Planner Profile! Presenting Brooke Sommers President, Strategic Conferences

Planning meetings and events is second nature to Brooke Sommers, owner and strategist of Strategic Conferences, a full-service planning and consulting firm covering all aspects of meeting and event planning, including Strategic Meeting Management (SMM). In addition, Strategic Conferences has become an industry leader in content delivery and message development.

IAV: Brooke, you have been “In the League” for many years now… Where have you been and where are you going?

Brooke: I was a Corporate Meeting Planner for StorageTek, and survived two acquisitions, the first when StorageTek was purchased by Sun Microsystems, and then when Sun was acquired by Oracle. In 2010, I branched out and started Strategic Conferences to assist my clients with not just space finding, but through all variables of a meeting or conference, including the strategic “whys” surrounding the reasons to meet in the first place, and the terms of the development of the “how” to get their message across.

IAV: The industry has changed from when we all used to carry oversized three-ring binders to planners who “Plan by iPad”… What trends do you see staying and what do you see going?

Brooke: (laughing) I still carry a three-ring binder! Planners are very visually oriented, so even though technology is here to stay, face-to-face meetings and hands-on approaches will never be obsolete for some. That trend will stay. I actually think too much emphasis is placed on technology. It always seems to be a go-to, whether it is the subject of breakout sessions at conferences or the main topic at a luncheon – I feel like we are overwhelmed with it. Technology is in our lives, whether we like it or not, but I would like to see it take a back seat to some other topics for a while, as far as a trend goes.

IAV: Speaking of the trends you have witnessed, what is the biggest shift where hospitality is concerned?

Brooke: Companies are starting to give a larger role to meeting planners, whether it is a third-party or not, in the overall development of meetings and conferences. Meeting Planning is becoming a viable position and seen as more strategically important for many corporations, which is good. The trend is starting to shift to leaving meeting planners to professionals and not to overloading administrative staff with the minutiae.

IAV: It sounds like you are talking about SMM… the big buzz phrase these days… What are your thoughts on Strategic Meeting Management?

Brooke: There is more to SMM than just cutting dollars and cents off the bottom line, which is what some trivialize it to be. It has a much broader scope and that point of view is what I strive to instill in my clientele. SMM needs to begin at the nucleus of the definition of meeting… or conference. And then, it must explore why spending is necessary, how the spending is used and where spending can be shelved. It isn’t just the “how” of cutting costs. Too much emphasis is placed on this aspect of SMM instead of SMM’s core logic.

IAV: How has the emergence of social media affected you professionally, as an owner of a meeting planning company?

Brooke: I need a “Twitter for Dummies” course. Wouldn’t that be helpful rather than a seminar that blankets all forms of social media? I would like to tweet. I am so opinionated on things! Actually, social media has opened a ton of doors for independent planners and how they can branch out their businesses, so there are opportunities galore, which is why I need a tutorial on how to tweet (laughs), blog, etc.

IAV: Caramel Macchiatos or Chai Tea?

Brooke: Neither. I go for the Orange Blossom Green Tea at Starbucks. I actually travel with it, in case a hotel does not have it, or their tea does not measure up to my standards.

IAV: Do you have a meeting planning pet-peeve?

Brooke: Actually, I just wrote an article about this in Colorado Meetings and Events Magazine! If I had to pick one, it would have to be Hotel Executive Sales Management , because they no longer value relationships and the personal side of customer service… they only see things “by the numbers.” Some brands have done things like go to a more regional sales team that is not located on property and it seems so commercialized and impersonal. Not to mention, they don’t know their own properties. I remember back in the day, I used to plan events at hotels and I would deal with the same Sales Manager from year-to-year. It took time for me to learn how to work best with that person and for that person to learn best practices with my planning needs. Now, some are just a big wasteland of revolving doors of people.
Some brands have missed the boat on how critical relationships are.

IAV: So… if you weren’t planning meetings or helping customers with
their strategic meeting development, what would you be doing?

Brooke: I would fix our education system.

Questions or comments? Contact Kelly Kucera at kkucera@imageav.com.

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