For any offsite conference, there are certain sessions that must be effective to guarantee overall success. But those sessions aren’t necessarily your seminars, panel discussions or even the keynote presentation. Rather, they’re the pre-con and post-con meetings that you conduct with the property’s staff.
The pre-con sets the tone behind the scenes and ensures smooth sailing—or speedy damage control—during the event, while the post-con ties up all financial loose ends and provides data that helps you better negotiate and plan future events. Lynne McNamara, principal of Meetings Plus Events in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, has developed a detailed strategy for conducting pre-cons and post-cons over her 25 years of planning association and corporate meetings.
Getting Off on the Right Foot
With pre-cons, McNamara has a two-step system. First, she tries to get on site several weeks or months in advance. When there, she makes sure that it’s not just the sales rep who accompanies her as she scouts the best spots for meals, receptions and other events held outside the meeting rooms. “Don’t tell the property you’re coming in for a walk-through—say that you’ll be there for an initial pre-con,” McNamara advises. This ensures that you’ll meet the head of each department—housing, front desk, operations, concierge, F&B, security and recreation—for at least a few minutes.
What information does she get across to each department head in those few minutes? “I’m explaining who my attendees are in terms of demographics, positions in the organization and preferences and patterns,” she says. For instance, one of her groups wants as many seasonal farm-to-table items on its menu as possible; it also likes to spend much of its free time at the poolside bar. So she makes a point of meeting not just with the chef, but also with an operations manager so that enough servers will be on duty before and after the group’s meals.
McNamara then addresses her site-specific concerns. When arranging events in gaming destinations, for example, security is a central issue. “I always ask the property’s security director, ‘How do you keep unauthorized people out of meeting areas and guest-room wings? How many guards are on property at any one time? How often is each area patrolled?’ If the department heads know you’re paying that much attention to certain issues, it reinforces their accountability.”
And while much of this pre-con legwork can be conducted through email, it is usually not as effective as being there. The in-person encounter means that “if I am not getting the necessary responses through email during the planning process, I know exactly who to go to next—and they remember me,” McNamara says.
It’s Go Time
In the pre-con meeting that takes place on property 24 to 48 hours ahead of an event, McNamara meets again with key staffers from all relevant departments—which at this point includes the accounting people, too. “Every chain works a bit differently on deposit requirements and methods of payment, so we come to agreement on the payment schedule for whatever minimal amount is still owed at checkout,” she says. “Some places want the final group invoice paid before the senior executive leaves the hotel.” But because the senior executive occasionally adds a group excursion or hospitality suite while on site, “I’ll negotiate a 30-day window for us to review and settle the bill.”
Next, she asks each department if anything has changed on their end from the agreed-upon blueprint, such as a space being double-booked. Also, “there’s sometimes a problem with not having enough of the correct guest-room types available, so we figure out a solution right then so I don’t have angry attendees at check-in,” she notes. “I also reinforce the attendee demographic and make sure the hotel is prepared for my people, service-wise.”
To confirm this, McNamara conducts a quality check of several departments between the time she checks in and the pre-con meeting (see sidebar). From this, “I have an initial report card to present in the pre-con, and let them know what needs to be done differently for our group.” McNamara makes sure she’s known to everyone on staff so that “when I go and ask for something during the event, that person knows I’m not just another guest and will act quickly.”
Shortly after the event ends, McNamara is in contact with the accounting and sales staff at least one more time—not only to determine the final outstanding amount, but also to obtain critical information regarding the group’s performance. “I put in the contract that they must provide pickup reports leading into the event and again within five days after the event, all broken out by the category I choose,” she says. McNamara doesn’t always get the information without follow-up. With a final payment still due, however, a planner at least has some leverage to guarantee that those pickup reports—which are the basis for negotiating next year’s event—are delivered.
It’s best practice for meeting planners to stage a quality check at the property a few days before an event, which helps for discussion at the pre-con meeting. This includes:
-Testing bellhops on their meet-and-greet style
-Ordering room service to see how long it takes
-Calling the concierge desk to make sure it’s staffed during posted hours
-Observing check-in for staffing levels and wait times
-Wandering the property to observe the security presence