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When Aubrey Feeley plans a meeting, there’s a lot more on her mind than just the banquet menu, whether the Wi-Fi works, or how much square footage she has to work with. Feeley is a meeting planner and project manager for HMP Communications, a Malvern, Pennsylvania-based company that plans and owns a variety of medical and pharmaceutical educational meetings.
As a medical meeting planner, she is required by law to adhere to a strict standard of regulations mandated by the federal Sunshine Act. Failure to comply could result in fines of up to $1 million per year if she doesn’t carefully track nearly every penny spent at every meeting she organizes. Needless to say, it’s pretty serious business.
“A pharmaceutical meeting compared to any other meeting is just so drastically different,” Feeley told Skift. “I have a true budget and I have to deal with these laws that regulate how much I can spend. I can’t spend a penny more or less with that budget. Being able to deal with a sales staff that’s super knowledgeable about that just gives you a sense of relief and lets you know you’re in good hands.”
Feeley feels that way about the Hilton Chicago Hotel, and that’s largely helped by the fact that the hotel sales team knows exactly what she needs for her specific industry needs.
Three years ago, the combined sales and marketing team for the Hilton Chicago and its sister hotel, the Palmer House Hilton, came up with a novel idea: harnessing industry-specific knowledge and expertise to work with planners in those respective industries, primarily in the form of special meetings landing pages and assigning its 27 sales managers to different specialties.
“We wanted to find ways to have a dialogue directly to those specific market segments with points that were relevant to them,” said Gene Hare, area director of sales and marketing for the Hilton Chicago and Palmer House Hilton. “We thought someone had already done this but we soon realized it just wasn’t out there, so our team put it together.”
Christine M. Smith, assistant director of marketing at Hilton Chicago and the Palmer House Hilton, credited Cheryl Jakob, senior sales manager, for transforming that idea into a reality. “She was seeing a need in for pharma meeting planners to have everything a little bit tighter because they have more unique needs,” Smith said. “We wanted to put together a resource page for them that Cheryl could share with them very easily. That way, she could avoid having to send them huge files. It became a natural solution, and then started taking it to the next market.”
First, the team built a web landing page devoted to pharmaceutical/medical/biotech meetings and from there, they developed pages for technology, insurance/finance, unions/labor, and athletic events, as well as social/entertainment events.
Each page plays up a particular aspect of the hotel that caters to that specific type of industry or meeting. The sporting events page, for example, mentions the hotel’s proximity to Grant Park and the United Center, as well as the hotel’s 16,000-square-foot fitness center. The insurance/finance page emphasizes the high security training of the hotel’s staff, and assures planners that their competitors don’t book the same space on the same dates to avoid conflicts of interest. Pages devoted to international meetings and events, as well as to third-party planners like HelmsBriscoe and ConferenceDirect, are currently in the works and all pages are continuously updated.
Jakob works often with Feeley, who has organized at least a dozen meetings at the Hilton Chicago over the past six years. This year, Feeley is working with Jakob and Alison Wallace, director of convention sales, to host two meetings at the Hilton Chicago — the annual Amputation Prevention Symposium for cardiologists and the annual Patient-Centered Medical Home Congress for primary care physicians.
The cardiology meeting has been at the Hilton Chicago many times before. “We’ve planted our flag there,” said Feeley. “They anticipate our needs before we even have to ask for anything, and it makes for a flawless and seamless event.” The primary care meeting was at the Hilton San Francisco last year, but for 2016, Feeley wanted to move it to Chicago. “We thought, ‘why not bring that meeting there as well?’ We knew we were in good hands there.”
Knowing that she has a knowledgeable sales team member whom she can rely on at the hotel, one who knows her industry and meeting needs specifically, makes all the difference, Feeley said. “I feel like they’re more a part of our team than the Hilton team. They fight for our needs and know exactly what we want. They’re advocates for us.”
Hare said that because his sales team is made up of experts well versed in each of those industries, it makes the conversations between the planners and his salesforce that much better and more in-depth. “They can ask them more important questions — not just the typical ‘what keeps you up at night?’ We’re richer partners that way.”
As far as Hare knows, his two Hilton properties are the only ones under the Hilton flag to employ this type of sales strategy for meetings, and those meetings keep him and his staff fairly busy. Together, both hotels host about 17,000 meetings each year. Meeting groups comprise 70 percent of business at the Hilton Chicago and 45 to 50 percent of business at the Palmer House Hilton.
Additionally, Smith and her marketing team also make themselves available to planners to help them craft effective marketing campaigns for their meetings and events. After speaking with the planner, she’ll put together a comprehensive marketing plan and execute a social media strategy for their event — all complimentary. So far, Smith said she has done this for four different groups over the past 18 months, and it’s something more groups are asking for now.
“It’s sitting down and having a conversation with them, and discovering what it is they value what they need form a marketing side, pre-event, during the event, and after the event,” Smith said. “Maybe it’s an email blast, or a web page, or creating an historic fact sheet, or launching a social media trivia campaign that’s interactive.”
Even though it’s often easier these days for people to connect by phone or via the Internet, Hare said he doesn’t see any slow down in meeting business at his properties. “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” he said. “What’s still so critical is it’s still about people connecting with people. The more opportunities that planners can have to connect, the more successful they are.”
He added, “Meetings never left. People continue to do meetings. They will always continue to do meetings because they are the best way to conduct business.”