New Campaign Defends Meetings Industry
by Harvey Chipkin
New Campaign Defends Meetings Industry

A national “Meetings Mean Business” campaign was kicked off at a press conference this week with the appropriate setting, the annual Convening Leaders conference of the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) in Boston.

Starting with $500,000 in funding, the campaign’s goal is to send a consistent, industry wide message that meetings, conventions, incentive travel and trade shows are significant contributors to the national economy and critical to doing business.

The Meetings Mean Business coalition was created in 2009 to showcase the economic value of meetings and events. Its members include all segments of the face-to-face meetings  industry.

The $16 muffin and other disasters
The new campaign is also aimed at getting ahead of negative media stories like the infamous “$16 muffin” incident and unseemly conga lines at IRS meetings.

The alleged $16 muffins, served during a Justice Department meeting about three years ago, were cited in an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) report on government agency spending on meetings.

It turned out that each $16 muffin tab at the meeting venue, Capitol Hilton in Washington D.C., covered a complete continental breakfast.

Managing the media
The campaign aims to control adverse media stories like that through grassroots campaigns, the recruitment of “champions” for the industry and a public relations effort.

“We want to start controlling the story,” said Larry Luteran, senior vice president of group sales and industry relations for Hilton and co-chair of Meetings Mean Business.

“The $16 muffin was a great story that wasn’t true. We allowed that to happen. We need to get in front of stories around our industry in a positive way.

“There are stakeholders in this industry that don’t even know they are stakeholders and we have to get our message out to them as well. For the first time we have all these industry leaders coming together to deliver this message and I think we will have an impact.”

Three campaign pillars
The campaign is composed of three “pillars:”
#1. Creating Personal Connections: Promoting the importance of face-to-face meetings.
#2. Driving Positive Business Outcomes: Focusing on how meetings help win new accounts, serve as education platforms and provide venues for introducing new products and ideas.
#3. Building Strong Communities: Creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, generating billions of dollars of revenue and supporting communities across the country.

Industry toolkit
An industry “toolkit” will be available in February to aid campaign participants.

It will include content such as blog posts, FAQs, social media posts and talking points to ensure that the coalition is speaking with one voice.

The campaign’s approach to fundraising will be “small donations from a lot of people rather than large donations from a few people,” according to Luteran.

“This is not a one-time push,” he said. “The enemy is good times when we tend to look the other way. But the next $16 muffin or hot tub are right around the corner.”

The meetings coalition will not undertake a big ad campaign, Luteran added. It has chosen APCO Worldwide, a communications and business strategy firm, to manage its communications.

Speaking at the press conference, Roger Dow, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association (USTA), said the campaign is “more about media stories – op-eds and so forth on the impact of what we do.

“It will be a continuing dribble of stories mentioning how important the industry is. That can do more economically than a TV ad campaign.”

Meetings’ key role
Another aspect of the campaign will focus on meetings’ key role for government agencies and departments at a time when these events are under scrutiny following headline-grabbing incidents.

The launch of the coalition coincided with a Tuesday hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, called “Examining Conference and Travel Spending Across the Federal Government.”

The hearing highlighted the harm to key federal agency functions caused by dramatic, across-the-board cuts to travel budgets.

A long time in the works
“This has been a long time coming where we are not looking behind us but looking forward,” PCMA CEO Deborah Sexton said of the campaign.

“We have the economic data to support our industry,” she added. “It’s always amazing to me that with the frequent changes at the local government level, those officials are not well versed in our industry and don’t understand that it creates tax dollars and jobs.

“They did get that for a while after 9/11, but then that faded.”

Sexton said the situation is improving but the industry can’t afford to stop sending out its message.

“This message has to go out year in and year out. We can’t push it this year and think everything will be hunky dory next year,” she said.

“This will only work if we get deep into the industry,” Dow added. “This should be talked about in every community in the country and at every association and corporation.

“We all have a job to do. We have all done some of these things at our own level but it has to run throughout the fabric of the entire community.”

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