Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

August 2012

Post Con: No More Imported Speakers for AAEI

By Sarah Beauchamp, Assistant Editor

American Association of Exporters and Importers (AAEI) 91st Annual Conference & Expo, held June 3–5 at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Va., just across the river from Washington, D.C.

Challenges

The No. 1 concern for Michelle Measel, AAEI’s director of events, was a geographical one. AAEI moved its Annual Conference down the East Coast, from New York City to Washington, D.C., for the first time this year. (Read our Pre Con profile of AAEI’s Annual Conference at convn.org/aaei-pre-con.) While concerned that the change in location might affect sponsorships and attendance, Measel and her team were confident that their attendee demographic already travels frequently to Washington, D.C. That proved to be correct, as not only was attendance just as high — totaling 490 — but the conference also was more profitable than in years past.

“The new location worked out well, because trade-compliance professionals are very familiar with the Washington, D.C., area, and the Crystal Gateway Marriott is really conveniently located near Reagan Airport as well as downtown D.C.,” Measel said. “There were some people who were disappointed about not being in New York, but overall the sponsors and exhibitors were pleased,as New York is an expensive venue to operate in.” AAEI also saw no major variation in the number of exhibitors this year. Sponsorships were down slightly, but Measel doesn't attribute that to the location change.

Initiatives

The most significant initiative this year was securing as many high-level government speakers as possible, which had been getting difficult due to cuts in government travel budget — but suddenly became much easier thanks to moving the Annual Conference to D.C. “The new location enabled us to reach out to more government speakers who would not otherwise have been able to present at our conference,” Measel said. “As a result, we were able to offer a program with government speakers at both the policy level (Hill staffers) as well as operational level (regulatory agencies).”

High-level speakers included Howard Sklamberg, director of the Office of Enforcement at the Food and Drug Administration. “Mr. Sklamberg certainly provided levity for the second-day keynote event, and gave attendees a broad overview of the FDA’s approach to implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act,” Measel said. “Attendee feedback was very good, and they were impressed that we were able to get so many government speakers.”

Indeed, the highlight for Measel and her team was their lineup of keynote speakers. “The keynote addresses really provide the focal point of the conference, since they reflect the current thinking of political leadership on trade policy and operations,” said Measel, “which directly affects the day-to-day jobs of our attendees.” 

AAEI Annual Conference & Expo details:

2011 New York City 
  • 508 Attendees
  • 40 Exhibitors
2012 Washington, D.C.
  • 489 Attendees 
  • 41 Exhibitors 
For more information: aaei.org

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