The key to successful CSM/planner collaboration is communication

Kelly Van Dyke, CMP

Kelly Van Dyke, CMP

This post is authored by guest blogger Kelly Van Dyke, CMP. Kelly is a convention service manager at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. Email: kvandyke@amwaygrand.com

Your venue CSM should be your number one go-to person, your number one collaborator, your biggest fan, maybe even your best friend (even if only for a short period of time). This person wants a successful conference just as much as you do. His or her primary role is to assist you in planning a conference within your means. Likewise, he or she is charged with maintaining the venue’s profitability, as well as delivering a pleasant and memorable experience for your attendees. Ultimately, the key to a successful relationship with your CSM is communication. Following are a couple of tried and true tips guaranteed to help you communicate more effectively with your convention services manager.

First, share information – and share it early and often. Tell your CSM everything you can about your organization, its conference and all the quirks that come with it. Don’t hold back. Include historical figures, past experiences and even those elements of your conference that remain a work in progress. In return, your CSM will offer ideas and suggestions to be sure your conference runs as smoothly as possible (given both the strengths and the limitations of the property). Likewise, if you are not experienced in a particular area, be sure to speak up. For example, I once worked with a planner who had very little experience in exhibition services. Ultimately, in an effort to break even, he was seeking new ways to lower event costs. When we started discussing exhibitor needs, including power and Internet access, I recommended these services be offered to exhibitors as add-ons. In turn, this saved his organization more than $4,200 per day. In the end, he looked like the hero. By sharing with me his goals, objectives and concerns, we were able to identify and implement a thoughtful solution.

Just remember that CSMs work equally hard for you as they do for their own company. Case in point: We ask a million questions in advance of your event to avoid those awkward onsite moments (if you’ve never before experienced one, consider yourself lucky). For example, if you have plans to place 300 stick-on footprints throughout the hotel as directional signage, your CSM would need the proper approval (in advance of your arrival) to do so. Although it’s a great idea – especially in light of the sheer number of blank stares I see on the faces of lost people each day as I walk the floors of my property – there are many considerations that must be factored into this type of way-finding strategy. For starters, there’s the venue’s approval process. This type of signage may or may not be permitted by your property’s management team. Can you imagine what a bummer it would be if you began strategically placing these footprints onsite and midway through the installation your CSM asked you to remove them? Or, better yet, if someone removed them all for you without your knowledge? That’s why communication with your CSM prior to your function is the single most important resource you can leverage as a planner.

Through thick and thin, your CSM should be a trusted friend and advisor. This person is your liaison to the venue staff, a key factor in the success of your conference and, ultimately, the person you’re most likely to work with on future events. The more they know the better. And, over time, the better you get to know one another, the more your CSM can anticipate your needs and requests. Share with them your plans, your expectations, your dreams and your wonders; they will breathe life into your vision the best way they know how. (Editor’s note: And if they don’t, kindly address this concern with your sales manager or the venue’s general manager.)

So, my question to you is this: What other recommendations do you have for enhancing the CSM/planner relationship? What’s worked well for you in the past? What “best practices” have you picked up and implemented over the years? Consider sharing with us an example of CSM/planner collaboration at its best.

5 Responses to “The key to successful CSM/planner collaboration is communication”

  1. 1 Eloise Luyk
    February 26, 2013 at 8:41 am

    Kelly is on target with her recommendations; the key to a successful event is communication and lots of details shared. Kelly was our CSM for a national convention last year held at the Amway Grand Plaza. She had lots of great ideas on how to solve issues that quickly became non-issues. She was a master at dealing with the complex and demanding personalities of the event committee and made our lives easier all through communicating often and including all the right connections.

  2. 2 Kelly Van Dyke
    February 28, 2013 at 9:49 am

    Thank you Eloise, I truly appreciate your kind response. You are a perfect example of communicating early AND often. During our planning phase, I appreciated your face to face meetings beginning one year prior to the start of your convention. Beyond doubt, this communication gave us a chance to get to know each other on a personal and professional level. You made a conscious effort to discuss publication and print deadlines; assuring all our ducks were in a row in an effort to disseminate accurate information to attendees. You continuously communicated your efforts and challenges and graciously accepted my ideas and advice. I truly enjoyed planning and servicing your convention and national train show. I will never forget my first experience as a train conductor at the infamous “ops session”, it was wonderful to understand the fascinating hobby on a deeper level.

    A question for planners alike: how early do you like to start communications with you CSM? Do you prefer face to face communication, phone conversation or email correspondence?

  3. March 7, 2013 at 8:30 am


    I’m so happy to hear you had such a great experience planning your event with Kelly at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. My experience has been similar. Kelly has the professionalism, the expertise, the ideas and the know-how to be a superb partner to any planner who is willing to share the necessary information up-front. And you’re right – she knows how to delicately manage those larger-than-life personalities of volunteer leaders, as well. It’s an important and complex job, and Kelly just “gets it.”


    I think you’re right to point out the importance of an initial meeting one year out. As planners, our lives are busy. We always have at least one program on our plates – and usually it’s quite a few more, each pulling us in a different direction. Therefore, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of day-to-day tasks, overlooking the most important big-picture details. At the one-year marker, I think it’s always important to review contracted function space and, of course, the group room block. Often, meeting needs change from one year to the next and appropriate adjustments should be made as early in the process as possible (while options still exist). I also think that if a planner and a CSM have not worked together before, it does take some time to communicate not only the needs of the event, but to develop a rapport with one another in which expectations are well established and delivering an exceptional attendee experience becomes a seamless and unified effort. Personally, I like to meet hotel CSMs during my site inspection. For me, because I believe so unequivocally in that relationship, an inexperienced or indifferent CSM could make or break my decision to select a property. Following contract execution, I then like to reach out to my CSM and communicate, as appropriate, from that point forward.


  4. November 20, 2015 at 7:28 am

    Pretty! This was an incredibly wonderful post. Thank you for providing this information.

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meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, running, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

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