each course as a case study to illustrate new trends – screw caps, sous vide cooking, organic/biodynamic wines, organic produce, celebrity chefs and mixologists.
•Company Anniversaries: Go back in time and explore wine and food from the birth of your company; what did you eat and drink 25 years ago?
•Women in Business: Create an experience that celebrates female chefs and vineyard owners.
•Leadership Initiatives: Craft an evening where the food and beverage shine the spotlight on leaders in the hospitality industry such as Robert Mondavi and Alice Waters.

The season can also provide inspiration. A hearty more homey comfort dining experience might be great with the chill of winter while lighter fare may be more appropriate as the temperatures rise. Remember: We often drink and eat with the seasons. Here are some additional ideas that take their inspiration from the season and time of year.

•February: A Rose inspired event around Valentine’s Day. Some of the toniest Champagnes are rose and rose water is reemerging as a popular ingredient in many dishes.
•July: Made in America! A food and beverage journey that celebrates cuisine and beverage from different regions in America.
•Winter: Strong, Sweet, Warm and Fortified – A Tasting of Ports and Desserts.

Don’t overlook the importance of place to help craft an authentic experience. What unique foods, beverages and talent can you find in your region or the place where you are holding your conference or event? Sometimes the freshest ideas are right in your backyard. Also many of the finest wine destinations are located no more than two hours from a major city: North Fork of Long Island (New York City), Napa Valley (San Francisco) and Champagne (Paris).

So raise a glass and fork and toast the endless epicurean event opportunities!

Strategic Meetings Management -- What Is It, Exactly?

May 25, 2007

By Elizabeth Zielinski, CMM, CMP

I do a lot of speaking and consulting on this topic, and I can tell you from first-person experience that a lot of misunderstanding exists in the meetings industry about what, exactly, a “strategic meetings management program” involves.  The best explanation I have encountered to date comes from my respected colleague Sharon Marsh, who says:  “Many people believe that a strategic meetings management program is when you manage a meeting strategically.  It isn’t.  It’s when you take a strategic approach to managing all of your meetings.”  It is a collective process, not one that is applied on a case-by-case basis.

The confusion probably lies in the jargon.  What is now “strategic meetings management” (SMM) was once referred to as meetings consolidation.  At the same time, the concept of meeting managers as strategists was also entering the landscape of our profession.  Somehow, the two lines got crossed and a generalized understanding of the subtle differences got lost.

Implementing a full-scale SMM program is a major undertaking.  It involves measuring and leveraging costs, an increased awareness of ROI, and implementing processes and procedures that may initially seem extraneous but are part of leading to a greater payoff down the road.  The sheer size of a complete SMM program should not, however, deter you from taking any steps in that direction.  Simply knowing the scope of your meetings spend is a great first step.

The bottom line is that in a true strategic meetings management program, the value of yourself, your meetings, your department, your function, etc. is determined through process – not through any one event or meeting.

For those of you who may want to know more, I recommend starting by reading some of the materials available from the National Business Travel Association (NBTA) and Meeting Professionals International’s (MPI) white papers on SMM.   Discuss your challenges on the MiForum discussion boards, and talk to your colleagues at industry events.  This topic will be part of the landscape for a long time to come, and becoming comfortable with what it means (and what it doesn’t) will position you for greater success in the future.

Jack of All Trades, Master of None

May 23, 2007

by Elizabeth Zielinski, CMM, CMP

You can’t be successful as a third party unless you establish yourself as an expert.  You can’t be an expert without credibility, and you aren’t credible if you claim to be the best there is at everything.  It’s simply not possible for that to be true, and so claiming otherwise will come across as hollow at best and damaging to your personal brand at it’s worst.

And yet, there is a fine line between the “I can do that” spirit which is required of an entrepreneur, and identifying a key niche where you can truly claim an area of expertise.  I recommend asking yourself the following questions to assist you in walking that line:

1.  What are you really selling?

Chances are, there is a difference between what you think you are selling and what your clients want to buy.  You may know you provide a well-managed meeting with provable ROI, but your clients really just want to know that their meeting will happen on time, the way they requested it.  This is where it is most important to know your benefits vs. your features – features are the characteristics of your services, while benefits tell your clients what they’ll get because of those features.  Focus on the benefits you provide when considering your niche market.

