Meetings Mean Business Coalition Wants Help Spreading Its Message

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Meetings Mean Business Larry Luteran
MMBC co-chair Larry Luteran at IBTM America 2014

Industry leaders representing the Meetings Mean Business Coalition (MMBC) held a panel session during last week’s IBTM America (formerly AIBTM) to promote their collective message and engage audience questions.

The MMBC is an industry-wide movement of travel suppliers in almost every tourism sector who have come together to collect data, research and best practices to prove and promote the value of face-to-face meetings. The level of involvement among so many different major players is unprecedented in scope in the history of the industry.

The coalition banded together following the economic meltdown and AIG fiasco in Q4 2008 when destination meetings came under widespread public and private attack.

Last week’s panel reaffirmed the collective strength and purpose of the coalition. However, while it’s important to keep promoting the MMBC to the industry as a whole, the panelists affirmed there needs to be more testimonials and empirical evidence supporting that mission from people not directly involved in the industry.

The MMBC Panel

For the IBTM America session, the panel moderator was Larry Luteran, co-chair of MMBC, and VP of group sales/industry relations at Hilton Worldwide. The panel consisted of:

Roger Dow, president/CEO, U.S. Travel Association
David DuBois, president/CEO, International Association of Events & Exhibitions
John Graham, president/CEO, American Society for Association Executives
Kevin Hinton, chief of staff officer, Site Global
Deborah Sexton, president/CEO, Professional Convention Management Association
Paul Van Deventer, president/CEO, Meeting Professionals International

Roger Dow opened the session with a television news report from 1992 about “The Invisible Industry,” describing how most people are unaware of the meetings and convention industry in general, and its economic/jobs impact. Dow suggested it’s time again for the MMBC to secure similar reporting of this kind from national business media to remind people the significance of that impact.

“When you look at our industry, it’s a monster, it’s 900 billion dollars of direct spend in our industry… and our largest service export,” explained Dow. He then added that the AIG Effect caused $2 billion in meeting cancellations.

Like everyone on the panel, Luteran had a front row seat during the AIG implosion.

“In September of that year [2008], we fell of the cliff and it was devastating,” said Luteran. “It really took us by surprise, and even though crises had hit our industry in the past, we never had anything like this. Our relevance was legitimately threatened and we had to fight back. It took about five months to get our collective act together, and we rallied around Meetings Mean Business.”

The panelists discussed how the formation of Meetings Mean Business 1.0 staved of countless more cancellations and layoffs. Five years later, the all-new MeetingsMeanBusines.com launched at PCMA in January, and since then, the portal has amassed a significant amount of information in support of face-to-face.

Some of the most compelling content includes the Industry Data Library with business trend reports and information about measuring the value of meetings, compiled by companies and organizations such as PCMA, DMAI, MPI, Maritz and the U.S. Travel Association.

Luteran mentioned one of the reports. The Travel Effect paper commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association stated that one dollar invested in meetings and events earns on average a return of $9.50. Click on these links for the full report and one page summary.

The Industry Speaks

The first audience question was submitted by Brian Silverman, CEO of event tech company sli.do. He asked if the boom in event tech was cutting into the necessity for face-to-face meetings, which of course is a refrain we’ve heard since the invention of teleconferencing.

“We just engaged Leeds University to do a study on the future of meetings, and it was interesting because we had the same concerns,” said Van Deventer from MPI. “And what came out was that social media, the electronic interaction, is actually driving more face-to-face meetings. The fact that Millennials get online and use their devices creates new reasons to get together, and creates new groups. So that’s actually driving the progression of meetings, and the advancement of meetings. But it has also changed the way that meetings have to be put forth…. So technology when you’re in the live event now has to be used to provide a different experience.”

All of the panelists during the session shared solid ideas about how to advance the mission of MMBC. DuBois asserted that the meetings industry can do more to advocate for business education at the college level.

“At MBA programs across the U.S. and around the world, they don’t have a segment in their educational curriculum about meetings, exhibitions, events and incentives, etc.,” he said. “So what we’re trying to do is build the base of knowledge for those 18-23 year-olds, those ladies and gentlemen who are going to be the chief marketing officers of X company or Y company, or association, who are going to make these types of decisions that are going to allow money to be spent for people to attend a convention.”

Sexton suggested that everyone in the meetings industry can play a pivotal role in sharing the MMBC message, but the industry needs to also reach past its insular borders.

“First, I think when the next crisis comes, and there will be another crisis, we communicate now,” she said. “We communicate very effectively so we can come together very quickly, which didn’t exist back in ’08. That’s number one. And number two, we can push this message through our members and all of you in the audience, but it’s really hearing from CEOs of major corporations about the value of bringing people together. It’s hearing about the everyday story that someone can talk about that advanced the product they produced, because they brought people together. Or they trained a large audience of people….

“It’s those stories that we’re going to get out that’s going to make a difference,” she continued. “We can sit on this panel and talk until we’re purple. We’ve done a perfect job of talking to ourselves for years. Now let’s get other people to talk about the value of face-to-face meetings, and so we need your help picking up those stories.”

Van Deventer supported the idea that MMBC needs to think virally. The more people talk about the value of face-to-face, the more people will share it.

“The messaging has to be grassroots,” he said. “The questioning is in Europe and elsewhere, ‘What can every organization involved in this industry do to get those concise talking points out to every employee in the organization, so that we can get the leverage out of that?’ So we’re behind supporting that. We’ve been pushing that with our chapters. We provide the resources to our chapter leaders and our members, and we’ll continue to fund key initiatives.”

Roger Dow summed up by discussing a recent meeting with President Obama and key members of the tourism industry.

“When I sat with the President a couple weeks ago, I said, ‘Mr. President, do you understand this is adult education? This is how Americans are going to grow. This is how we find new areas to grow, like in the medical community’…. And I think we have to get the word out that this is about adult education. This is the way that we’re going to grow our competitiveness, not by going back to college for a course, but by going to that meeting to learn best practices…. What I think has to happen, we’ve got to keep seeding the media with this.”

The Next Steps

The MeetingsMeanBusines.com platform is an impressive framework for research and analysis, but MMBC communications could be delivered in a more user-friendly, actionable and shareable manner. Presently, the website is a vault of myriad information, but there’s not really a communication delivery platform that can engage the industry, industry media, government and public, and which can be shared digitally among all constituents.

One possibility moving forward, MMBC could create an embedded blog updated regularly that acts as an aggregator, with additional exclusive content created by member parties. There should also be a Twitter account to share insight among #eventprofs.

Or MMBC could partner with IBTM and/or IMEX to leverage their platforms, content, events and audiences. Together, those three entities have a staggering amount of global contacts that could collectively provide a powerful knowledge hub organized around a network of networks to drive more engagement among a wider audience.

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