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Thu 5 Mar 2009 04:00 AM

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Engineer's experts

Nowshir Engineer, founder and director of EMDI, the Institute of Media & Communication, grills Dubai-based Appellon Consulting partner Steve Ashby to find out how planners can step in, cut back and save the day.

Nowshir Engineer, founder and director of EMDI, the Institute of Media & Communication, grills Dubai-based Appellon Consulting partner Steve Ashby to find out how planners can step in, cut back and save the day.

How has the role of the corporate planner changed in light of the financial crisis?

Corporate planners need to go from just planning to being very economically minded in terms of being able to justify spends with revenue generation.

What’s better for the company than to outsource to someone who knows all about the business.

In good times it's easy for the CEO to agree to a golf day for example, but now the boss will ask ‘why are we doing this' and planners need to be able to explain.

Planners also have a big role in ensuring companies retain existing business through interaction with account clients and in generating new business through events, programmes, sponsorships and so on.

How can planners adapt to add more value to their role?

In this market being selective is critical. It's a matter of reviewing everything you do. Take a hard look at which meetings and events generate business and stop those that don't.

This isn't the time to be thinking strategically with the view that in a year's time it will work. If it's costing money, but not making any now - stop it.

With limited resources at the moment you have to be very focussed and targeted. Don't work in a vacuum; approach the CEO and say we need to continue to run this event and continue with these sponsorships because they're bringing in business.

How do you assess how successful a conference or event has been?

If it's just being done because it seemed like a good idea, but you don't have any knowledge of whether it's working then I'd stop it. There should be cost benefit analysis of every event to assess whether it has generated additional sales, revenue or recognition.

One way is to be clear about what the expected outcome is going to be, then your resources, such as people's time and money, are being effectively utilised.

What other cut backs can planners make?

Analyse all expenditure on the basis of categorising it, reviewing it and cutting it. If there are loss-making contracts or high-priced suppliers, renegotiate hard. Negotiate everything from the mints on the table to the folders, lunches, gifts and room rates.

There's nothing to be lost, everybody's in the same boat. Saving 10% here and there adds up to significant savings, making it easier for the CEO to say yes to an event.

How can cutbacks be made without sending the wrong message to clients?It would be foolish to stop doing the conferences and events that get you out into the marketplace, because when things do turn for the better, you won't be there.

It's about managing existing clients' perceptions to ensure that you look like business is in the pipeline at all times, so that they don't get shaky because they've seen you go from having a level of market exposure to zero.

Don't organise a lavish conference in an exotic location; this itself sends the wrong message with delegates asking ‘don't they realise we're in a recession'.

Instead change the ambience and the dynamics of the conference to suit the current situation and - even more crucially - communicate what you're doing and why you're doing it.

How can planners contribute to keeping delegates' morale up?

They need to make sure that it's clear that everyone's behind the effort. It's not one rule for senior executives and another for the sales team.

This is a time when the entire organisation needs to pull together and say we're in hard times; that's not to say we should be cutting the pencils in half and issuing half sheets of paper.

How can companies make incentives pay?

Don't stop incentives just make them self funding. One of the initiatives I've used successfully in the past involves creating ideas gurus.

Have a competition in the office where the team that comes up with the best cost-saving ideas becomes the ideas guru of the month and you reward them.

Make sure the reward is appropriate though - a week-long, all-expenses paid trip isn't. Instead there are a number of things you can do to incentivise people through recognition; such as arranging lunch with the CEO for the winner.

Why is it crucial for planners to be seen as the hero at this time?

The people whose job it is to do the discretionary things, like organising events and conferences, are in a vulnerable position with job cuts being made.

In times like these, organisations really value people who come up with creative ideas about how to do things cost effectively, how to save money and still get the benefit out of the event or conference.

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