Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sending Soap to Haiti

Planners and suppliers who stayed in conference hotels at PCMA's 2010 Annual Meeting in Dallas can take some comfort in knowing that they already are part of the tremendous relief effort mobilizing for Haiti.

At all five conference hotels, housekeepers like Elizabeth Cruz, from the Hyatt Regency Dallas, collected used soap and partially used shampoo during the meeting to donate to Clean the World, an Orlando-based organization which will sterilize the soap and send it to Haiti. (Along with the Hyatt Regency, The Fairmont Dallas, Hilton Anatole, Sheraton Dallas, and the Adolphus collected soap.)

Clean the World is focused on one thing: providing soap to Haiti, executive director Shawn Seipler said on Wednesday, the day after the earthquake hit Port-au-Prince. "As relief efforts begin and, undoubtedly, will last for years to come, proper hygiene and the need for soap is essential."

Studies by the World Health Organization show that hand washing with soap reduces the acute respiratory illness and diarrheal disease, both leading causes of death for children globally, Seipler told Convene last month. Even before the earthquake, many Haitian children lacked access to soap.

Hats off to Clean the World and to all the hotels for participating — even before they knew how very desperate the need in other parts of the world would become this week.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Time to Make the Donuts … Er, Coffee

What’s the best aspect of PCMA’s Annual Meeting? For this writer, it’s the chance to meet real live meeting planners and hear some of the great — and often hilarious — stories they have to tell.

My first chance encounter at PCMA 2010 was on Saturday morning, in line at the Fairmont Dallas hotel for a shuttle over to the Dallas Convention Center. There I met Carol Crossland, manager of travel & meetings for Canton, Mass.-based Dunkin’ Brands, which encompasses Dunkin’ Donuts — what America (and Convene’s editor-in-chief, it turns out) runs on — and Baskin Robbins.

After we boarded the bus, I asked Carol — who was off to attend the day-long Executive Edge session on complex negotiation and deal-making that was being led by Professor Deepak Malhotra of Harvard Business School — whether or not they always had to have Dunkin’ Donuts coffee at their own meetings.

“It depends,” Carol said, “but the answer is usually yes. If it’s just a small internal meeting, it might not matter, but if it’s a larger franchisee or sales meeting, we always have to have Dunkin’ coffee.”

Carol told me that her team inquires with the host hotel about the exact make and model of its coffee urns. Then, she passes that information along to Dunkin’s Coffee Excellence team, which determines the exact right blend, grind, and coffee/water ratio that will ensure the coffee comes out tasting exactly like what you’d buy in a Dunkin’ Donuts shop.

She is also adamant that no Starbucks branding — including logo’ed cups, coffee urns, and Tazo Tea, a Starbucks brand — is visible at Dunkin’ meetings. This is so important to Carol that it is a prominent provision in her contracts.

But problems can arise. For one, occasionally the meeting location’s catering staff will not have properly cleaned and disinfected its urns, which can corrupt the ideal taste of Dunkin’ coffee. When that happens, it’s time for Carol to roll up her sleeves and — literally — make the coffee.

“Before one meeting,” she told me, “the hotel’s convention services manager and I were in the kitchen personally washing the urns and then brewing the coffee, so that it would taste perfect.” That’s just one of the many ways in which high-level PCMA planner members demonstrate their commitment to ideal meetings.

Soon, though, our chance encounter came to a close, as Carol had to hop off the bus to hone her negotiating skills at Executive Edge — which left me wondering whether or not their meetings required all 31 Baskin Robbins flavors, as well.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Downward Facing Dollar

The low value of the dollar against the euro and yen is forcing meeting planners to develop a new skill -- foreign currency trading, PCMA member Leigh Wintz, CAE, executive director of Soroptimist International of the Americas, told the New York Times in a story about navigating the dollar's ups and (mostly) downs when planning international meetings. And to act as hedge managers: Gregg Talley, president and CEO of Talley Management Group, Inc., advised event planners to use foreign currency contracts as a way to mitigate the dollar's fluctuations.

The story drew on the expertise of additional PCMA members, including analysis by Michael Payne, executive vice president of SmithBucklin; Phelps Hope, vice president for meetings and expositions for Kellen Meetings; Brenda Anderson, chief executive of SITE; and Brad Weaber, president of Courtesy Associates.