“The government has declared war on the meetings industry,” Meeting Professionals International’s President and CEO Bruce MacMillan declared to an audience of nearly 2,000 at MPI’s MeetDifferent Opening General Session in Atlanta on Feb. 8.
The opening general session involved presentations from economists, panel discussions on hot-button topics and short promo speeches from MPI President and CEO Bruce MacMillan, and the heads of the Atlanta CVB and the MPI Foundation. But the main dialogue centered on the state of the economy, and current legislation that calls for greater scrutiny of meetings and events, specifically for financial institutions who received government bailout money.
CNN anchor Terry Savage facilitated three panel discussions that explored how meeting planners can advocate for the continuation, not cancellation, of events. The announcement of Wells Fargo’s cancellation of employee appreciation events and the full-page ad it placed in the Feb. 8 issue of the New York Times about why they were forced to do so galvanized the debate. And the fact that Citigroup canceled Primerica’s Biennial Convention, an event expected to bring 55,000 attendees to Atlanta in June, brought the issue home. Also discussed was the domino effect irresponsible reporting has had, creating a negative perception of events that are truly the best way for companies to recover, raise morale, strategize and make money.
“Meetings are not the problem; they are the solution” was the message trumpeted over and over again during the general session. Planners were encouraged to focus on saving money for their companies, measure the business impact of their events and understand how their boss’ boss measured success, so they could help their bosses succeed. The No. 1 goal for meeting planners, presenters stressed, should be to have a system in place to measure the business impact of each event and to understand how the event achieves organizational objectives. Having those metrics, they said, is the best way planners can defend the need to meet.
PCMA and MPI don’t intend to take the threat of increased legislation and the lazy reporting of the press laying down. Along with a coalition of travel industry providers, they have employed a PR firm and an advocacy group in Washington D.C. to get the word out and fight the misrepresentation of what meetings mean to business, to tell the story of how important the meetings industry is to local communities, to inform the American public of the real impact of the meetings industry on our economy and share ways in which meetings can speed up the country’s economic recovery.
Stay tuned, the advocacy group will be meeting later this month, and we’ll be posting video statements on the topic on our YouTube.com/PlanYourMeetings channel.