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Annual Meeting Site Selections

What You Need To Know - And Do

Yes, we know that by now, most every company in America has chosen the site of its 2014 Annual Shareholder Meeting. Most companies pick the spot and sign any contracts that are needed almost a full year in advance, and sometimes even further ahead.

But over the past two or three years we’ve seen many companies decide to make a last-minute change – in light of breaking events or the potential for ‘unusual” attendance or activities – or to change up their usual meeting “drill” – which requires a fair amount of frantic scrambling. And we’ve also wanted to collect the many tips we’ve published about site selection into a single document…so here we go:

For starters, and as we’ve said before, we heartily agree with Danette Smith, Secretary to the Board of UnitedHealth Group, that “a corporate site, where the company can be in complete control, is the best choice.” This is also an excellent choice for smallish and medium size meetings, where there will usually be a nice “down home” feel, plus a sense of prudent frugality. But sometimes–and typically where there may be potential space constraints, or other potentially more serious “crowd control issues” - there are situations where the company can not easily be in total control of the event on its own, nor should it want to be.

In situations like this, a large hotel tends to be the best fallback provision, since they are used to, and are usually well-staffed for such events. They are also used to working with their clients’ security staff – and with local police, and, as we’ve also noted, they can enforce strict rules about picketing – and where and where not potential meeting-goers can go on their premises. And, maybe best of all, they – and not you and your company - get to be seen as the “bad guys” if really strict enforcement measures are needed. Yet another good thing about using a hotel is that they can usually make some quick adjustments in the space – to shrink it if fewer than expected show up, or supply an “overflow room” – with A-V feed – if you have way more people than expected. And finally, in your editor’s long experience, people tend to be on much better behavior in a nice hotel that they might be in a facility they think of as “theirs.”

Another of our top tips is to pick a “nice city” – one that is nice to go to, and that is noted for being “hospitable” - and ideally, for being particularly “polite” and maybe even a bit “proper.” Another big plus as a rule, is a city where you have many happy employees – and clients and investors – and local fans. Some of the nicest shareholder meetings we have attended have been in cities like Louisville, KY, where we saw more hats on men and ladies alike than we’ve seen in 30 years, Omaha, NB – a pretty close runner-up in the hat & glove and politeness department, Vancouver, BC… Princeton, NJ and New York City itself, which really is one of the great destinations and one of the most hospitable cities anywhere…unless your company gets creamed that month in the local papers, that is.

A very important consideration in picking a venue - and especially a “nice city” – is to check with the Chamber of Commerce – and with the police etc. - to know exactly what other big events will be taking place in that city the week of  your  meeting.  No way to even be in Omaha the week of the Berkshire Hathaway meeting; No need to be caught up in the Earth Day Parade going by your hotel if you might have “environmental issues” for example.

Many companies still try to pick “nice venues” in nice cities – like concert halls, art museums or other local attractions. Interestingly, a “cultural venue” rarely increases meeting attendance vs. last year’s “average meeting hall.” But do think twice on this – especially if it is an “especially nice” venue. Despite the fact that such venues have given your editor the opportunity to say that he has “sung on the stage at Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Museum’s Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium, Symphony Hall in St. Louis… and Philadelphia” and many other famous places (way before the meetings began, of course) he is not a big fan of such places IF there are any serious “security concerns”: Most museums and concert halls - and most corporate headquarters buildings too – are simply not well designed to deal with potentially unruly crowds.

A really great site if you have a “medium-size” meeting is a university or university hospital teaching center. The best part is that all the otherwise expensive A-V setup you need tends to be built into the auditorium… And here too, people tend to be on their very best behavior.

For many companies that have “smallish attendance” the number-one best site is often a conference room at their outside counsel’s headquarters. Typically, building security is tight as a tick (though not really geared, please note, for a crowd.) Also, the price is right (often a total freebie) and the coffee pot is always on. Usually, it’s easy to schedule Committee meetings before and after – and for Directors to make quick ins and outs.

And let’s not forget CYBERSPACE: More and more companies each year are choosing to have “virtual only shareholder meetings” – which can be especially nice if you have many out-of-town and/or out-of- USA directors. They also leave a neat, permanent and public record of the proceedings, right there on the web.

As a long-term and still frequent Shareholder Meeting-go-er – and still a big believer in the major shareholder value that a well-run shareholder meeting can create (and which, by the way, a badly run meeting can destroy, so stay alert) your editor loves the idea of “Hybrid Meetings” where people can come in person if they wish – but where any interested party can tune in to see and hear the proceedings – and check out the management – and yes, hear from shareholder proponents too – and get a good sense of what kind of company you ARE.