February 9, 2010

Much as I was encouraged to read Harvey MacKay’s column yesterday, I was equally dismayed as I perused a reprint from the New York Times written by Joe Sharkey entitled “A new meetings industry emerges from the ashes”.

Yes Joe, our world does include irresponsible organizations holding lavish meetings that have led to what you term the “AIG Effect”. But did you confirm the outrage was caused by a meeting held in Las Vegas –a site which caters to meetings with good hotels and the biggest convention center in the nation? Or could the swell of disdain have resulted from the perception that because AIG was too big to fail and thus created the bail-out, the public viewed their meeting as inappropriate because it felt the government and thus the American public paid for it? The two issues are not the same.

Yes Joe, you may have felt the Sea World atmosphere was created just for you and thus you can exclaim about the lavishness of evening parties. But did you stop to think that all but the food and beverage are seen every day, day after day, hour after hour by Sea World guests . So the cost of that “special” whale show and most other accoutrements, have been amortized long ago over daily admission fees collected from the visiting tourists and their families. You might be surprised to learn that theme parks are chosen by planners for off-site events because it often COSTS LESS to produce there than creating a message-driven evening event from scratch. So, sometimes, reinforcing the message of the meeting in a social environment is sacrificed in order to manage costs.

Yes Joe, as we all struggle to adjust to the new economy rising out of this recession, for some, meetings and events are being redefined. But the new meetings industry you describe as emerging from the struggle is NOT necessarily based on cost control and virtual events as you reported.

In the first place Joe, cost control has been a critical tactical element for serious meeting and event planners for decades. ROI and Strategic Meeting Management were buzz words long before we knew we were in a recession. Procurement and cost control represents one important arm of meetings management – which many in the industry define as meeting efficiency. You might wish to check out http://illuminationgalleries.com/blog/2009 04 01 archive.html that was just recently forwarded to me by a colleague. Jay Smethurst created a picture that explain this very well.

Secondly , as technology advances, virtual events are indeed being experimented with in several arenas. But as the discussion continues, I think many of us are welcoming the hybrid event comprised of both live and virtual elements – not because we can, or because it is less expensive, but because it allows us to extend the audience exponentially, and thus create greater connections and engagement. Oh yes, Joe, one saves money in air, hotel and food and beverage with a virtual event, but a national meeting content producer recently pointed out to me that no one factors in the new costs – those of uplinks and television/movie picture quality production – which is needed if we expect in a virtual setting to hold the audience’s attention and create a meaningful dialog that will drive real business results.

Yes, most importantly, Joe, there is no need for meeting efficiency of which you speak, if one does not have meeting effectiveness – the arm that focuses on business results. Meetings and events that lack focus, purpose and a clear understanding of desired outcomes on the part of both the organizer and the audience are not worth holding-no matter how little or how much they cost.

EventView, the largest and longest-running annual survey of corporate sales and marketing executives, repeatedly reports that meetings, events and tradeshows far surpass advertising and web marketing when it comes to achieving corporate goals, introducing new products, cementing relationships, and enhancing a company’s brand. And they do so because face to face interaction optimizes effective communication, sharing of information, resolving objectives and obtaining buy-in. And it does this with a targeted audience that is interested, qualified and motivated to participate.

So yes, Joe, my hope for the future of the industry as we emerge from the ashes is that we scrutinize every meeting opportunity to get back to the basics – why is the meeting being held in the first place. And then, we move forward in design to accomplish this task and measure the results. In the 21st century that means we may abandon old models of talking heads and PowerPoint aimed to push information out to the audience and strive to create interactive experiences that connect, inform and engage.

We need to hold all stakeholders, planners and producers “feet to fire”. No real results; no repeat of that meeting. And along the way, we will change the role of the meeting planner from procurement experts to strategic players who by managing both efficiently and effectively, assist their organizations to market with their audience, for the mutual benefit of both.

Thanks for your patience as I vented.

One comment

  1. You have written a most excellent post with well developed arguments. It will be Tweeted and posted on HSMAI’s Affordable Meetings Facebook and LinkedIn pages. http://affordablemeetings.wordpress.com/

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