Alum Combats Risk while Building Relationships in the Hospitality Industry
June 19, 2017
Fred Mitzner, a 1986 Isenberg Hospitality & Tourism Management (HTM) graduate, knows risk and relationship-building first-hand. For 13 years, he has minimized risk and forged positive connections on behalf of clients as Senior Vice President with ConferenceDirect. The company is a national third party go-between that secures conference sites and services at hotels and other venues for trade associations and other special interest groups. “I work with both sides to achieve the best value for everybody involved,” Mitzner emphasizes.
Mitzner’s base of operations is Washington, D.C., which, he notes, is home to the nation’s largest cluster of trade and special interest associations. To that end, he serves 20+ of them by securing conference venues around the nation (and occasionally overseas). The events may range, he observes, from mega-conferences in the tens of thousands to smaller, high-level executive gatherings. His role, he emphasizes, goes well beyond site procurement. Controlling and structuring costs, negotiating services and concessions, and protecting parties from potentially libelous outcomes all figure high on his agenda.
“In many ways it’s a sales job—I’m a bit like a real estate broker,” he continues. Mitzner works exclusively on commission from hotels and other venues. But by minimizing risk and ensuring mutual satisfaction, he helps build long-term relationships among all of the players. That includes fine-tuning contracts and negotiating with participants several years after a contract has been signed. “Most of my contracts are for five or six years out,” he remarks. “That means I’m focusing right now on 2022 and 2023.”
A lot, he says, can happen in five years—developments that pose mutual risks. Trends and restructurings in industries like newspapers, television, and pharmaceuticals, for example, have disrupted their associations’ conference plans. The cable TV industry, he notes, consolidated from 20 to two principal players in less than a decade. To that end, Mitzner found himself negotiating (i.e., mitigating) cancellation fees and other dynamics when a 65-year industry trade show canceled six months before its scheduled opening. Hurricanes and even the Zika virus, he adds, have also upset the best-laid plans of association gatherings. The bottom line: “I have to be vigilant as a third-party facilitator and negotiator.”
Nothing is guaranteed, but the upside can prove fantastic. Key Career Choices
Mitzner’s appetite for risk has informed his own career decisions. “I work exclusively on commission,” he remarks. “Nothing is guaranteed, but the upside can prove fantastic. It’s high risk but very high reward.” Fred has ranked among ConferenceDirect’s top five revenue producers in each of the last eleven years and received the prestigious top overall producer honor for a record five times over his thirteen-year tenure. (Last year, the company grossed revenues of $778 million, in large part due to its 350 sales associates nationwide.) “As a hotel executive, I would never have approached my current earnings,” he insists.
Before ConferenceDirect, Fred excelled for seven years with Hilton’s Washington, D.C. Worldwide Sales Office, earning the company’s National Salesperson of the Year honor in 2001. Before that, he was in sales for eleven years with Marriott, including a national role in its headquarters just outside Washington.
Today, Fred combines his extensive industry experience and connections with the latest in IT. A search technology (Cvent) allows him to rapidly evaluate thirty hotels for their availability and accommodations. But, he cautions, “The convention business is not as ‘tech-think’ as you might suspect. Everything gets done by contract. Relations over the phone and in person are critical!”
Giving Credit; Giving Back
“Isenberg’s HTM program has been essential to my career,” Mitzner emphasizes. “As a student, I gained valuable skills and hands-on work experiences. I connected with Marriott (his employer after graduation) at Career Day. With that said, I really wanted to give back.” Fred has made good on that aspiration as an active member of the Hospitality & Tourism Management Department’s Leadership Board. He is also helping to fund new conference rooms in Isenberg’s 70,000 square-foot Business Innovation Hub, which will open in January of 2019. For HTM graduates like Fred, the new building has added meaning: for the first time, the HTM department will join Isenberg’s other programs under the same roof—in a spectacular new facility.