Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

January 14 2014

Why the Meetings Industry is Stepping Up to Bat

By David McMillin

As US lawmakers were debating the merits of conferences in Washington DC on Tuesday, the biggest names in the meetings and events industry came together to launch a new campaign to promote the value of face-to-face. The Meetings Mean Business Coalition brings 24 professional associations, businesses and destination marketing organizations together to protect the industry against questions related to conference overspending.

“Meetings Mean Business will be offensive, not defensive,” Roger Dow, President and CEO, US Travel Association, said.

There has been plenty of defense to play in recent years. From the GSA overspending scandal to videos of IRS official in Stark Trek-themed videos, some government agencies have forced the industry into a very negative national spotlight.

“The next crisis could be today, tomorrow or next month,” Larry Luteran, Senior Vice President, Group Sales and Industry Relations, Hilton Worldwide and co-chair of the Meetings Mean Business Coalition, said. “We know it’s coming.”

“This can no longer be a one-off reactive process,” David Peckinpaugh, President and Co-chair, added. “It has to be proactive.”

Got Meetings?

Those proactive efforts are kicking off with a fundraising goal of $500,000 to support a campaign that will utilize national public relations outreach with localized grassroots marketing efforts.

“We’re not looking for a few donors to give big sums of money,” Luteran said. “We’re looking for a lot of people in the industry to give small amounts.”

The goal of all those funds? Fuel the work to make the meetings industry instantly recognizable to the average citizen and educate policy decision-makers on the true economic impact that all those attendees have each year.

“Everyone remembers the ‘Got Milk?’ campaign,” David DuBois, CMP, FASAE, CAE, CTA, President, International Association of Exhibitors & Events, said. “We need people to think ‘Got Meetings?’”

In a world fueled by word-of-mouth recommendations and social chatter, the success of the campaign will initially rely on the members and active supporters of the diverse range of industry associations.

“We need to activate our communities,” Michael Gehrisch, President and CEO, Destination Marketing Association International, said. “Other groups get the message down through their employees and through their unions. We can do the same.”

Still, there is only so much that can be done internally. The coalition is aiming to look for outside representatives from major corporations whose voices will resonate with lawmakers in the event of a repeat of an unfortunate scenario like the GSA overspending scandal.

An equally important piece of the puzzle relies on identifying the government officials and candidates that already recognize the value of meetings. From Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s speech at PCMA’s Convening Leaders 2014 to Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s recent pledge to spend $100 million on travel advertising, it’s clear that the industry already has a few allies on its side.


Just the First Step

It’s an exciting step forward for an industry that desperately needs a unified voice to define itself to outsiders. However, coalition leaders stressed one key point: this is only the beginning.

“This message has to be ongoing,” Deborah Sexton, President and CEO, PCMA, said. “It needs to be pushed deeper and deeper so that our family members understand what we do for a living.”

While the campaign will initially aim to educate the United States about the meetings industry, the coalition recognizes that the whole world needs to hear it, too.

“In a year or two, this campaign will be global,” Sexton added.

Interest in learning more about the coalition and how you can help make it a success? Click here to visit the official website and get involved.

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