Events Must Have a Higher Purpose

Author: Michelle Russell       

Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell

Our Annual Meetings Market Survey is “loooong,” a respondent once commented. We value all the time it takes to finish our lengthy questionnaire, so we’ve been judicious about adding anything extra. When we sent the survey out to the events community last November, we decided it was important to include two new questions: Do you include a community-service project as part of your event programs? and How much of a priority do you place on environmental sustainability at your events?

More than half said they do not make CSR part of their event; 31 percent occasionally include a project; 12 percent only do so at their largest event; and only 4 percent at every one of their events. Broken down by sector: 60 percent of association planners do not; 21 percent do so occasionally; 16 percent only at their largest event; and 3 percent at every event. One-third of corporate planners and 56 percent of independent/ AMC planners do so occasionally.

As far as environmental sustainability, it’s top of mind — meaning that sustainability clauses are included in RFPs — for only 11 percent of all respondents. Slightly more than half said that it was somewhat important, and 36 percent said it’s not part of their planning efforts. Among association professionals, only 7 percent consider this a top priority, while it’s of foremost concern to 15 percent of corporate and independent/AMC planners. Association planners are most likely not to factor sustainability into their event design — 41 percent do not, while 35 percent of corporate and 30 percent of independent/AMC planners don’t make it a consideration.

This took me by surprise. For a long time now, we’ve featured the Giving Back series — which includes case-study examples of the ways that events, destinations, and venues bake CSR and sustainability initiatives into their design and objectives — in each issue of Convene. And since we’ve never been at a loss for those examples, I assumed that it was just a regular part of doing business. Also, I work for PCMA, and as an organization, we promote the role the business events industry plays in contributing to the social and economic progress of our world. It’s our mindset.

Moreover, it’s where the rest of the business world is headed. At the start of last year, Larry Fink, the CEO of investment firm BlackRock, wrote to executives: “Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose. To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.”

It’s a consumer trend that has a direct impact on the events business, something “The Future of Meetings and Events” report — recently published by Marriott and the PCMA Foundation — identified as “Bigger Than Oneself.” Your events, said the thought leaders who contributed to the report, must have a higher purpose. It can’t just be about the content — it has to stand for something socially and deliver on that all the way down to the smallest detail. Our audiences are expecting it, and don’t we owe it to them?