SITE Southeast USA chapter member, Searcy Cunningham, is Sales and Marketing Coordinator for Kowa Pharmaceuticals America, Inc. headquartered in Montgomery, Alabama, USA. Her primary role is Meeting Planner responsible for 11 meetings a year that includes Plan of Action meetings, Brand Team Meetings and an annual incentive trip.
In this interview, Searcy shares the value Corporate Planners can gain from being a member of SITE.
SITE: What is your role and responsibilities at Kowa Pharmaceuticals?
Searcy: Kowa Pharmaceuticals has 280 Sales Reps throughout the US broken down into 27 districts, which are then categorized into 3 main regions in the US. Three months out of the year (January, June, and September) we host a slew of meetings which we call Plan of Action Meetings (POAs) for these Sales Reps and their Managers. The content of these meetings is developed by our Sales and Marketing teams in order to further train our reps on new marketing pieces, sales tactics/resources, and industry/market news. As the primary meeting planner, my role is to course all hotels, negotiate contracts, develop registration websites and meeting apps, manage all AV, FB, and meeting logistics, develop an annual theme to kick off the year in January at our National Sales Meeting, and any other logistical needs for each meeting.
In addition to meeting planning, I am also responsible for travel, logistics and set-up for Monthly Training Classes and managing inventory, ordering and control of marketing materials.
SITE: What/who motivated you to become a member of SITE?
Searcy: My previous employer, Liz Sutton, Sutton Associates, first introduced me to SITE. She was extremely involved with SITE and took me and another co-worker to a SITE event in New Orleans, LA. I fell in love with the people and what the group stands for. I was able to attend the SITE Classic in 2014 and, once again, fell in love with the same people for the same reasons. Since then, I have kept up some key relationships and that have helped greatly increase my job performance over the past year.
SITE: What do you think are the greatest personal and professional benefits of being a SITE member?
Searcy: Relationships: This doesn’t just mean scratching backs. I have found that I can be transparent with fellow members on challenges I may be having and gain their guidance. I also have found that I can turn to my newfound friends for support and insight into the hotel world and mind so I can better negotiate and work as a partner with my meeting hotels so we can benefit each other.
The people who make up SITE are thirsty for valuable relationships and are not just looking to add someone else to their contacts. How often do you get to sit in a room with hoteliers and ask all those questions that frustrate you about working with hotels? Why do AV charges continue to rise dramatically? Why is internet in meeting spaces so expensive and never available for negotiation? These peers help you either understand the reasoning behind it that makes sense, or they give you some inside scoop as to how to work with the hotel to get to your final goal. Maybe you are actually asking for the wrong thing? Sometimes internet cannot be negotiated because it is a hard cost to the hotel, so to supplement that cost, ask for a larger discount on all other AV equipment. SITE offers an atmosphere of trust and insight between suppliers and planners. Knowing how to talk to your hoteliers and suppliers and understand their side of the business can really help you have a more seamless and effective meeting experience.
SITE: What do you think SITE can do to demonstrate greater value to current and prospective corporate members?
Searcy: I think Corporate Planners are commonly looking for who can get them the best deal with the most free perks. To me, that is not a true relationship with value. So the challenge is…how do we get Corporate Planners to take time out of their busy days to attend SITE events so they can make these relationships and eventually become members? I wish I had the perfect answer, but here are a couple of ideas to think about.
Area lunches - Everyone loves a free lunch! Maybe a few of the members can pair up and take SITE on the road. Host lunches in smaller cities to reach out to those Corporate Planners, talk about the relationship benefits first and attending events. Don’t push membership up front. That will come once they get a taste of the organization. Connect with a Corporate Planner in that area to help recruit attendees.
Hotel Sales Reps – Use our current hotel reps. All hotel reps travel around their regions meeting with travel agents and corporate planners to inform them of their properties. Have them invite/host a corporate planner or two at a local SITE event or lunch. At each visit, tell a story about something SITE related and how a relationship benefitted a Corporate Planner.
The idea is to give corporate planners a taste of SITE and the type of relationships it offers, not to push another membership on them. I truly believe the membership will come once they understand the value and benefits that SITE can provide them in their job and on-going professional development.