'There’s more understanding about engagement now'

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Andrew Crane

M&IT sat down with Andrew Carne, global procurement manager for events, international mobility, benefits and reward at BP, to find out how the Covid-19 pandemic changed how the company plans and delivers events... 

Covid has upended sourcing dynamics and price expectations – what impact has that had on meetings/events at BP?

We made a considerable change to our programme during 2019-2020, so those contracts were there, but because of the massive reinvent at BP, plus Covid on top, meetings and events really slowed down – we didn’t pivot in full from in-person to digital full scope events, other than some cases. When meetings and events returned, it felt like those contracts were getting used again and we were able to repurpose some of the work.

We’ve had to move budgets around somewhat with the huge drop in meetings and events, which led to some inventive usage of our meetings and events supply chain. Now, due to so much change, we’re running some audits and spot checks of agreements to make sure they are being used the right way on both sides.

When you’ve gone through big staff changes, these things can get lost with process of change. In terms of budgets and costs, we always want to be smart and efficient, and we are really focusing on the idea of purposeful travel and meetings and events, and of choosing the most cost-effective options – such as nudging towards self-serve instead of full agency support.

How have your processes changed as a result?

If anything, there’s more understanding about engagement now – we’re all time poor, so it’s important to make more effort to drive attendance and that’s why we focus on education; making sure event attendees are more informed up front about what the event is and that venue Covid protocols are clearly displayed during the registration process.

You mentioned you’re focusing more on purposeful travel, meetings and events – what’s driving that, wellbeing, sustainability, cost?

All three, and there’s definitely a sweet spot between all of them and we are working to develop that. As we look to education, we want to set a balance around travel and M and E – it doesn’t have to be all or nothing – virtual or not – it’s about thinking differently. Maybe that travel doesn’t happen now, but it could be wrapped into two other meetings at a later date, for example.

It really is critical that we understand how much carbon we’re putting out in the world, and we bring forward the idea of sustainability in meetings and events. It’s a critical part of the organisation’s culture and we all know meetings and events can actually act as a mirror to an organisation’s culture.

We’re very aware of the impact attending meetings can have on wellbeing. It can be tiring, it can be stressful thinking you’re not getting ‘real’ work done, it can be hard spending time away from families given how close we were during the lockdowns. We’re currently developing a triage tool that we’re hoping to be ready by the end of the year in at least MVP (minimal viable product) stage. The idea is that if people have an enquiry about travel or meetings, the triage tool will give them a steer on the right decisions to make. The request may still go through pre-approval, but by then it’s made everyone think and managers will be more informed. It will also provide some interesting data for our internal procurement and finance teams, who will be able to identify trends, highlight what requests have triaged out, and look at how much it will contribute to travel and carbon savings.

The idea is it will help all of us to spend money wisely, run events sustainability and consider everyone’s wellbeing more carefully.

Are you working with different suppliers/asking more of current suppliers?

Both. Through Covid, we issued a global event agency RFP and gave all of the respondents breathing time to go through what they were going through before coming back to us. As a result of that process, we kept on about half of the incumbents and introduced some new really exciting partners, too. We wanted a supply chain that was aligned to how BP was changing and reinventing, not forgetting delivering exciting and creative corporate and customer events. What our team has put on as a result of the changes has been really awesome and impressive creatively. With our incumbents, we have adapted our models where appropriate– such as adding agility and flexibility upon the reliance of commission with our venue sourcing partners.

We’ve also loved working with Hubli and have been part of their inner feedback loop to help them develop various aspects of their tool, so it was great to see they have now launched Hubli Green. Pivoting to self-service on a tool like Hubli has been really useful for us. 

What are meetings currently looking like in terms of hybrid vs in person and what are the pros and cons? 

BP runs a wide variety of managed events, from internal to customer-facing. Being at the front of customers’ minds is at the heart of a lot of our strategy at BP, including how we reengage with that customer base.

When we went through Reinvent BP, we changed a structure that was more than 100 years old. This created 11 entities from just a few classic segments. We’re really keen now to get those teams to engage face to face, to really feel united and energised about where we want to get next beyond the initial strategy. I’ve always said that events are like an intervention – you are there to make a change, to make someone feel something different and do something different. Face to face is really key to driving that home, especially with the messages and ongoing authentic conversations we want to create with varied stakeholders - both internally and externally.

With things like the quarterly leadership meetings – by and large these are now hybrid with only one or two per year face to face. People are so used to chatting through Teams now and it’s taken away a lot of formality of arranging and attending a meeting, which is definitely a good thing. There’ll always be a virtual component to our meetings agenda in some parts of our organisation, but this may be as a contingency. We have great messages to share with people and we want to continue inviting them to events to do this and create strong relationships. We want to create education, share best practice and have a productive feedback loop and I’m really pleased to say we’re doing well on all of those things. 

Andrew Carne is the global procurement manager for events, international mobility, benefits and reward at BP. He is on the advisory board for Business Travel Show Europe.

Holly Patrick
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Holly Patrick
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A desire to travel led Holly Patrick to the business meetings and events world and she’s never looked back. Holly takes a particular interest in event sustainability and creating a diverse and inclusive industry. When she’s not working, she can be found rolling skating along Brighton seafront listening to an eclectic playlist, featuring the likes of Patti Smith, Sean Paul, and Arooj Aftab.

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