Last month, I spoke to a group of incentive industry professionals about proving the value of meetings and events. At the end of the speech, one planner stood up and asked, “Do you think that we, as an industry, should pull our advertising dollars from the newspapers, radio and TV stations to punish them for destroying our industry?”
He was referring to the negative press coverage of meetings that began with the “scandal” surrounding the AIG program held at Monarch Bay last year. It was an incentive program paid for by the revenues generated by high achievers, but it was mischaracterized as an executive retreat taken on the taxpayer’s dime, and got tied into the issue of executive compensation.
Overnight the meetings industry became front-page news. From then on, any company that had received bailout money was publicly eviscerated for holding meetings, events or incentive programs. And many companies with no relation to Troubled Asset Relief Program funds canceled meetings, too.
Some of the examples held up in the media were pretty damning, but a lot of the meetings that canceled after being criticized were legitimate business expenses essential to the company and its economic recovery.
Then policy makers (and the president) started getting into the act — there was talk of making it illegal for some companies to use money on meetings, events or incentive travel without it being approved by the government. That’s just ridiculous, and I’m glad that industry lobbyists were able to get the verbiage in the Kerry bill changed.
But you get the idea. A lot of the hysteria and havoc was wreaked on the industry because sensational, factually inaccurate stories were published, picked up, blown out of proportion and considered fact. And it was people like this gentleman, city workers, hotel staff and other hospitality industry veterans that were suffering as a result.
I like the idea of reporters objectivity examining all the angles of a story and fact-checking before just running a sensational headline. I also like the idea of punishing news companies that encourage their writers to be tabloid scribblers, not true journalists. So, I said, “If you can get a coalition together that will make any difference, do it.”
A few weeks later, I tuned into a Web-based conference held with industry leaders both national and international. One of the speakers was President and CEO of Maritz Travel Christine Duffy, whose company put together the Monarch Bay incentive for AIG. She said a Maritz Marketplace poll, conducted after the press censure began, found that 56 percent of corporate planners had canceled one or more meetings, and 56 percent of Fortune 1000 managers were postponing or eliminating at least a portion of their incentive programs scheduled for 2009.
So I asked her, “Do you think it would be a good idea for hotels and destination organizations to use their advertising dollars (withdrawing funds from TV news or newspapers) as retaliation for poor journalistic standards and sensational reporting that has damaged the industry?”
What she said surprised me. “I don’t think so,” Duffy said. “I think that we have to take responsibility for why the press reacted the way they did. And it goes back to the lack of education advocacy we’ve done as an industry to ensure that people understand what we do. [With] those advertising dollars, maybe the focus of those ads might shift so that part of what you’re investing in is telling the story of how these meetings, events and incentives matter.”
What do you think?