by Esther Faith Lew | May 25, 2017

It's about the emotion, professed Lisa Hopkins, managing director, Asia Pacific, of BCD Meetings & Events. "Truly, that's the thing that I love most about my job - the emotion. To the client, it is about entrusting us with the most important part of their business - an event that involves so many stakeholders and has the company's reputation at stake. They have to trust us - and that is huge. We make sure that we earn that trust and bond with our clients," she said with conviction. 

Hopkins is a 25-year veteran in managing large-scale public sector and corporate events. With her extensive knowledge and experience of the meetings industry in Asia Pacific, Hopkins also lends her expertise to the development of strategic meetings management (SMM) programmes, of which she has focused on for the past six years. 

Meetings & Conventions Asia finds out what Hopkins sees on the horizon for the year.

What are the challenges and key trends that you see taking shape in the M&E space this year?
People say that it's going to be a tough year, but I say it's going to be an exciting one with opportunities ahead of us. We have seen the market mature over the years, and clients are open to exploring new options and being more adventurous.

I'm thrilled to see a positive demand for incentive travel programmes. Clients are becoming more interested in exploring different ways to design them. For example, there is increasing desire for more free time on-site, so planners need to balance flexibility with organised activities. Not only does this allow for enhanced participant experience but it is also a good way to manage budgets.

One key trend that will definitely gain momentum in the industry is compliance - a big topic that will take a variety of shapes and forms. As our industry moves towards being less regulated, clients find themselves with questions such as "how do I select the right partner to work with?" and "how can I be sure of a company's ability to work ethically and transparently? We are going to see more companies needing help in creating, implementing and enforcing meeting policies. Of course, this will have a trickle-down effect as to how we work with hotels and other suppliers, but our job is to ensure that customer compliance is in place while making sure that their events achieve their core objectives.

What is the driver of this trend?

Transparency is the biggest trigger. The need to have a framework for minimising risk and maximising security is also important.Transparency and risk are interlinked in many ways. As an example, risk could mean ensuring that a hotel contract does not expose a client to unfavourable terms. But the drivers for each client can be different. For some clients it could be about cost; for others, it's about ensuring preferred partners are ethical. At times, we have to be the control point and steer meeting owners on a path which supports the meeting policy.

Budget spend and expectations. These are the bugbears that could throw a spanner into the works. How do you get a CMO to understand your event spend? 
Indeed, it is getting harder to justify event spend. Yes, CMOs want to know what is being spent and to understand the end results of that spend. This is where we set the objective right from the beginning. The first question we ask a client is "what do you want to achieve" and from there, we determine the structure and the desired outcome. 

Sometimes, agencies get too caught up in the delivery of the event. They become order takers and overlook the objective. Creatively speaking, they may end up delivering an order of burger and fries and say "we have upsized the coke". But what the client wants is lobster and white wine. 

Creativity and ROI are never the twain. How do you marry both expectations?
Let's talk about ROI. It is not just about dollars and cents. It can be about message retention, employee loyalty or brand marketing. So our key priority is to help clients discover what they want to achieve and to break down the specifics of how they want to deliver it. I will say to a client, "ok, it's great to be able to achieve a percentage of savings, but as I understand your business and your audience, have you also thought of doing this as well?" It is about taking the discussion one step further, and thinking about how we are going to make it different.

Creativity then takes on a different meaning. Creative design is not just about the pomp and drama and the staging and the lights; it is also about how delegates are engaged from the moment they receive their first email confirmation to day one of the event to the final day and beyond. Envisioning that participant journey and how they will feel throughout is the successful merging of creativity and ROI.
       
If cost savings are important, then so should SMM. But these are dirty little letters that do not seem to catch on in Asia. Why is that so?
We eat, breathe and sleep SMM. People tend to throw around all these big words about strategic meetings management (SMM) , which is essentially an organised and strategic way of managing events to help companies understand where the money goes. That's it. It can be done in a variety of ways but it's simple, modular and organised.

The challenge for companies is to make sure SMM is integrated into the company culture and introduced in a way that helps stakeholders understand why it's being done. What will it deliver to the company? What do they need to do? How does it benefit them?
One of the great benefits of SMM is the information it delivers and the ability to have more substantial conversations with suppliers. Instead of saying "hey, remember that event you did? Did you know Jane stayed at exact same hotel two weeks later, and she got a rate that was $20 cheaper?" the conversation changes to "we recently placed business in your property for 400 rooms nights and were able to get a rate which is $20 cheaper with no deposit or cancellation fees. I'd like the same terms for another group which will give you an additional 200 room nights." That is a far more productive conversation to have with a hotel-one that is information based.