PCMA’s 2019 Convening Leaders took place at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center (left) in downtown Pittsburgh. (Courtesy VisitPITTSBURGH)
At this year’s Convening Leaders, themed “Disrupt + Deliver,” PCMA sought to give business events strategists the platform to think differently and connect on topics and issues crucial to the industry. The organization wanted delegates to leave with a “greater commitment and better understanding of how business events can and must drive economic and social progress,” said PCMA President and CEO Sherrif Karamat. In order to do that, PCMA needed to create an immersive, unique educational and social experience that would encourage industry collaboration — and Pittsburgh was ready for the challenge.
“We were able to demonstrate to events planners from around the world that Pittsburgh is a first-class host destination,’’ Craig Davis, president and CEO of VisitPITTSBURGH, said of hosting Convening Leaders 2019, held Jan. 6-9. To welcome more than 4,000 business events strategists from 36 different countries, Pittsburgh International Airport played a custom audio welcome on the baggage claim tram, displayed signage throughout the airport, and provided volunteers and ambassadors to greet PCMA delegates as they disembarked from their flights.
The team at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, in downtown Pittsburgh, in collaboration with PCMA Uber partner Freeman, assisted Tonya Almond, CMP, PCMA’s vice president of knowledge and experience design, with every aspect of the event, including pulling off one of the organization’s most impressive feats yet — building a 360-degree stage in the middle of the floor with stadium seating on two sides. What began as a lighting challenge (knowing they would not be able to get the room to black out), resulted in one of the most effective seating layouts the organization has ever employed.
“It was a risk,” Almond previously told Convene, “but it was calculated” — and it paid off. Attendees said they’d never been closer to the main stage at PCMA and most speakers liked the fresh layout. Almond said Freeman has received calls “about how to replicate the design at other events.”
It wasn’t just the convention center staff that impressed. Pittsburghers from the city’s 90 neighborhoods came together for several Convening Leaders fundraising projects, including the annual Party With a Purpose. Attendees also assembled bags to support victims of human trafficking through the local nonprofit Living in Liberty; created care kits for local responders and overseas troops with Operation Gratitude; and put together female hygiene kits for women’s shelters through PERIOD.org.
“When meeting planners conduct a site visit of Pittsburgh, one of the recurring comments we hear is how well the community works together,” Karl Pietrzak, VisitPITTSBURGH’s vice president of convention sales, told PCMA. “From the convention center to the hotels, attractions, local meeting planners, and even residents, everyone in the city pooled their resources to make sure our city shined.”
With the city’s sense of pride and community on full display at Convening Leaders 2019, VisitPITTSBURGH felt it was the perfect time to do a soft launch of its new marketing campaign, “Pull Up A Chair. You Are Welcomed Here.” The campaign, which even pays homage to the Pittsburgh parking chairs used to save parking places, is built around the act of offering someone a chair, a universal sign of hospitality and respect.
“The campaign was intended to be unlike any other we have done or have seen in the industry, and the message has been received better than we ever imagined,” says Tom Loftus, VisitPITTSBURGH’s chief marketing officer. “In the first three months, the video has been viewed more than 2 million times, and our 8-foot parking chair, which has been used at local activations and trade shows, received national exposure when Good Morning America’s Ginger Zee recognized the campaign while sitting on the chair. That is exposure we could never have afforded.”
Embodying the true spirit of the city and its residents, the “Pull Up A Chair” campaign emphasizes inclusiveness and reflects the hospitality displayed to all those in attendance at Convening Leaders in January.
Reaction to the 360-degree Main Stage at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, with seating on two sides, was divided but mostly positive. (Jacob Slaton)