2. Who wants to buy what you want to sell?

It’s always easier to fill a need than to create one.  For example, if your potential clients are not yet focused on the strategic elements of meetings, then perhaps being too strategic about how you market your management of those meetings is not speaking a language they will understand.  Stake your claim in a niche where there are already buyers for the services you will be selling.

3. Why will people want to buy from you?

Refer back to my comment above about credibility.  People want to do business with those that they trust and see as having specific expertise.  Building that trust requires taking some risks.  I would rather turn down business that I know is not right for me than take something that requires me to provide sub-par services, because doing so would damage my credibility.

The answers to these questions will help you evolve your core message, or niche.  And that will lead you toward becoming a master of your trade.

Strategy vs. Tactics for Third Parties

May 21, 2007

By Elizabeth Zielinski, CMP, CMM

We often hear that the path to success in the meetings industry, particularly for third parties, is to become more strategic.  There are courses, certifications, books, degree programs, etc – all focused on “strategy” as the great white hope for planners that want to ensure they will have work beyond the next blip of the economy.  Is the future really that dire for the coffee cup-counters out there?

First, let me point out that there is nothing wrong with aspiring to be a tactical planner – in spite of what much of the available industry documentation would have us believe.  I know many people who love and are successful at their work because they are so good at making events happen smoothly and professionally.  They don’t have aspirations to occupy the CEO’s office one day, and they are already acknowledged – even rewarded – for their skills as a tactical planner.  And, it’s fair to wonder how any event will come to pass if everyone is looking at the bigger strategic picture and not paying the closest attention to organizing and planning.

Many third parties have found an effective niche by selling tactical planning services to teams that want to focus on business strategies.  And yet, there is definitely cause for concern for those who choose to remain tactical in their focus.  Simply stated, it’s proving your value to your client.

My recommendation to those of you who prefer being tactical is to understand why you are good at those tactics, and then know how being good affects your client’s bottom line.  Why did you count those coffee cups?  Certainly, it was because you didn’t want your client to pay for something that wasn’t used.  Translate that to actual dollars, apply the same method to the many other things you do well with their meetings, and then tally up the money your client saved by utilizing such a talented “cup counter”.  Negotiating solid room rates by itself will likely amount to thousands of dollars, and many times a client has never calculated the actual business cost of non-negotiated rates.

Whether you realize it or not, when you do this one thing you have been strategic about your tactics.  And although strategy can go much further, it can also be as simple as I just described.

Youthful Choices

May 16, 2007

By Rosemary Weiner

As research shows, the average US consumer is very serious about how they look and how they feel. Cosmetics are a $26 billion industry in the US.  In addition, it has become evident that spas are no longer the exclusive domain of the rich and famous.  The Spa industry has become a $15 billion culture that is growing at a rate of 23% per year.  According to recent statistics, there are, approximately, 11,000 Day Spas and 100’s of Resort/Destination Spas (overnight accommodations) in the US.   These numbers are testimony that beauty care and wellness have become a significant factor in not only the daily routine of consumers, but also their leisure time.  All of them offer some type of anti-aging services.

The recent emergence of more than 1,500 Medical Spas throughout the U.S. is a clear indicator of the influence of our anti-aging and image conscious society.  According to a report from the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery that appeared in the June ’06 issue of Skin Inc., non surgical cosmetic procedures have increased 60% among men and 30% among women since 2000. In addition, injection of anti-aging products has increased among both men and women by 162% since 2001. 

With the growth of Day Spas, Vacation Spas, and Medical Spas, it has become clear that our aging population of men and women are looking for both psychological and physiological resources for their anti-aging arsenal.  Cosmetics have become “Cosmeceuticals”, and there has been a merger and blending of beauty treatments with Alternative and Holistic treatments and modern esthetic treatments.

Today’s “youth conscious” consumer is being offered a variety of choices to deal with the visible signs of aging.  The traditional “invasive” surgical intervention is a staple in the industry. However, there has been an emergence of “less invasive” and “non-invasive” alternatives throughout the spa industry.

Consumers that elect to go the route of “invasive” cosmetic procedures have been well advised by their surgeon of the risks and potential outcomes of their decisions.  In addition, most procedures are performed in a “hospital like” setting or clinic and strictly regulated by the standards and regulations of a State Medical Board or other regulatory agency.

