Meeting logistics

In preparing for your next annual meeting, take a few tips from professional event planners.

The annual meeting brings together all the most important people in a private equity firm's network in one place for the duration of a day or longer ? the general partners, chief executives of portfolio companies, limited partners, and even potential investors. As the annual meeting is a chance for private equity firms to display their prowess in making successful investments, as well as a platform for future fundraising, the pressure is high for the event to be just right, and this responsibility usually falls to those within the firm charged with investor relations.

Planning well is key, but time ? lots of it ? is of the essence. The two most important considerations in planning an annual meeting, says an in-house event and meeting planner at a New York-based private equity firm, is location and budget. ?For any meeting, one of the first things you have to determine is the message the meeting venue is going to send to the meeting participants,? she says.

One GP holds its annual meetings at resorts, so LPs won't go wandering around and visiting other GPs as they can in New York.

Hip and trendy, or old and established? Beyond message, there are important convenience considerations. Many private equity firms now hold bicoastal meetings, alternating between New York and California to accommodate their LPs, and often at hotels.

Other location considerations might be described as strategic. One GP holds its annual meetings at resorts, so LPs won't go wandering around and visiting other GPs as they can in New York.

Although hotels may be the most popular venue and have all the amenities required to host an annual meeting, they often come with a room requirement. A group of 150 to 200 participants, for example, usually require a booking of 100 ?heads on bed.? For bigger private equity firms, a convention center may better accommodate a large group of LPs, but the firm would need to shuttle LPs between hotels and the convention center, and run the risk of LPs arriving late, or getting lost.

Rental of the meeting space often comprises the biggest portion of the budget, followed by audio visual equipment. ?You need to think through what your AV needs are going to be before signing any contracts,? says the planner. ?AV rental fees for both staff and equipment can really add up. You also need to determine if the in-house AV staff is appropriate. You are often tied to using a venue's in-house staff or paying a fee to bring in additional resources.?

The third largest expense is usually catering. Holding an all-day event would require the private equity firm to have all meals catered for breakfast, lunch, dinner and coffee breaks. And if the private equity firm holds a dinner the night before the annual meeting, the cost of wine needs to be factored in.

Museums can be ideal locations to hold the pre-meeting dinner. ?They can provide a great atmosphere for a business dinner and can often accommodate larger groups then a hotel or restaurant,? says the planner. ?Museums typically provide docents so your guests get a private tour. The drawbacks can be the required donation may not fit in your budget, and museums are also less flexible than other venues in terms of allowing access and setup.?

Where firms can scrimp on is on the details, such as foregoing centerpiece arrangements and saving on printing costs by emailing presentations to participants after the meeting. Holding an annual meeting at a resort during the off-peak season may help reduce costs, but service too can be lacking as the hotel may not be adequately staffed. Generally, the busiest periods for meetings are from May to June, and September through November.

The key to planning an annual meeting is timing. ?Plan as early as possible,? says the planner, ?as desirable venues in major cities often book out a year or two in advance.? Setting aside ample time to plan will allow for site inspection to ensure that the space conveys the right message and the venue meets all the meeting requirements, from AV to catering and rooms for breakout sessions. It is also helpful to be familiar with the floor plan, as three of the most often asked questions at meetings are, according to another event planning professional, after all the blood, sweat and tears that go into planning a meeting: ?Where is the bathroom?? ?Where is lunch?? and ?Where is the coat check??

Thankfully, the annual meeting happens just once a year.