Kevin R. Johnston, CMP, is a 25-year veteran of the meetings and events industry, and a long-time friend and contributor of Plan Your Meetings content. He frequently contributes articles in our annual publication and writes an online, monthly advice column on venue contracting and procurement. Kevin also speaks at many of the PYM LIVE Events. This month, I wanted to uncover some things that our readers may not have known about Kevin.
Kevin, thank you for everything you do for PYM. You run a very successful company. Can you give us some information about the Advantage Event Group (AEG)?
I formed AEG to address the need of making meetings more profitable through better contracting and procurement. Our primary focus is the contracting and procurement of the largest and most complex expense areas that planners deal with — venues, which may include hotels and separate convention center space and audiovisual production services. As a full-service agency, we provide turnkey meeting management services based on client needs. The difference between AEG and others is that our core service — venue procurement is not only [offered] at no charge to clients, but also, we revenue share our placement fees with clients to increase their profitability.
How does that work?
It’s pretty simple really. When we are engaged to work on behalf of clients in a procurement/agency capacity, we are compensated by the venues. Typically, 10 percent of rooms generate revenue. Based on the total number of rooms we book for our clients during the year, we share, on a graduated scale, a credit of the percentage back to the client on his hotel meeting master bill. That credit immediately reduces the expense line and increases meeting profitability.
How do you find your clients?
Well, several clients are referred to us by hotel or venue partners. It benefits them to work with us; and it benefits clients to [have] the leverage of an immense business network that has been built over nearly three decades. Clients refer us to other potential clients, and we meet others at gatherings like PYM LIVE, Meeting Professionals International (MPI), Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC) and other ongoing networking activities. It’s a people business, a relationship business. As a baby boomer, I rely on and enjoy meeting and talking with people face-to-face. People do business with those they like and those they trust.
What is your favorite thing about being a meeting planner?
The list is endless. I personally enjoy the chance to create the “wow” factor. You know, that moment where you see attendees on the edge of their seats.
How did you get started in this industry?
When I left college, I went to work on “The Donny & Marie Show” (back in the day). I had the opportunity to learn from some of the brightest and most creative production people in the business. My key takeaway was that you don’t have to throw tons of money at something to get stellar results — you just have to know how to get it done and with whom.
Are there a lot of similarities between working in television and meeting planning?
You’d be surprised! Most productions entail travel coordination, outside venues, endless schedules and schedule changes, VIP requirements, décor, budgets, late nights, low pay … you know, the same things we deal with everyday. [Laughs.]
In which organizations are you involved, and why?
Other than being a lifetime member of the Harley Owners Group (HOG), I’ve been a long-time member of MPI since 1987. MPI creates a community for its members to learn, grow and support each other. My best friends and business associates have come to me through MPI. I am currently co-chairing Georgia MPI’s Meetings Exploration Conference, which will be here, in Atlanta, Feb. 11 – 12.
Another upstart, but important organization that I have embraced is the GMIC. I am currently the co-chair of the communications committee. In Atlanta, until a year ago, there was no formal organization that was focused on uniting the hospitality industry behind the need to be more sustainable regarding meetings and events. GMIC – Atlanta, which started with a handful of planners getting together to “figure it all out,” has now become the first officially chartered chapter of the national GMIC organization, which is headquartered in Portland, Ore. I’m not a tree hugger, but I do believe that my kids and granddaughters shouldn’t have to deal with the remnants of our excesses. We can all do a little more to make this world a better place today and in the future. So why not start now?
I completely agree. What else do you enjoy about your job and the industry?
I enjoy sharing and mentoring. Over the years, I’ve done the MPI leadership thing from the chapter levels to the International Board. It was great and I learned so much. I also really enjoy speaking, teaching, and sharing, most of all. When I am not doing that, I am often tapped to leverage my relationships for the betterment of the organization — a little arm-twisting, you might say. I [am often] involved in raising money and cutting deals that will benefit both sides. I’m fortunate in knowing so many people in the business, that I can [easily] make a call and ask for a favor from time-to-time. Everyone wins when it’s done for the right reasons.
It sounds like you have a lot on your plate. How can people get in touch with you?
Busy hands are happy hands! I can be contacted at my office at 678-229-2403 or via email at Kjohnston@advantageeventgroup.com.