On the other hand, procedures classified as “less invasive”, such as “skin peels”, “microdermabrasion”, laser treatments, and intermittent light therapy may be offered in settings other than a hospital or clinic and may not be subject to the standards and regulations of an overseeing government agency.  The consumer that elects to go this route, needs to be very savvy about the qualifications and training of the person performing the treatment they are about to receive, and the medical supervision and protocols that support the person performing the procedure.  Although these procedures are highly effective, “less invasive” does not necessarily mean less risk to consumer safety.

In the Spa World, natural and “non-invasive” terminology seems to go hand in hand.  Most credible spas offer a variety of anti-aging therapies that are based upon established ancient rituals or proven physiological protocols that prevent, heal or improve the visible signs of aging.

For example, in the western culture, we’re all about feeding the skin cells with “cosmeceuticals” to combat the skin aging process. Therefore, most facial treatments and masks, etc, are based upon that principle.  In the Japan, they believe that the secret to beautiful skin is more basic.  Healthy skin cells require adequate circulation in order to nurture the continuous development of new cells. In order for the facial muscles to be firm and tight they must be exercised and toned.  Japanese Ko Bi Do is an effective massage technique when incorporated into a facial treatment.  Specifically, it targets the blood flow to skin cells and stimulates and exercises facial muscles.

Choices are there. One only need to take the time to research the alternatives for the very important and significant decision about how you will deal with the aging issues.

The Need for Spa

May 14, 2007

By Rosemary Weiner

According to the ISPA (International Spa Association) 2006 SPA-GOER STUDY, roughly 32.2 million adults in the U.S. visited a spa in 2005. The top 3 reasons for visiting a spa were indulgence, escape, and self improvement.  The favorite types of spas visited were Day Spas (53%), Resort/Destination Spas (25%).  Cruise ship spas and medical spas came in at 8% and 6% respectively.

The Pink Report, another consumer trending researcher, reported in their March 2006 edition, when survey respondents were asked to identify their favorite stress reducers, 57% said that a long walk, hot bath, glass of wine or chocolate was their most common method to reduce stress.  The remaining 43% selected spa services as their favorite stress reducer, with Massage and Body treatments accounting for the number one choice, and Facials and Pedicures following close behind.  That research also indicated a consumer shift of thinking from a purely “physical” definition of beauty to now include a “feel good”, “take care”, and “general health” component to their spa visits.   

Another authoritative consumer researcher is Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS).  LOHAS publishes reports on five key market sectors which represent a $228.9 billion US market.  They include Sustainable Economy ($76.47 billion), Ecological Lifestyles ($81.19 billion), Healthy Lifestyles ($30 billion), Personal Development ($10.63 billion), and Alternative Healthcare ($30.7 billion). 

According to LOHAS, the core of the consumer sector is 66 million women. Their research indicates that today’s woman has a lifestyle that incorporates three elements, Health (Diet, Nutrition, Exercise), Beauty (Fashion, Style, Identity, Self Esteem, Well Being), and Balance (Life, Family, Career).  The research data also supports that they have a strong belief in and are driven by the interconnection of mind, body, and spirit.

The consensus amongst all three of these reputable researchers is that today’s consumer has developed a need for spa services not only for indulgence purposes and traditional beauty services, but also to take care of themselves, and balance their stressful lives.  For today’s consumer fighting stress has become a critical component of health, wellness, and beauty.  In that regard, spas have become integrated into their day to day lifestyle.  They not only visit Day Spas on a regular basis, but also will seek out a spa experience during their business travel and business conference obligations.

In conclusion, to feel better and look better, visit your local Day Spa on a regular basis.  When you’re away on business, seek out stress buster spa services offered by your hotel, resort or conference/meeting sponsor.  It doesn’t cost a lot or take much time to have a “stress buster” Chair Massage or a balancing Reflexology Service or a Shiatsu Energy balancing treatment.  All of these services provide maximum stress relief, in a short period of time, without having to take your clothes off or disrupt your business agenda.

How To "Clear" A Room

May 11, 2007

By Brian Palmer

One of the more interesting and sadder speaker selection tales I’m familiar with had to do with a large US based corporation who charged a committee of twelve to come up with recommendations form which the Chief Executive could make the final selection.  The group reviewed  one hundred and thirteen speaker videos and ended up hiring someone  (Not from our firm) who was described to me by a Senior VP as “a room clearer”. 

This is a wonderfully extreme example of a poorly designed selection process which produced a poor result.  It holds though a variety of lessons. 

