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.

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