1. Start the process with an end in mind and clear criteria for your speakers.  “We want someone real good” is all this committee was working with.  This group each with their own opinion had no real basis for evaluation making the process aimless and a great deal more difficult. 
2. A  speaker selection committee of twelve is too large.   Size was partially driven by the understanding that their work went directly to the CEO.  I’m not sure what the ideal is but I suspect it’s much smaller than that.   
3. Provide a budget parameter.  While it can be nice to not be hemmed in by a budget a number can provide useful focus and limit the pool of available speakers. They looked to people ranging from $5,000 to $70,000 ( The guy that bombed charged $10,000) opening the search to several thousand people that spoke within this criteria.

The Chief Executive of this company gave a lot of time to the speaker selection process.  While the speakers you put before your top people  are an important decision I wouldn’t want the Chief Executive of a company I had a large interest in spending their time doing that sort of thing  (He's since been "retired") .  Plus the committee became obsessed with making perfect  (read safe) suggestions and clearly failed in their quest.  While it's easy for me to make this observation I don't have a suggestion for rectification.  Perhaps the strongest move would be to find a way off this committee. 

In the last ten years there has been an explosion of excellent talent in the arena of speakers.  This growth has fueled an increase in quality.  It should not be difficult to find excellent speakers.  The hard part has become choosing those that are.

It Aint Easy Being Green

May 09, 2007

By Brian Palmer

It really isn’t easy being green.   Most meetings aren’t and those that do assemble large groups consume a remarkable amount of the earth’s resources.  Our industry has and will continue to improve its ability to recognize ways to reduce the negative impacts meetings can have.   

One of the fundamentals of keeping green is a commitment to procure items locally and reduce the need to transport them.  This can include your speakers and here are some ways to do it.

Let me begin by noting the struggles  many have had in their effort to accomplish this.  When your lead criteria is “speaker proximity“ it can become nearly impossible to find the right speaker.   A speaker’s proximity to your event can certainly be one of the criteria though making it the first one can make your search extremely difficult.   

But to waist the time, money  and the natural resources  to bring a group together to hear the "wrong" speaker is the antithesis of "green" and... un-wise.

Here are some places to look…

The internet was made for finding local speakers.   A simple search is apt to yield a great many speakers.

Institutions of higher learning often have a vehicle to portray those on their facility that might speak. 

Speakers Bureaus and their websites tend to sort people by home town as well as topic

The website of the National Speakers Association (www.nsaspeaker.org) can sort speakers by region and cities.   

Some creative searches can yield information about the speakers that will be in your meeting city the same time as you

As with any product or service the usual cautions are in order.  Most listings on websites are part of some sort of marketing effort.  Do your usual due diligence and make certain the speaker can do almost exactly what you want done. 

I confess to a prejudice toward reputable speakers bureaus.  They can present a group of people who meet your criteria  and standards  for you to consider.   

Your effort to hire people locally will leave several dozen gallons and a very large tank.  As this practice continues to grow the negative impact on meetings will diminish.

Survey Says...

May 07, 2007

By Brian Palmer

Last week's mimegasite survey about speakers helps make an important point. 

The question posed was, "Which type of keynote speaker is most desirable to your meeting groups these days?"  The results of the survey provided two distinct preferences.  The first was for someone who had become famous for a remarkable achievement and could inspire and or motivate.  The next largest segment expressed a preference for a keynote speaker who had worked within their same industry and whose ideas might be directly attributable to their work.

The lesson here is that  if you wish to satisfy a wide range of attendees your odds will go up if  you schedule some sort of mix.

One should also keep these ratios in mind when reviewing speaker evaluations.  Those that prefer one sort of speaker are apt to comment when they don’t get what they want. It has also been my experience that those inferring that a speaker from their industry, with practical ideas has a tendency to make their point more ardently.  I’ve seen evaluations from a thousand person meetings where 500 people filled out evaluations that were laced with praise for the speakers  and complaints from a handful that the speakers were not from their industry and, hence, not directly relevant.  Then, in an effort to eliminate all dissatisfaction the pursuit of direct relevance goes too far and  produces really bad results. 

Some conclusions from my almost daily "read"of speaker evaluations, surveys and customer feedback include:

--Audiences want an interesting speaker who will take their mind to new places and reconfirm some old notions   
--Groups adore speakers that do homework to ensure that their talk accounts for the group and  their work
--The best speakers breed some degree of discomforOccasionally the group is not too keen on the speaker that did exactly what the meeting wanted owner wanted

Having a great speaker at your meeting will never go out of style.   

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